"I hung around St. Petersburg, when I saw it was a time for a change
Killed the Tsar and his ministers. Anastasia screamed in vain."
--Rolling Stones - Sympathy for the Devil
True evil exists in this world. It can manifest itself in various forms. Despite those who argue that humans are naturally good, despite thousands of years of human behavior proving the contrary, I think even they would have to admit that Grigori Rasputin perhaps crossed the line from basic misdeeds to pure evil. From a humble Siberian birth, Rasputin would come to yield more power in Russia than any other person, even the Tsar. He is blamed for Russia's misfortunes during World War One and shared the blame for the Russian Revolution. He was said to have the power to heal. His sexual appetites were almost beyond comprehension. Women of all social classes came to him for "advice", despite the fact that some said he seldom bathed and smelled like a goat. (And I couldn't get a date until I was 19!) Rasputin gained a privileged status in Russia, thanks to his involvement with the Romanov Family, but that association would also prove to be his undoing. Just like Russia herself, Rasputin's life is shrouded in mystery and legend. Indeed, separating the truth from the legend is virtually impossible. So read on..........if you dare.
Rasputin was born to a peasant family in Siberia. His father had been a coach driver. Baptized into the Orthodox faith when he was two days old, Rasputin grew into an awkward child. Not much is known of his early life. The villagers viewed Rasputin as being something of an outcast and he was largely shunned by other children. There is one story that when he was around 9 or 10 years old, a group of peasants were at his father's house arguing over who had stolen a house. Rasputin entered and pointed to one particular man and said "God told me he did it." Rasputin's father beat him severely for his cheekiness. However, it aroused the suspicions of some of the other men there who followed the culprit home and watched as he tried to relocate the stolen horse. This, allegedly, is where Rasputin first earned his reputation as a mystic. Eventually he married and had three children with a peasant woman. He remained married to her for the rest of his life, despite his wanderings and amorous escapades. She was the model of the long suffering wife! So ladies, if your husbands get on your nerves some times, be grateful you are not married to Rasputin!
Rasputin left his village and family in 1892 and went to live in a monastery. This may have coincided with the death of one of his children. He spend a few months there, spending a lot of time with a Hermit who lived nearby. Rasputin gave up drinking and eating meat (at least temporarily). Then he returned home. After a short time back with his family, Rasputin claimed that he had a vision in which Our Lady of Kazan urged him to be a travelling mystic. This is essentially what he did for the rest of his life. He became what the Russian peasants called a strannik, or a religious wanderer. He went back and forth across the country and gained a reputation as a miracle worker who could heal a person simply by laying on of hands. On November 1, 1905, he first met Nicholas and Alexandra, Tsar and Tsarina of all the Russians.
If ever there was a man more unsuited to being an absolute monarch, it was Nicholas II. Historian Robert K. Massie points out that he would have made a great Constitutional Monarch in a country such as England rather than an autocrat in Russia. His wife, Alexandra was widely disliked for a few reasons. First of all, she was German. Second, the two married shortly after the death of Nicholas' father, Alexander III, leaving many of the superstitious among the population to say that she "arrived following a coffin." She had to convert to the Orthodox faith as a condition of marriage and embraced it with all the zealousness of a new convert. By all accounts, the two had a very happy marriage, conversing with each other in English so that the servants would not understand. She gave birth to four beautiful daughters in ten years before finally giving birth to a male heir, Alexi. (Note that they dressed him in sailor suits, just as my mother did!) But he had a medical condition. I do not and cannot understand the American obsession with the British Royal family. We fought to wars so we wouldn't have to give a damn about their royal baby. The royal families of Europe were inbred, with cousins marrying cousins for generations. Queen Victoria gets "credit" for passing the gene which causes hemophilia to the royal families of Europe. Queen Victoria happened to be Alexandra's grandmother. The joy over the birth of a male heir turned to sorrow once they discovered that he was born with hemophilia. Alexandra blamed herself for passing this on to her son (it was known at the time that the female parent carried the gene). Had Alexi not been born with this, Rasputin would perhaps not have become such an influential figure in Russia. In fact, he most certainly would not have. Such are the quirks of history.
In April of 1907, Alexi suffered a particularly grave episode. Having met Rasputin before and knowing of his alleged reputation as a mystic healer, the Royal Family summoned him to the palace. Though the doctors had already told the family that Alexi would die, Rasputin assured them that he would get better. And he did, the next day. This is something that no one can really explain. Perhaps it was hypnosis. Perhaps it was a coincidence. We will never know. This endeared him to Alexandra and she would serve as his protector and defender until his death. In 1912, Alexi suffered an injury which caused massive bleeding into his stomach and groin. This was more serious than the first incident. Doctors could do nothing more than summon a priest who gave Alexi the Last Sacrament. Alexandra refused to accept this and sent a telegram to Rasputin. He replied and said "The little one will not die. Do not allow the doctors to bother him too much." The bleeding stopped and though Alexi's recovery took a long time, he was out of danger within a few days.
Initially, Rasputin was quite popular with the upper classes in St. Petersburg. At the time, the Russian aristocracy was fascinated by the occult, in much the same was the Victorians in England had been, and so a mysterious man who was said to have healing powers was certainly sure to be a big hit. But his frequent visits with the Royal Family sparked jealously and rumors. The media began speculating that Rasputin was a little too friendly with Alexandra and her daughters. In fact, one of their governesses complained to Alexandra that she felt uncomfortable with the fact that Rasputin visited the girls' bedroom while they were in their nightgowns. Alexandra angrily told the governess that Rasputin was a man of God and thus above reproach. When one of the Tsar's ministers said the same to him, Rasputin was ordered to stop. But Alexandra had the governess fired nonetheless. Rasputin left St. Petersburg for a while and traveled to the Holy Land. But like a boomerang, he came back. The rumors, if anything, grew stronger. Even the Duma, the new Russian attempt at a Parliament, talked about him. Said one "Any attempt to criticize Rasputin found only condemnation from the Tsarina." Tsar Nicholas had to ask Rasputin to leave St. Petersburg again, which he did, but he came back.
Rasputin survived an assassination attempt in the summer of 1914. When he recovered, he arrived in St. Petersburg as World War One was beginning. Now, most of his enemies had either died, left, or fallen out of favor with the Royal Family. It was really only then that his true character began to manifest itself. Now prior to the outbreak of the war, Rasputin had lobbied Nicholas and pressed him to stay out of the war. He warned "If Russia goes to war, it will be the end of the monarchy of the Romanovs and of Russian institutions." The war did not go well for Russia on the Eastern Front. Also, the Russian people began to publicly question if the Tsarina was, in fact, a German spy. Eventually, Nicholas (at the urging of Rasputin) left for the front to take personal command of the Army. This proved to be disastrous as it left the Tsarina in charge and she was under the complete control of Rasputin.
Rasputin lived a life full of drunken debauchery. He is reported to have had numerous sexual encounters with women as young as 15. Also, he would undress in front of aristocratic women and ask them to do the same so that they could "resist temptation". Sometimes he would sleep in a bed with a married woman so that they could also resist temptation. He visited bath houses with women and girls because, as he said, "I like to hug and kiss the ladies!" Passers by frequently saw him walking in the company of young women whom he obviously knew very well. Rasputin is accused of raping at least one nun and forcing himself on countless other women. Any complaints to the Tsarina just got the complainer in trouble. Bear in mind that Rasputin was neither a priest nor a monk, yet he was treated as God's representative on earth by the Tsarina. She believed him when he said that God talked directly to him. More speculation began to make the rounds in St. Petersburg (called Petrograd during the War) that Rasputin had his way with the Tsarina and her daughters in wild palace orgies. This is probably not true, but people believed it nonetheless. Peasants circulated lewd cartoons showing Rasputin doing various........things........to the women in the Royal Family. As you can imagine, certain nobles hatched a plot to do away with him. But there was one small problem.
According to the legend, Rasputin was invited to a party at the Yusupov Palace where he consumed enough cyanide to kill ten men, was shot no less than four times, beaten with heavy iron chains, wrapped in a carpet, weighted down with chains, and dropped into the Neva River. When his body was recovered two days later, he had broken out of the carpet and chains and had water in his lungs, indicating that he had drowned. As fascinating as this tale is, sadly, it is probably not really true.
The problem with knowing exactly what happened to Rasputin that night in the basement of the Yusupov Palace will never be known. Once the Soviets took control of the country, most of the records relating to the investigation "disappeared". Recently, there has been some discussion on the involvement of the British Secret Service in his assassination under the idea that Rasputin was urging the Tsar and Tsarina to withdraw Russia from the War which could have been disastrous for the British in the West prior to the arrival of US troops. Yusupov gave numerous different accounts of the death of Rasputin. First he said he was motivated by his love of Russia. Later he would say that he did it because of Rasputin's debauchery. A postmortem photo of Rasputin shows a single gunshot wound to the forehead and this is probably the cause of death, not the legend that has been passed down over the years. Still, that makes for a good story though!
Allegedly, Rasputin wrote a letter to the Tsar in December of 1916 in which he spoke of what he saw as his impending death. It is important enough to quote some of it verbatim. Read it with an eye towards Russian History in the 20th Century:
"I wish to make it known to the Russian people, to Papa (the Tsar), to the Russian Mother (the Tsarina) and to the Children what they must understand. If I am killed by common assassins, and especially by my brothers the Russian peasants, you, the Tsar of Russia, will have nothing to fear for your children, they will reign for hundreds of years. But if I am murdered by boyars, nobles, and if they shed my blood, their hands will remain soiled with my blood for twenty-five years and they will leave Russia. Brothers will kill brothers, and they will kill each other and hate each other, and for twenty-five years there will be no peace in the country. The Tsar of the land of Russia, if you hear the sound of the bell which will tell you that Grigory has been killed, you must know this: if it was your relations who have wrought my death, then none of your children will remain alive for more than two years. And if they do, they will beg for death as they will see the defeat of Russia, see the Antichrist coming, plague, poverty, destroyed churches, and desecrated sanctuaries where everyone is dead. The Russian Tsar, you will be killed by the Russian people and the people will be cursed and will serve as the devil’s weapon killing each other everywhere. Three times for 25 years they will destroy the Russian people and the orthodox faith and the Russian land will die. I shall be killed. I am no longer among the living. Pray, pray, be strong, and think of your blessed family. ”
Interesting, is it not? So was Rasputin simply misunderstood as some revisionists today would have us believe? I don't think so. I think the eyes are the windows to the soul and if you look into his eyes you see evil, true, pure, unadulterated evil. Yes, Dear Readers, it does exist in this world. There is a lesson in this, friends. Beware the charlatan who has the outward appearance of being a religious figure. Rasputin was said to have the ability to simply look into a person's eyes and they would fall under his spell. I think there are still people out there like this today, waiting to take their place on the world stage.
And on a final note, Dear Readers, there is reportedly a movie about Rasputin in pre-production that is rumored to have a commitment from Leonardo Dicaprio to play the lead role. Sounds promising!
My name is Lee Hutch and I am a Half A$$ Historian who knows far more about the story of Rasputin than I have time or space to share here.