There is uncertainty over much of Rasputin’s life and the degree of influence that he exerted over the Tsar and Alexandra Feodorovna, his wife. Accounts are often based on dubious memoirs, hearsay, and legend. While his influence and position may have been exaggerated — he had become synonymous with power, debauchery and lust — his presence played a significant role in the increasing unpopularity of the Imperial couple.
Grigory Yefimovich Rasputin (1872-1916) was the infamous ‘holy man’ whose ability to heal the Tsar and Tsarina’s son Alexis led to his being adopted as a supreme mystic at court. Growing in influence to the point where he effectively dictated policy he was eventually assassinated by a group of court conspirators in December 1916.
Born in 1872 at Pokrovskoye in Siberia to a peasant family, Rasputin’s limited education left him without the ability to either read or write. Even at a young age he earned himself such a reputation for devoted debauchery that his actual name of Grigory Yefimovich Novykh was replaced with the surname ‘Rasputin’ – Russian for ‘debauched one’.
Having undergone a form of religious conversion while aged 18 Rasputin embraced the Khlysty sect. Happily for Rasputin (given his reputation) the sect preached the notion that the closest relationship to God could best be achieved while exhausted from prolonged sexual engagements.
Rasputin married at age 19, to Proskovia Fyodorovna, who bore him four children. Unsettled, Rasputin left his wife and travelled, variously to Greece and Jerusalem, where he established a reputation (self-created) as a holy man.
Winding up in St. Petersburg in 1903 Rasputin met up with the the Bishop of Saratov, Hermogen. Since the Romanov court at that time was dabbling in mysticism Rasputin was recommended in 1905 by Hermogen to the royal couple.
However Rasputin’s rise to royal influence dates from his summons to the royal palace in an attempt to try and prevent their son Alexis’s continuing loss of blood (as a haemophiliac). Where all others had failed Rasputin succeeding in stemming the boy’s loss of blood – probably through hypnotism – and Rasputin’s reputation as a mystic healer was sealed by the immense gratitude of the Tsar and (especially) the Tsarina.
Careful to maintain his pretence of being a humble if mystically talented peasant while in the royal couple’s presence, Rasputin however lost no time in indulging his voracious sexual appetite outside the court. He shortly afterwards hit upon the satisfying discovery that sexual contact with his own body imbued a healing effect upon women.
The Tsar, informed in detail of Rasputin’s scandalous conduct, initially dismissed the ‘mad monk’ from court; however the influence of his wife, Alexandra, ensured his rapid recall. Thereafter both Nicholas and Alexandra declined to give credence to further reports of Rasputin’s misbehaviour; indeed, Alexandra positively discouraged criticism of ‘our friend’.
Since news of Alexis’s condition was not allowed to be made general knowledge the public at large, unaware of Rasputin’s chief role as a healer at court, assumed that he was actively seducing Alexandra. Salacious details of his general conduct, fed and (if it were possible) exaggerated by his many ill-wishers, became the subject of public scandal.
Rasputin’s influence continued into wartime. Alexandra sought his opinion on a variety of policy matters. Rasputin, generally ready to offer advice, occasionally offered advice on Russian military strategy, although such advice never proved beneficial.
In one sense Rasputin’s presence, while generally damaging public perception of the Romanovs, nevertheless benefited the Tsar. Military calamities were often attributed by the Russian public to Rasputin’s baleful influence: as such it therefore deflected direct criticism away from the Tsar himself.
However with the Tsar’s decision to take personal command of his army from the front (thereby reliving his uncle, Grand Duke Nikolai, of the role), disaster beckoned. Not only was the Tsar thereafter directly associated with the fruits of his army’s efforts (which continued its extended poor run), but in his absence domestic governance of political affairs was effectively left in the hands of the Tsarina and Rasputin (with the Prime Minister, Boris Sturmer, ever willing to defer to the Tsarina’s wishes).
With Rasputin offering advice on the appointment (and dismissal) of public and church officials, and rumour spreading that the Tsarina and Rasputin were in the pay of the Germans, a group of nobles at court, led by Felix Yusupov, determined to resolve the appalling damage inflicted by Rasputin upon the monarchy by arranging his murder.
Yusupov invited Rasputin to dine at his home on 29 December 1916 where he was given poisoned wine and cakes. Alarmed at Rasputin’s apparent immunity to the poison Yusupov shot him in panic (“A shudder swept over me; my arm grew rigid, I aimed at his heart and pulled the trigger”, Lost Splendor, 1953).
After a brief period of collapse Rasputin recovered and managed to escape into the courtyard, where he was again shot (by another conspirator, Vladimir Purishkevich). Finally, presumably to make quite sure of the matter, Rasputin’s body was dropped through a hole in the Neva river, where he finally died by drowning. His corpse was later discovered on the Neva’s banks.
As an attempt to salvage the credibility of the monarchy Yusupov’s bold move came too late; if anything, the murder of Rasputin removed a buffer between the royal family and their critics: no longer could the nation’s ills be attributed to the mad monk who had prophesised his own demise.
~ Courtesy FirstWorldWar.com