Chips Off the Old Block
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like growing up in Stalin’s shadow or whatever happened to Napoleon’s son, here are their (almost always) tragic stories.
RICHARD THE FOURTH? (Richard Cromwell, son of Oliver Cromwell)
Back in the 1640s, jolly old England was caught up in a messy civil war between King Charles I and the British parliament over who really ran the country. By 1649, the issue was settled: Parliament was the boss. And to prove it, they chopped off Charles’s head.
For the next 10 years, the country was a fun-free zone under the grim, puritanical military dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell. He was such a killjoy that he even banned Christmas.
Wake Up, Dick, You’re in Charge!
Richard was born in 1626, and after being raised in his father’s puritanical but loving household, he joined the army, where he managed to avoid seeing any active service—even while the English Civil War raged around him. In 1649, his run of good luck continued when he married Dorothy Major, daughter of a wealthy farmer, and settled down into the idle life of a country squire.
Little was heard of Richard after that, apart from the fact that his stern father regularly upbraided him for his laziness and overspending. So it must have come as a shock when his dad named him as his successor. Turns out that Oliver, that staunch opponent of hereditary rule, didn’t think that it applied to his own family. When Parliament complained about this, Cromwell—never a big fan of democracy—closed it down. Cromwell’s ministers had little option but to go along with their revered leader’s decision.
Oliver breathed his last disapproving breath on September 3, 1658, and on the same day Richard Cromwell was proclaimed Lord Protector of the Realm. When Richard took over, the trouble really began. Richard was not cut out for life in the fast lane, and things went downhill fast.
Almost immediately, the army began making waves. To them, Richard was an upstart who traded on his father’s name and had no right to rule. A power struggle between Parliament and the army saw Richard pulled this way and that like a rag doll. The London mob, amused by Cromwell’s evident lack of brass, took to calling him “Queen Dick.” Eventually, the army forced Cromwell to call a new, army-friendly Parliament in spring of 1659. One of the new Parliament’s first acts was to call for the Lord Protector’s dismissal. Passive to the very end, Queen Dick meekly gave in and resigned in May of that year. Figuring his future career prospects didn’t look too good, Cromwell jumped on the next boat to France.
His father would have been appalled to see what happened next. Within a year the monarchy had been restored, with the flamboyant Charles II (who represented just about everything Oliver Cromwell despised) ascending the throne. As for Richard, he mooched around France and Switzerland for a few years before returning to England in 1680. His rich wife had died while he was in exile, so he was unable to resume his old life as a gentleman farmer: he had run up huge debts in his short time as Lord Protector and was never able to fully pay them off. Back in Britain, he assumed a new name—John Clarke—and paid 10 shillings a week to lodge quietly with an old family friend (this was as much to avoid his many creditors as it was to keep Royalist supporters off his tail). His long life came to an end in 1712. Today, while every English person knows who Oliver Cromwell is, hardly any of them have heard of Richard—or the fact that he was once their ruler!
THE LITTLE CORPORAL’S LITTLE BOY (Napoléon Jr.)
Some sons try to emulate their fathers, but when Daddy is the greatest military mind of his age, things can get tricky. For a start, neighboring countries might object if you try to conquer them, like Daddy did. Especially if your pop was Napoléon.
Napoléon François-Charles-Joseph Bonaparte was born on March 20, 1811, to the emperor Napoléon and his second wife, Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria. At the time, his father was the virtual ruler of Europe. All of France sighed with relief when Napoléon Jr. was born. Here at last was the son and heir Napoléon had been hoping for (part of the reason he divorced his first wife, Josephine, was because she could not bear him a child). But things change. Within the space of four short years, Napoléon was defeated at Waterloo, stripped of power, and sent into exile on Saint Helena, a godforsaken lump of rock in the South Atlantic Ocean, about midway between South America and Africa.
Bird in a Gilded Cage
When Napoléon fell from power, he named Napoléon Jr. as his successor. The countries that had beaten Napoléon said no way, and restored the monarchy that had been kicked out during the French Revolution of 1789. Junior’s mother decided he was best off out of it, so she moved back to Vienna to live with her folks (who just happened to be the emperor and empress of Austria). Junior, known as l’Aiglon (the Eaglet), was raised in the Austrian imperial palace, speaking German rather than French as his first language.
As he grew into a teenager, Junior became a popular figure at the Austrian court. He was charming, good-looking, and always well dressed—his ringlets were a particular hit with the ladies. His grandparents doted on him and gave him his own palace and a large staff. The trouble was there was no role for him. Apparently, he had a lively mind and was interested in military history, but there was no way, given who he was, that he would be allowed to join the army.
During his time in Vienna, Junior was supervised closely by Metternich, the politician who ran Austria on behalf of the emperor. Metternich knew that Junior was a powerful symbol to French nationalists: they called him Napoléon II, even though he was never crowned. When he was a child, one of Junior’s French nannies tried to kidnap him and return him to France as the rightful heir to the crown and savior of the nation. As a result, Junior lived as a virtual prisoner. His short life came to an end in 1832, when he died of tuberculosis, aged just 21. Rumors began right away that he had been done away with, but no proof has been found—yet.
A final twist on the Bonaparte family saga came in 1940, when Adolf Hitler arranged for Junior’s remains to be sent back to France from Vienna. Napoléon François-Charles-Joseph Bonaparte now rests under the dome of the Les Invalides mausoleum, next to the father he never really knew.
PAPA DON’T PREACH (Mussolini’s Five Bambini)
Italians are known for their love of family. But in the Mussolini family, love was a rare commodity. Benito Mussolini had five children with his wife Donna Rachele: Edda (1910–1995), Vittorio (1916–1997), Bruno (1919–1941), Romano (born 1927), and Anna Maria (born 1929). Anna Maria, the youngest, has led a blameless life and has managed to keep out of the public eye. The rest have not been so shy and retiring. Vittorio was a high-ranking movie executive in Fascist Italy, and he helped launch the career of director Roberto Rossellini, the man whose affair with Ingrid Bergman scandalized the world in 1949. Bruno was an air force pilot who died while testing an experimental plane in 1941. Romano, in contrast, is a celebrated jazz pianist. He is married to the actress Anna Maria Scicolone, the sister of Sophia Loren. His daughter, Alessandra Mussolini, is a parliamentarian in the Republican Chamber of Deputies of Italy (and a sometime topless model!). And then there is Edda.
Poor Little Rich Girl
Edda Mussolini hit her teenage years just as Daddy became dictator of Italy in 1922. This made dating a little tricky. Not only did her father terrify potential beaux, but Edda herself was a fearsome character. She grew to be a strong-willed, potty-mouthed, chain-smoking, whiskey-drinking gal who did daring things like tearing around town in a sports car and wearing slacks in public. She was no shrinking violet.
In 1929, she met and fell in love with a dashing Italian diplomat, Galeazzo Ciano. Surprisingly, Mussolini liked the cut of Galeazzo’s jib, and in April 1930, Edda and Galeazzo married. A liberated pair, they agreed that theirs would be an open marriage—Galeazzo was a compulsive womanizer, while Edda was said to enjoy the company of “alpine guides and lifeguards.” In 1935, Galeazzo was appointed minister of propaganda, and the following year he was made minister of foreign affairs. He kept this position until 1943 when, disillusioned with Mussolini’s wartime leadership, he resigned. In 1944, Mussolini took revenge; he had Ciano executed as a traitor—tied to a chair and shot in the back.
Soon after, Mussolini was overthrown and murdered by Italian partisans. In the space of a few months, Edda had seen her husband murdered by her father, who was in turn murdered himself. Pregnant and abandoned, Edda disguised herself as a peasant woman and escaped across the Swiss border to a convent. The only thing she was able to take with her was Galeazzo’s diary, hidden beneath her skirt. She was later tracked down by Paul Ghali, a journalist for the Chicago Daily News, who arranged for the diary to be published.
Edda remained in Switzerland for few years before settling in France, where she wrote her memoirs. In 1995, shortly before her death, she astounded the world by revealing that her mother, the saintly and long-suffering Donna Rachele, had cheated on the philandering Mussolini in the mid-1920s—a daughter’s revenge, of sorts, on the man who killed her husband.
HAPPY FAMILIES, SOVIET-STYLE (Stalin’s kids)
The Soviet dictator Stalin may have been the Father of the Nation, but he wasn’t much of a father to his own kids: one committed suicide, one drank himself to death, and the third defected to the West the first chance she got. Well, when your pa is a paranoid psycho path, what do you expect?
The eldest Djugashvili child (Stalin was a pseudonym adopted by Joseph Djugashvili before the 1917 revolution) was Yakov. He was born to Stalin’s first wife, Ekaterina, who died when Yakov was still a child. Stalin was never close to his first-born, and following Yakov’s unsuccessful suicide attempt in the 1920s, Stalin came to despise his “weakling” son. When the Soviet Union went to war with Germany in 1941, Yakov was called up—and quickly captured. When the Germans offered to exchange Yakov for a high-ranking Nazi prisoner of war, Joseph Stalin refused. His reply was “There are no prisoners of war; there are only traitors.” Gee, thanks, Dad.
What happened next is shrouded in mystery. In one version (tailor-made for the Bathroom Readers’ Hysterical Society), Yakov was mercilessly taunted by fellow British POWs over his, shall we say, poor potty training. They were constantly complaining about the mess he made in the stalls. One day in 1943, legend has it, the teasing got too much, and Yakov flung himself onto the electrified fence surrounding the camp. More recently, U.S. intelligence papers have been released that claim he was shot while trying to escape from the camp. Either way, it was definitely not a dignified end.
Flying into Trouble
Stalin tried a little harder with his second son, Vasily. He was the product of Stalin’s second marriage, to Nadezhda Alliluyeva, who committed suicide in 1932. Vasily was sent into the military, and although he wasn’t overly blessed with brains, his father made him an air force general. He even made it onto the cover of Time magazine in 1951, looking heroic while posing against a Soviet jet plane. But, behind the military bearing, Vasily was just as emotionally damaged as his mother and his half brother, Yakov.
Vasily’s way of forgetting that his father was possibly the most evil man on Earth was to turn to drink. When he was placed under psychiatric care, a doctor wrote to Stalin to tell him his son was suicidal. It took Dad 33 months to reply. When Stalin died in 1953, Vasily’s problems only got worse. The new regime had it in for the Stalins. They falsely accused Vasily of making anti-Soviet statements and of financial abuses. The poor guy was sentenced to eight years in prison in 1955; he died shortly after his release in 1962.
Svetlana, Stalin’s only daughter, fared slightly better than Vasily. Born in 1926, she had her first run-in with Pops when she was just 16. She’d fallen in love with Alexei Kapler, a Jewish filmmaker. Stalin, a notorious anti-Semite, went crazy when he found out; the boyfriend was packed off to a Siberian labor camp, where he died. The following year, Svetlana, now a student at Moscow University, announced she was in love with Jewish fellow student Grigori Mozorov. This time, Stalin grudgingly allowed the couple to marry. They had a son, Joseph, in 1945, and they divorced two years later.
In 1949, Sveltana married Yuri Zhdanov, the son of Stalin’s right-hand man, Andrei Zhdanov. But this marriage, possibly undertaken to please Stalin, was dissolved shortly afterward. Following her father’s death, Svetlana adopted her mother’s maiden name of Alliluyeva (which means “hallelujah!”) and worked quietly as a teacher and translator in Moscow. In 1964, she married Brajesh Singh, an Indian who was a Communist and a resident of Moscow. When Singh returned to India, Svetlana wasn’t allowed to go with him. When he died in 1966, she was allowed to visit his remains in India—and while she was there, Svetlana took the opportunity to defect.
Svetlana eventually settled in the United States where, in 1970, she married architect William Wesley Peters and began calling herself Lana Peters. Inevitably, this liaison also ended in divorce. During her time in exile, Svetlana wrote several books denouncing the Soviet regime—and her father. At last sighting, Svetlana was living in a retirement home in the United Kingdom, no doubt reflecting on her long and eventful life.
VOODOO CHILD (Baby Doc Duvalier)
Most of the kids we’ve come across so far have mercifully failed to follow in their fathers’ footsteps. Unfortunately for the people of Haiti, there was one son who almost outdid the father in the crazy-as-a-loon stakes.
What’s Up, Doc?
François “Papa Doc” Duvalier was not your typical head of state. For a start, the man who ruled the Caribbean state of Haiti from 1957 to 1971 was a voodoo priest. He also had his own private army, the Tontons Macoutes, which, according to one estimate, disposed of 30,000 of Papa Doc’s subjects during his reign. When he died in 1971 (and, surprisingly, failed to rise zombielike from the grave), Haitians breathed a sigh of relief—until they found out that Papa Doc’s 19-year-old son, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, was taking over the family butcher’s business.
If anything, Baby Doc was worse than his father. For a start, he was more interested in motorbikes than politics and would race his souped-up hogs around the palace gardens for fun, as hapless gardeners leaped out of the way. When he did apply his mind to affairs of state, it was usually to work out the best way of embezzling the country’s oil and agriculture revenues. While Baby Doc was plundering the national cash register, Haiti was becoming one of the world’s poorest countries.
In 1986, following a rigged election (Baby Doc got 99 percent of the vote), the people of Haiti decided enough was enough. They took to the streets—well, many of them already lived on the streets anyway—and Jean-Claude fled for his life. He eventually pitched up in France—which let him in but refused to grant him asylum. He was, in effect, a sort of semi-illegal alien.
Despite arriving in France with half of his country’s national wealth stashed away, Baby Doc managed to eventually lose it all. In one police raid on a villa in which he and his shopaholic wife were staying, a notebook was recovered detailing recent spending: $168,000 on clothes at Givenchy, $270,000 on jewelry, $9,752 on two Hermes kid-sized horse saddles, and $68,000 on an antique clock.
A Bad Debt Always Follows You
When his money ran out in the early 1990s, so did Baby Doc. He was last spotted in public hurriedly leaving a hotel in the French Riviera resort of Mougins in 1995. He did not pay his bill. He is believed to still be living in France and occasionally gives interviews (via his lawyer) in which he reflects nostalgically on his time in charge of Haiti. In 2002, he announced he wanted to return to Haiti and stand for president. When asked what he did wrong in the past, he answered, “Perhaps I was too tolerant.”
This article is reprinted with permission from Uncle John’s Bathroom Reader Plunges Into History (Again). In it, Uncle John goes back in time to bring fans more compelling, confounding, and fascinating peeks into the world’s past. International in scope, you’ll read about historical events, people, and places worldwide. As always, the slant will be on revealing what they didn’t teach you in history class–history unexpunged!
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Baby Doc died in Oct 2014 in Haiti while he was under trial.