Grigori Rasputin ate tea and cakes laced with cyanide, drank poisoned wine and was shot in the chest. Yet, he was still alive! Hours later he leaped up and attacked his would be murderers. They shot him again, for the final time. To be sure, the murderers wrapped his body in cloth and dropped into a freezing Russian river.
A healer, a pilgrim, an Orthodox monk, and a friend of the last imperial family in Russia, Rasputin’s life was as interesting and legendary as his death. A drunk, a profligate and a cause of the death of the same imperial family, Rasputin is still today one of the most controversial and mysterious figures in the history of the Russia. Few documented records and plenty of myths and stories about his life have mixed into a story that is significant enough to give birth to articles, books and even movies about Rasputin’s life and death.
Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was born in Russian Siberia in a small village called Pokrovskoye. What happened between that time and 1907, when he was introduced to the imperial family, is not known for fact. Some believe Rasputin was an Orthodox monk and a pilgrim who visited many holy sites and had a gift of healing people and predicting future; others say he was a genius actor, who used religion to fool people.
In either case, Rasputin proclaimed himself a saint and did not miss an opportunity to tell everyone that he had a gift of healing. News of Rasputin spread fast, and soon enough people with all sorts of diseases started to travel, just to see the famous “starets” (an elderly and wise person) and healer and ask him for help.
Rasputin, nicknamed Mad Monk, could not read, certainly had no medical education, but he was very good at understanding people and finding a way to help those who felt desperate about their lives. Once, when plowing a field, he saw a vision of the Virgin who told him that tsarevitch (son of a tsar) in Saint Petersburg had a serious disease and Rasputin had to go there and heal him. Aleksey, son of the Russian Emperor Nicholas II, indeed had hemophilia, although the disease was kept in secret as much as possible.
Rasputin and the Imperial Family
At first, Nicholas II was reluctant to invite Rasputin to help his son, but in 1907, when tsarevich was in critical state, Rasputin was invited to the imperial palace. The rest of Rasputin’s life in Saint Petersburg was connected with permanent treatment of tsarevich Aleksey. But the Mad Monk never limited himself to treating tsarevich. He got acquainted with many high officials and noble people, and eventually became an advisor to the Tsar and especially his wife Alexandra. It is widely believed that Rasputin stood behind many political decisions made by the imperial family at that time.
Soon Saint Petersburg was filled with rumors that Rasputin accepted sexual services or money to promote projects or people, using his tremendous influence on Alexandra. His drunken brawls were known all across Saint Petersburg, and he undermined the Emperor’s authority because of the rumors of Rasputin having an affair with Tsar’s wife Alexandra.
In 1916, some Russian nobles, led by Prince Felix Yusupov, decided that Rasputin’s influence on the imperial family was a threat to the Russian Empire and plotted to poison him. Grigori Rasputin was poisoned with cyanide, which didn’t work, then was shot several times, but still tried to stand on his feet, he was then put into a sack and drowned in Neva River.
Autopsy showed that Rasputin’s body had signs of severe trauma, including three gunshot wounds – one of which he sustained at close range, and to the forehead – a slice wound to his left side, and many other injuries, many of which have possibly been sustained post-mortem. He found no evidence that Rasputin had been poisoned although the legend is that he was poisoned twice but with no effect.
A book we can recommend on Rasputin’s death is Rasputin: The Untold Story by Professor Joseph T. Fuhrmann who write about the Mad Monk, the Imperial Family and the assassin:
Prince Felix Yusupov was an unlikely murderer. Sole heir to what was rumored to be the greatest fortune in the world, Yusupov was a pale, effete dilettante given to transvestite escapades and scandalous affairs. It is difficult to imagine him as a cold, calculating assassin. His reasons for killing Rasputin are mysterious, although he published several detailed accounts of the crime after fleeing Russia in 1919. Even so, his role in the murder has been recently called into question. Yusupov was proudly defiant about his actions, insisting that his only desire was to save Russia from the revolution. The prince enjoyed his notoriety and the air of mystery that surrounded him after the events of December 1916.
Felix was coming to believe that Rasputin was destroying Russia thanks to an unstable empress and her weak husband. These sentiments cascaded into hatred for Rasputin, Prince Felix Yusupov and his wife, Irina. Yusupov was heir to what was rumored to be the greatest fortune in the world. Irina was the daughter of Nicholas II’s sister, Xenia, and the tsar’s cousin, Grand Duke Alexander Michaelovich. In this famous photograph, Irina seems warily watchful of her notoriously wayward husband. and Yusupov’s conviction that his task was to destroy the man who threatened Russia. Yusupov was consumed by the thought that “not a single important event at the front was decided without a preliminary conference” between Alexandra and Rasputin. He was certain that Rasputin was a German spy or at least acting in concert with those seeking a separate peace with Russia’s enemies. Yusupov believed that public affairs revolved around Rasputin’s whims: ministers came and went on his recommendation, and his favorites were destroying the Orthodox Church. Since Nicholas II was unable or unwilling to stop it, someone else had to save Russia. And that someone, in Yusupov’s fevered imagination, was himself.
Mad Monk’s foresight
An interesting fact is that Rasputin predicted his murder and wrote a letter to the Emperor’s wife Alexandra in which he stated that if he is killed by a peasant, Russia will remain a prosperous empire, and if he gets killed by a nobleman, the Tsar and all his family will be murdered. In 1916, Rasputin was killed by a group of noblemen, and in 1918, imperial family was executed by communists.
We will never know whether Grigori Rasputin was a healer, a pilgrim, an Orthodox monk, and a friend of the last imperial family in Russia or a drunk, a profligate and a cheater, but he was certainly a great actor, psychologist and one of the most known, bright and mysterious personalities in the history of Russia.