Grigori Rasputin

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Grigori Rasputin
Grigori Rasputin 1916.jpg
Born (1869-01-21)21 January 1869 (New Style)
Pokrovskoe, Siberia, Russian Empire
Died 30 December 1916(1916-12-30) (aged 47) (New Style)
Petrograd, Russian Empire
Cause of death Assassination
Occupation Peasant, pilgrim, healer, adviser
Spouse(s) Praskovia Fedorovna Dubrovina
Children Mikhail, Anna, Grigori, Dmitri, Matryona, Varvara, Paraskeva
Parent(s) Efim Vilkin Rasputin & Anna Parshukova

Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin (Russian: Григорий Ефимович Распутин; IPA: [ɡrʲɪˈɡorʲɪj jɪˈfʲiməvʲɪtɕ rɐˈsputʲɪn];[1] 21 January [O.S. 9 January] 1869 – 30 December [O.S. 17 December] 1916[2]) was a Russian peasant, mystical faith healer, and trusted friend of the family of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia. He became an influential figure in Saint Petersburg, especially after August 1915, when Nicholas took command of the army fighting in World War I.

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.[3] Accounts are often based on dubious memoirs, hearsay, and legend.[note 1] 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.[5]

Early life

Pokrovskoe, along the Tura River in 1912. Rasputin raised money for (the decoration of) the church [6] that was built c. 1906 and destroyed in 1950. Photo by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky[7]

Grigori Rasputin was born the son of a well-to-do peasant and postal coachdriver (yamshchik) in the small village of Pokrovskoe, in the Tobolsk Governorate (now Yarkovsky District in the Tyumen Oblast) in the immense West Siberian Plain. The parish register contains the following entry for 9 January 1869 [O.S.][note 2]: "In the village of Pokrovskoe, in the family of the peasant Yefim Yakovlevich Rasputin and his wife,[note 3] both Orthodox, was born a son, Grigory."[8][9][10] The next day, he was baptized and named after St. Gregory of Nyssa, whose feast day is on 10 January.[11]

Grigori was the fifth of nine children. Only two survived — Grigori and his sister Feodosiya. He never attended school, as there wasn't one in the area. According to the census of 1897, almost everybody in the village was illiterate.[12] In Pokrovskoe, the young Rasputin was regarded as an outsider, but one endowed with mysterious gifts. "His limbs jerked, he shuffled his feet and always kept his hands occupied. Despite physical tics, he commanded attention."[13] The little that is known about his childhood was passed down by his daughter Maria,[14] but her memoirs are considered unreliable. Rasputin acquired a reputation as a brawler.

On 2 February 1887, Rasputin married Praskovia Fyodorovna Dubrovina (1866–1936) and they had three children: Dmitri, Matryona and Varvara. Two earlier sons and a daughter died young.[note 4] In 1892, Rasputin left his village, his wife, children and parents and spent several months in a monastery in Verkhoturye.[15] Alexander Spiridovich suggested after the death of a child,[16] but perhaps he was curious as the monastery was enlarged in those years to receive more pilgrims.[17] Outside the monastery lived starets Makary, a hermit, whose influence led him to give up alcohol and meat. When he returned to the village, he had become a fervent and inspired convert.[18][19][20]

Turn to religious life

Makary, Theophanes of Poltava and Grigori Rasputin
Bloody Sunday (1905). Shooting workers near the Winter Palace (1905). Painting by Ivan Vladimiriv

Rasputin's claimed vision of Our Lady of Kazan turned him towards the life of a religious mystic. Around 1893 he travelled to Mount Athos (St. Panteleimon Monastery), but left shocked and profoundly disillusioned, confronted with sodomy, as he told Makary.[21][22] By 1900, Rasputin was identified as a strannik,[23] a religious wanderer, visiting holy places on foot and exchanging teaching for hospitality. However, he always went home to help his family with sowing and the harvest. He is sometimes considered a yurodiviy ("holy fool"),[24] and a starets ("elder"), but he did not consider himself a starets,[15] as these lived in seclusion and silence.

In 1902, private gatherings in his house had to be abandoned because of all the attention that he was receiving from locals.[25] In 1903, Rasputin decided to spend some time in Kiev, almost 3,000 km (1,860 miles) from his village, where he visited the Monastery of the Caves. In Kazan, he attracted the attention of the bishop and members of the upper class.[26][27][28] His interpretations of the Scriptures were so keen and so original that even learned churchmen liked to listen to them.[29] Rasputin then travelled to the capital to meet with John of Kronstadt and acquire donations for the construction of the village church. He carried an introduction to Ivan Stragorodsky, the rector of the theological faculty.[30]

Pierre Gilliard writes that Rasputin arrived in St Petersburg in 1905;[31] Nelipa thinks that it was in autumn 1904; Iliodor believed that it was as early as December 1903;[32] Helen Rappaport goes for Lent 1903.[33] Rasputin went to Alexander Nevsky Lavra to seek sustenance and lodgings; there he met with Hermogenes. Theophanes of Poltava was amazed by his tenacious memory and psychological perspicacity, and he offered to allow Rasputin to live in his apartment. Rasputin was invited by Milica of Montenegro and her sister Anastasia, who were interested in Persian mysticism,[34] spiritism, and occultism. On 1 November 1905, Milica presented Rasputin to Tsar Nicholas and his wife Alexandra at Peterhof Palace.[35]

Prior to his meeting with Rasputin, the Tsar had to deal with the Russo-Japanese War, Bloody Sunday, the Revolution of 1905, bombs, and a ten-day general strike in October. In a city without electricity, the Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias was forced by Sergei Witte to sign the October Manifesto, to agree with a constitution and the establishment of the Imperial Duma. He gave up part of his unlimited autocracy and for the next six months, Witte was the Prime Minister, though the real ruler of the country seems to have been General Dmitri Trepoff because of continuing bloody fighting against police and soldiers in the streets. In April 1906, when Witte was succeeded by Ivan Goremykin and the Russian Constitution of 1906 was introduced, the Tsar retained the title of autocrat and maintained his unique dominating position in relation to the Russian Church.[36]

Healer to Alexei

Rasputin with his children
Alexandra Feodorovna with her children, Rasputin and the nurse Maria Ivanova Vishnyakova who later claimed that Rasputin had raped her, photo from McManus-Young Collection (1908)

In October 1906, at the request of the Tsar, Rasputin paid a visit to the wounded daughter of the next prime minister Pyotr Stolypin in Tsarskoe Selo. A few weeks before, 29 people had been killed in a bomb attack by the Maximalists and two of Stolypin's children were wounded. In December 1906 "Grigori explained that six families in Pokrovskoe bore the surname Rasputin, and this was producing "every sort of confusion." Rasputin asked Nicholas "to end this ... by permitting me and my descendants to take the name Rasputin-Novyi (Новый)," which means "Rasputin-New" or the "New Rasputin."[37][38][39]

In April 1907, he was invited again to Tsarskoe Selo, this time to see Tsesarevich Alexei, the Tsar's son. The boy had suffered an injury which caused him painful bleeding. It was not publicly known that the heir to the throne had severe form of hemophilia B,[40] a disorder that was widespread among European royalty.[41][note 5] The doctors could not supply a cure, and the desperate Tsarina looked for other help. (When Alexandra was young, she had lost her mother, her brother, and her younger sister.) Rasputin was said to possess the ability to heal through prayer and was able to calm the parents and to give the boy some relief, in spite of the doctors' prediction that he would die. Within a few hours the Tsesarevich showed significant signs of recovery.[42]

Pierre Gilliard,[43] the French historian Hélène Carrère d'Encausse,[44] and journalist Diarmuid Jeffreys speculated that Rasputin's healing practice included halting the administration of aspirin, a pain-relieving analgesic available since 1899.[45][46] Aspirin is an antiaggregant and has blood-thinning properties; it prevents clotting, and promotes bleeding which could have caused the hemarthrosis. The "wonder drug" would have worsened Alexei's joints' swelling and pain.[47][48]

In September 1912 the Romanovs were visiting their hunting retreat in the Białowieża Forest; on the 7th the careless Tsesarevich jumped into a rowboat and hit one of the oarlocks.[49] A few weeks later the family moved to Spała (then in Russian Poland). On 2 October, after a drive in the woods, the "juddering of the carriage had caused still healing hematoma in his upper thigh to rupture and start bleeding again."[50] Alexandra barely left his bedside. On 9 October 1912, Alexei received the last sacrament[51] during a particularly grave crisis of high fever and a weak heartbeat caused by a swelling in the left groin. The desperate Tsarina turned to her lady-in-waiting and best friend Anna Vyrubova[52][53] to secure the help of the peasant healer, who at that time was out of favor. The next day Rasputin responded and sent a short telegram, including the prophecy: "The little one will not die. Do not allow the doctors [c.q. Eugene Botkin and Vladimir Derevenko] to bother him too much."[54] His temperature dropped and the hematoma disappeared, but it took a year before the boy recovered. Also Nelipa comes up with medical records and details of Alexei's temperature and heart rate readings between 6 October and 1 November.[55] Again, long-held fanciful myths seem to be involved.

Court physician Botkin believed that Rasputin was a charlatan and his apparent healing powers arose from his use of hypnosis, but Rasputin was not interested in this practice before 1913 and his teacher Gerasim Papandato was expelled from St. Petersburg.[56][57] Felix Yusupov, one of Rasputin's enemies, suggested that he secretly drugged Alexei[58] with Tibetan herbs which he got from quack doctor Peter Badmayev, but these drugs were politely rejected by the court.[59][60] For Maria Rasputin, it was magnetism.[61] For Greg King, these explanations fail to take into account those times when Rasputin healed the boy, despite being 2600 km (1650 miles) away. For Fuhrmann, these ideas on hypnosis[62] and drugs flourished because the Imperial Family lived such isolated lives.[63] (They lived almost as much apart from Russian society as if they were settlers in Canada.[63][64]) For Moynahan, "There is no evidence that Rasputin ever summoned up spirits, or felt the need to; he won his admirers through force of personality, not by tricks."[65] For Shelley, the secret of his power lay in the sense of calm, gentle strength, and shining warmth of conviction.[66]


Rasputin, Hermogen and Iliodor in 1906. Alexandra ordered Hermogen banished to a monastery, after he beat Rasputin with a crucifix; Iliodor went into exile after the attack by Khioniya Guseva in June 1914.

Even before Rasputin's arrival, the upper class of St Petersburg had been widely influenced by mysticism. Individual aristocrats were reportedly obsessed with anything occult.[67] In those days Imperial Russia was confronted with a religious renaissance, a widespread interest in spiritual-ethical literature and non-conformist moral-spiritual movements, an upsurge in pilgrimage and other devotions to sacred spaces and objects. The "God-Seeking" were shaping their own ritual and spiritual lives (e.g. Helena Blavatsky, George Gurdjieff and P. D. Ouspensky.)

Alexandra had been meeting a succession of Russian "holy fools", hoping to find an intercessory with God.[68] Papus had visited Russia three times, in 1901, 1905, and 1906, serving the Tsar and Tsarina both as physician and occult consultant.[69] After Papus returned to France, and Alexandra had invited her physician 42 times within two months,[70] Rasputin came into the picture.

In his religious views Rasputin was close to the so-called Khlysts, an obscure Christian sect with strong Siberian roots, and a Russian equivalent to the American Shakers. In September 1907 the "Spiritual Consistory" of Tobolsk accused Rasputin of spreading false doctrines and kissing and bathing with women.[71][72] During the inquiry Rasputin disappeared (it seems) and "the effort of local priests to discipline their most troublesome parishioner failed."[73] According to Oleg Platonov: "The case was fabricated so clumsily that it ‘works’ only against its own authors. No wonder the documents were never published. Nothing but allusions were made to its existence."[6] In 1908 Theofan traveled to Siberia and examined all the documents from the Tobolsk inquiry, but failed to find anything of interest.[74]

"On Sundays after Mass he would usually meet people in the house of some aristocratic admirer and talk to them." Rasputin (left) and his daughter Maria (right) in 1914.

While fascinated by Rasputin in the beginning, the ruling class of St Petersburg began to turn against him as he had privileges no one else had, an easy access to the Imperial Family. In 1909, within four months, Rasputin had visited the Romanovs six times.[75] Alexandra was in conflict with her mother- and sister-in-law about her continuing patronage of Rasputin. The press started a campaign against Rasputin, claiming he paid too much attention to young girls and women. Nikolai Pavlovich Sablin and Charles Sydney Gibbes were sent to Rasputin to find out more.[76] Theofan lost his interest and Stolypin wanted to ban him from the capital.[note 6] When Rasputin arrived in St Petersburg, he returned within three weeks to his home village, according to Spiridovich.[77]

Early 1911 the Tsar instructed Rasputin to join a group of pilgrims.[78] First Rasputin visited the Pochayiv Lavra in the Ukraine. From Odessa the pilgrims sailed to Constantinople, Smyrna, Ephesus, Patmos, Rhodes, Cyprus, Beirut, Tripoli, and Jaffa. Around Lent 1911 Rasputin paid a visit to Jerusalem and the Holy Land.[79] On his way back he visited his friend Iliodor who gathered huge crowds in Tsaritsyn.

In 1912, Hermogen, who told Rasputin to stay away from the palace, repeated the rumours that Rasputin had joined the Khlysty. Iliodor, hinting that Rasputin was Alexandra's paramour, showed Makarov a satchel of letters, one written by the Tsarina and four by her daughters.[80] The given[81] or stolen[82] letters were handed by Kokovtsov to the Tsar.[83][84] Rodzianko requested Rasputin to leave the capital.[85][86][87][88] When Vladimir Kokovtsov became prime minister he asked the Tsar permission to authorize Rasputin's exile to Tobolsk, but Nicholas refused. "I know Rasputin too well to believe all the tittle-tattle about him."[89] Kokovtsov offered Rasputin 200,000 rubles, equaling $100,000, when he would leave the capital. Rasputin had become one of the most hated people in Russia.[90]

Ecstatic ritual of Khlysts ("radeniye"). In September 1907 Rasputin had to appear for the Ecclesiastical court of Tobolsk, accused of being a Khlyst. No evidence was found.[91]

There is little or no proof that Rasputin was a member of the Khlysty,[92] but he does appear to have been influenced by their practices,[93] accepting some of their beliefs, for example those regarding sin as a necessary part of redemption.[94] Suspicions that Rasputin, a good dancer,[95][96] was one of the Khlysty tarnished his reputation right until the end of his life.[note 7] After the Spała accident Rasputin regained influence at court and also in church affairs when a new bishop was appointed in Tobolsk. His position as an intermediary had been dramatically validated,[100] but the Holy Synod frequently attacked Rasputin, accusing him of a variety of immoral or evil practices.

On 21 February 1913 Rodzianko ejected Rasputin from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan shortly before the celebration of 300 years of Romanov rule in Russia. He had established himself in front of the seats which Rodzianko, after great difficulty, had secured for the Duma.[101] Rasputin's behaviour was discussed in the Fourth Duma,[102] and in March 1913 the Octobrists, led by Alexander Guchkov commissioned an investigation,[103][104] but "anyone bold enough to criticize Rasputin found only condemnation from the Tsarina,"[105] who had been fond of him ever since he had saved her son. Worried with the threat of a scandal, the Tsar asked Rasputin to leave for Siberia. Nicholas had accepted investigations on Rasputin, but the new bishop in Tobolsk dismissed the case.[106] The investigations were stopped,[58][63][107] and Nicholas decided to criticize the politicians.[108] He and his wife referred to Grigori as our "Friend" and a "holy man", emblematic of the trust that the family had placed in him. The Tsar dismissed Kokovtsov on 29 January 1914.[109] He was replaced by the weak and absent-minded Ivan Goremykin, and Bark as Minister of Finance. The Minister of Agriculture Krivoshein became the most powerful figure in the Imperial government.[110] According to Pavel Milyukov, in May 1914 Rasputin had become an influential factor in Russian politics.[111]

Assassination attempt

Rasputin in his salon among admirers early 1914, most likely on his birthday; his father is the 4th from the right. His telephone is visible on the wall. Photo by Karl Bulla.
Rasputin in the hospital

On 27/28 June Rasputin arrived from the capital in Pokrovskoe.[112] Around 3:00 pm[113][114] of Sunday 12 July [O.S. 29 June] 1914,[71] Rasputin went out from the house in reply to a telegram he had received from the Tsarina on the threat of war.[115][116][117][118][119] Returning to his house, he was suddenly approached by a beggar. This woman, the 33-year old Khionia Guseva who had her face concealed with a black kerchief, pulled out a dagger when Rasputin was checking his pockets for money.[120] She stabbed Rasputin in the stomach, just above the navel. Rasputin asserted that he ran down the street with his hands on his belly. Guseva claimed that she chased him, but Rasputin grabbed a stick from the ground and hit her.[113] Covered with blood, Rasputin was brought into his house. A doctor from a neighboring village gave first aid. Around midnight Alexandr Vladimirov arrived from Tyumen, operated on him by candlelight, and assessed the mesentery was scraped.[121]

On Thursday Rasputin was transported by steamboat to Tyumen, accompanied by his wife and daughter. The Tsarina[122] sent her own physician Roman Vreden[123] and after a laparotomy and more than six weeks in the hospital, where he had to walk around in a gown, unable to wear ordinary clothes, Rasputin recovered. On 17 August 1914 he left the hospital;[124] by mid-September he was back in Petrograd. His daughter Maria records that Rasputin believed that Iliodor and Vladimir Dzhunkovsky had organized the attack, and that he was never the same man afterwards.[125][126] According to her, he started to drink (Georgian or Crimean[127]) dessert wines.[128] [129] (N.B. Since the beginning of the war the manufacture and sale of vodka was forbidden.)

After the attack, Iliodor, dressed as a woman, fled with the support of Maxim Gorki, who published his manuscript, all the way around the Gulf of Bothnia to Christiania.[note 8] Guseva, a fanatically religious woman who had been his adherent in earlier years, "denied Iliodor's participation, declaring that she attempted to kill Rasputin because he was spreading temptation among the innocent."[130] On 12 October 1914 the investigator declared that Iliodor was guilty of inciting the murder, but the local procurator decided to suspend any action against him for undisclosed reasons.[131] Guseva was locked in a madhouse in Tomsk and a trial was avoided.[132][133]

Most of Rasputin's enemies had by now disappeared. Stolypin was killed, Count Kokovtsov had fallen from power, Theofan was exiled, Hermogen [illegally] banished and Iliodor in hiding.[134]

Yar restaurant incident

The former Yar restaurant in 1910, photo by Adolph Erichson

From October 1914 Stepan Petrovich Beletsky, head of the police, exercised 24-hour surveillance of Rasputin and his apartment.[135] Two sets of detectives were attached to his person;[136] one was to act undercover.[137] From 1 January 1915 modified reports from Okhrana spies — the "staircase notes" — had to provide evidence about Rasputin's lifestyle.[138] They were given to the Tsar in an attempt to convince him to break with Rasputin.[139] In reading it, the Tsar observed that on the day and hour at which one of the acts mentioned in the document was alleged to have taken place, Rasputin had actually been in Tsarskoe Selo.[59][140]

On 25 March 1915 Rasputin left for Moscow by train, accompanied by his guards. On the next evening he is said, while inebriated, to have opened his trousers and waved his "reproductive organ" in front of a group of female gypsy singers in the Yar restaurant.[141][142] What happened is not exactly clear as the original police report is missing. According to his daughter Rasputin was petrified of going to unknown places after the attack by Guseva. For Nelipa, partying with a 78-year-old rich woman with whom he stayed, only leaving her house to attend a church, is not very credible. Besides, he seems to have been accompanied by two journalists, people he usually did not trust.[143] An unreliable report was presented in June; the police did not interview any singer or witness in the restaurant. A waiter assessed the story as bunkum when talking to Shelley.[144] Nelipa argues that this story was fabricated by Vladimir Dzhunkovsky in order to discredit Rasputin.[145][146] Dzhunkovsky and Beletsky verified later that Rasputin never visited the Yar restaurant.[147] Also for Bernard Pares, it was taken that the police were the enemies of Rasputin, and that the many stories which reached the public were simply their fabrications.[148]

World War I

Entrance of Gorochovaia 64 near the Tsarskoe train station. Rasputin's 5-room apartment, No. 20, paid by either the Empress,[149] Alexander Taneyev or the banker Dmitry Lvovich Rubinstein, was on the third floor and had a view into the courtyard.[150] From May 1914 he lived there with his housemaids Dunya and Katya Pecherkina, his niece Anna and his two daughters, who were students at one of Petrograd's private colleges. "There was no sign of luxury in the flat. Nothing but bare, painted boards, hard deal chairs and a simple table."[151]

After the First Balkan War, the Balkan allies planned the partition of the European territory of the Ottoman Empire among them. During the Second Balkan War the Tsar tried to stop the conflict, since Russia did not wish to lose either of its Slavic allies. Rasputin warned the Tsar not to become involved and promoted a peaceful policy on 13 October 1913 in the "Petersburg Gazette".[152][153] It seems Rasputin became the enemy of Grand Duke Nicholas, a panslavist, his brother Peter and their wives Milica and Anastasia of Montenegro, eager to go to war and push the Austrians out of the Balkans.[154][155]

On July 1, 1914 the Tsar suggested that the Imperial Duma should be reduced to merely a consultative body. On 25 July 1914 (N.S.), during the July Crisis, the Council of Ministers, gathered at Tsarskoe Seloe, decreed partial mobilisation as a precaution against the Austro-Hungarian Empire to support the Kingdom of Serbia.[156] On the 26th Rasputin spoke out against Russia going to war; he begged the Tsar to do everything in his power to avoid it.[157] On the 27th Vyrubova asked Rasputin to change his mind on the war, but he stuck to his position.[158] On the 28th Austria declared war on Serbia. In the morning of 29 July [O.S. 16 July] 1914 the Tsar signed both a partial (against Austria) and a general mobilization (with Austria and Germany). From the hospital Rasputin sent several telegrams to the court through Anna Vyrubova, expressing his fears for the future of the country. "If Russia goes to war, it will be the end of the monarchy, of the Romanovs and of Russian institutions."[159] "Such was his worry that his wound opened up and began to bleed again."

A "flurry of telegrams" between the Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Tsar[160] led to the cancellation of Russian general mobilization; the directless Tsar chose for the partial mobilisation in the evening.[161] Then Nicholas II met with protests from Sergei Sazonov, Alexander Krivoshein and Vladimir Sukhomlinov. According to Samuel Hoare: "I believe myself that, had he [Sazonov] not insisted upon general mobilisation on July 30th, the Emperor would have continued to hesitate, and Russian mobilisation … would never have been possible".[162] On the 31st Germany demanded that Russia stopped general mobilisation. The Tsar expected Germany would never attack Russia, France and England combined, but all "muddled" into World War I.[note 9][note 10]

Russia hoped that the war would last until Christmas, but after a year the situation on the Eastern front had become disastrous. In the big cities there was a shortage of food and high prices and the Russian people blamed all on "dark forces" or spies for and collaborators with Germany. On 26 May 1915 shops in Moscow, owned by foreigners, were attacked.[168] The crowd called for the Empress, who had German roots, to be locked up in a convent.[169] In June under pressure of public opinion Sukhomlinov left on charges of abuse of power and treason. In August Lenin wrote an article for the Zimmerwald Conference calling for the defeat of the Russian government.[170] He rejected both the defense of Russia and the cry for peace; instead he promoted a civil war. For Trotsky: "The right of nations to select their own government must be the immovable fundamental principle of international relations."[171] When the German army occupied Warsaw in August 1915 the situation looked extremely grave, because of a shortage in weapons and ammunition.[note 11]

After the withdraw from Poland Tsar Nicholas took supreme command of the Russian armies on 23 August 1915, and replaced not only Grand Duke Nicholas but also Nikolai Yanushkevich hoping this would lift morale. He was undoubtedly led to this fateful decision by the insistence of the Tsarina and of Rasputin[173][174] who, according to Maklakov, seem to have been the only ones who supported the Tsar in his decision. "Having one man in charge of the situation would consolidate all decision making."[175] However, there proved to be dire consequences for himself as well as for Russia, as he was absolutely incompetent in military matters. It seems all the Romanovs despised his decision; Duchess Maria Pavlovna wasn't the only one who feared the Empress would "be the sole ruler of Russia". All the ministers, even Ivan Goremykin, realized that the change would put Alexandra and Rasputin in charge and threatened to resign.[176][177] The Progressive bloc demanded the forming of a "government of confidence", but the Tsar, unconvincable, rejected these proposals. The Imperial Duma was sent into recess on 3 September and would not gather again until 9 February 1916. Vasily Maklakov published his famous article, describing Russia as a vehicle with no brakes, driven along a narrow mountain path by a "mad chauffeur".[178]


Ivan Goremykin. "Seventy-five years of age, a conservative, and a life-long bureaucrat, he was, in his own words, ‘pulled like a winter coat out of mothballs,’ to lead the government ..."[179] In January 1916 Rasputin was opposed to the plan to send the old Goremykin away.[180]
Rasputin's awkward handwriting in a request to minister Khvostov. From: René Fülöp-Miller (1927) Rasputin: The Holy Devil. According to Shelley he was taught handwriting by the Tsarina.

From 1905–1917 the Council of Ministers collectively decided the government's policy, tactical direction, and served as a buffer between the Emperor and the national legislature. The politicians tried to bring the government under control of the Duma.[181] For the Octobrists and the Kadets, the liberals in the parliament, Rasputin, who believed in autocracy and absolute monarchy, was one of the main obstacles.

On 19 August 1915, after an unsuccessful attempt to discredit Rasputin and the Tsarina in a newspaper, Prince Vladimir Orlov[58] and Vladimir Dzhunkovsky were discharged from their posts. The Tsar then pronounced the relationship between Rasputin and his wife to be a private one, closed to debate.[182][183][184][185]

On the eve of the war the government and the Duma were hovering round one another like indecisive wrestlers, neither side able to make a definite move.[186] The Great Retreat during the Summer made the political parties more cooperative and practically formed into one party. On 24 August the Progressive Bloc, including the entire membership of the Duma, except the extreme right and the extreme left, was formed.[187] The government began to utilize the efforts of society to support the army.[188]

While seldom meeting with Alexandra personally after the debate in the Duma, Rasputin had become her personal adviser through daily telephone calls or weekly meetings with Vyrubova. This was especially the case after August 1915[189] when the Emperor left Petrograd for Stavka at the front, leaving his wife Alexandra Feodorovna to act in his place. Rasputin's personal influence over the Tsarina had become so great that it was he who ordered the destinies of Imperial Russia, while she compelled her weak husband to fulfill them.[190] According to Fuhrmann a symbiotic relationship developed between the Tsarina and Rasputin, in which "each fed from the other".[191] According to Pierre Gilliard "her desires were interpreted by Rasputin, they seemed in her eyes to have the sanction and authority of a revelation."[192]

"The Tsar had resisted the influence of Rasputin for a long time. At the beginning he had tolerated him because he dare not weaken the Tsarina's faith in him – a faith which kept her alive. He did not like to send him away for, if Alexei Nicolaievich had died, in the eyes of the mother he would have been the murderer of his own son."[140]

According to Nicholas V. Riasanovsky:

"Thus a narrow-minded, reactionary, hysterical woman and an ignorant, weird peasant - who apparently made decisions simply in terms of his personal interest, and whose exalted position depended on the empress's belief that he could protect her son from hemophilia and that he had been sent by God to guide her, her husband, and Russia - had the destinies of an empire in their hands.[193]

In late 1915 Alexandra and Rasputin advised the Tsar in military strategies around Riga where the Germans were stopped.[194] It seems the two also dominated the Holy Synod. In December Rasputin was invited to see Alexei when the 11-year-old boy had a cold (or was accidentally thrown against the window of a train), and his nose began to bleed.[195]

At the beginning of 1916 not Alexei Khvostov but Boris Stürmer was appointed as Prime Minister. He was not opposed to the convening of the Duma, as Goremykin had been, and he would launch a more liberal and conciliatory politic. The Duma gathered on 9 February, but the deputies were disappointed when Stürmer made his speech. For the first time in his life, the Tsar made a visit to the Taurida Palace, which made it practically impossible to hiss at the new prime minister.

Alexei Khvostov and Iliodor or Beletsky concocted a plan to kill Rasputin. Khvostov repeated the rumour suggesting that Alexandra and Rasputin were German agents or spies.[196][197][198][199][200] Rather paranoid, Rasputin went to Alexander Spiridovich, head of the palace police, on 1 March. He was constantly in a state of nervous excitement. Evidence that Rasputin actually worked for the Germans is flimsy at best.[201][202][203] According to Kerensky people around Rasputin (e.g. Ivan Manuilov-Manasevich) were interested in strategic information.[204][205] Rasputin himself never cared much about money and gave it away as soon he had received it.[206][207] He had built up a reputation of being at once a generous and a disinterested man. Besides alms Rasputin spent large sums in restaurants, cafes, music halls and in the streets...[98]

Khvostov had to resign within a week and was banned to his estate; Boris Stürmer was appointed in his place. In the same month Minister of War Alexei Polivanov, who in his few months of office had brought about a recovery of the efficiency of the Russian army, was removed and replaced by Dmitry Shuvayev. At the request of France, the Russian army started the Lake Naroch Offensive, which was an utter failure. In Spring 1916 Rasputin went to Lake Ladoga and met with Gerard Shelley, whom he told he planned to go to the front;[208] General Mikhail Alekseev, the successor of Grand Duke Nicholas refused to meet him. The Minister of Foreign Affairs Sazonov, who had pleaded for an independent and autonomous Russian Poland, was replaced in July. Aleksandr Khvostov, not in good health, was appointed as Minister of Interior. In August Rasputin told Alexandra the Russian army should not cross the Carpathians; the losses would be too great. On the 18th the Tsar asked his wife not to tell Rasputin about his plans concerning the Brusilov Offensive; troops were sent from Riga to the south.[194] On 20 September the offense was stopped by the Tsar, because of the enormous losses in four months time. The Russian Army (in Romania) was both demoralized and nearly out of supplies.

"That horrible German!" they would say. "She is degrading Autocracy in the eyes of the people. Imagine an Empress nursing wounded soldiers with her own hands!" This parrot cry was heard day after day.[209]

On 14 September Alexander Protopopov, pro-peace like Alexandra, Stürmer, and Rasputin, had been invited as Minister of Interior, but his contacts on peace in Stockholm became a scandal. (The Cadets had come to the conclusion that the war could not be won.[210] From 16 April till 20 June Milyukov, Protopopov and a delegation of 16 State Duma delegates had visited France, and England.[211] On their way back they met the German industrialist and politician Hugo Stinnes, Knut Wallenberg, the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs,[212] Hellmuth Lucius von Stoedten, the German envoy in Sweden, and Fritz M. Warburg, a banker and member of the Warburg family.[213][214][215][216]) When Protopopov raised the question of transferring the food supply from the Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of the Interior, a majority of the zemstvo leaders announced that they would not work with his ministry. His food plan was universally condemned.[180]

On 24 October (O.S) the Kingdom of Poland was established by its occupiers Germany and Austria. On 26 October Sukhumlinov was released from prison on instigation of Alexandra, Rasputin and Protopopov. According to Figes the public was outraged[217] and the opposition parties decided to attack Stürmer, his government and the "Dark forces".[218] A strongly prevailing opinion that Rasputin was the actual ruler of the country was of great psychological importance.[219]

Imperial Duma

Pavel Milyukov succeeded in firing the engines of radical protest in the country.[220]

On 1 November the government under the pro peace Boris Stürmer [221] was attacked by Pavel Milyukov in the Imperial Duma. In his speech "Rasputin and Rasputuiza" he spoke of "treachery and betrayal, about the dark forces, fighting in favor of Germany".[222] He highlighted numerous governmental failures, including the case Suchomlinov, concluding that Stürmer's policies placed in jeopardy the Triple Entente. After each accusation – many times without basis – he asked "Is this stupidity or is it treason?" and the listeners answered "stupidity!", "treason!", or "both!"; Milyukov was taken immediately by Sir George Buchanan to the British Embassy.[223] His speech was spread in flyers on the front and at the Hinterland. Stürmer and Protopopov asked in vain for the dissolution of the Duma.[224] Ivan Grigorovich and Dmitry Shuvayev declared in the Duma that they had confidence in the Russian people, the navy and the army; the war could be won. Grand Duke Alexander and his brother George Mikhailovich requested the Tsar to fire Stürmer. Buchanan also attempted to influence the Tsar, but the latter did not appreciate the British ambassador's advice.[225][226][227]

Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich, according to M. Nelipa one of the key players,[228] prince Lvov and general Mikhail Alekseyev, who believed secret strategic information had gone through the hands of Alexandra and Rasputin, attempted to persuade Nicholas to send the Empress away either to the Livadia Palace in Yalta or to England.[229]

On 19 November the popular Vladimir Purishkevich held a two-hour speech in the Duma, accusing the government of "Germanophilism" and stifling "public initiative."[230] The trouble was that the different ministries did not cooperate. The government was the problem. The monarchy – because of what he called the "ministerial leapfrog" – had become "fully descredited".[231][232]

"The Tsar's ministers who have been turned into marionettes, marionettes whose threads have been taken firmly in hand by Rasputin and the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna—the evil genius of Russia and the Tsarina ... who has remained a German on the Russian throne and alien to the country and its people."[233]

Rasputin and the Imperial couple. Anonymous caricature in 1916

Purishkevich, a buffoon character, stated that Rasputin's influence over the Tsarina had made him a threat to the empire: "an illiterate moujik shall govern Russia no longer!"[234] "While Rasputin is alive, we cannot win".[235]

Prince Felix Yusupov was impressed by the remarkable speech.[236] He visited Purishkevich, who quickly agreed to participate in the murder of Rasputin. Yusupov approached the lawyer Vasily Maklakov, who agreed to advise Felix.[237] Also Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich received Yusupov's suggestion with alacrity, and his alliance was welcomed as indicating that the murder would not be a demonstration against the [Romanov] dynasty.[238] Then Yusupov approached Sergei Mikhailovich Sukhotin (1887–1926) who served the Guards Rifle Brigade, Life Guards Infantry,[239] but recuperating from injuries in Hotel Astoria, changed into a hospital for wounded officers.[240]

The Progressive Bloc demanded a responsible government. According to Figes there was practically no one ... who did not see the need for a fundamental change in the structure of the government.[220] Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich of Russia, Dmitri's father, tried to persuade the Tsar, to change his policy[241] and accept a new constitution in order to save the monarchy.[note 12] [note 13]

Alexander Guchkov, who had come to the painful conclusion the situation could only improve when the Tsar was sent away,[243] reported that five members of the Progressive Bloc, including Kerensky, Konovalov, Nekrasov and Tereschenko would consider a coup d'etat, but did not undertake any action. Grand Duke Nikolai refused, saying that the army would not support a coup.[230] "Prince Lvov and General Alekseev made up their minds that the Tsarina’s hold on the Tsar must be broken in order to end the pressure being exerted on him, through her, by the Rasputin clique."[244] Alexandra suggested to her husband to expel Guchkov and Prince Lvov to Siberia.[245] In December 1916 Felix became extremely worried about the Tsarina as regent; the Duma would lose and Rasputin would gain influence. A separate peace between Russia and Germany could become reality, a few months before the USA, preparing itself, stepped into World War I.[246]

British intelligence reports, sent between London and Petrograd in 1916, indicate that the British were not only extremely concerned about Rasputin's displacement of pro-British ministers[citation needed] in the Russian government but, even more importantly, his apparent insistence on withdrawing Russian troops from World War I. This withdrawal would have allowed the Germans to transfer their Eastern Front troops to the Western Front, leading to a massive outnumbering of the Allies and threatening their defeat. Whether this was actually Rasputin's intent or whether he was simply concerned about the huge number of Russian casualties (as the Tsarina's letters indicate) is in dispute, but it is clear that the British perceived him as a real threat to the war effort.[247]

Trepov and Protopopov

Alexandr Protopopov and Kabinet in September 1916

On 10 November the bellicose Alexander Trepov had been appointed as the new prime minister by promoting a parliamentary system, but he made the dismissal of the exceedingly nervous Alexander Protopopov, who never had "any effective proposal for the solution of any of the grave and critical problems",[248] an indispensable condition of his accepting the presidency of the Council. The Tsarina tried to have Protopopov appointed from his influential position as manager of the ministry to minister of interior. Both Trepov and Alexandra traveled to Stavka; the latter to convince her husband to have Protopopov appointed. Rasputin and Vyrubova each sent five telegrams to support her.[249][250] Trepov then threatened to resign.

On 17 November Nikolai Pokrovsky was appointed minister of foreign affairs. On 31 November Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg tried to initiate a peace-making process[251] and to end the war on base of his Septemberprogramm (1914).[252] The 'peace offensive' was bound to fail;[253] the terms too vague to be taken seriously.[253][254][255] On 2 December[256] Pokrovsky said that Russia would never sign a peace treaty with the Central Powers, which caused a storm of applause in the Duma. At the end of the year, the Russians began sending numerous reinforcements to Moldavia to prevent an invasion of southern Russia.

In 1908 Fräulein Anna Vyrubova "openly became his fanatical admirer, the driving force of his cult, and was at the head of his loyalists".[77] According to Stürmer she was mesmerized by Rasputin; for Pierre Gilliard and Spiridovich Vyrubova she had been "ignorant and devoid of common sense" when she entered the court.

(On 6 December Kerensky had secretly recruited members for a new government.[257]) The appointment of Protopopov wasn't approved until 7 December 1916. Trepov, having failed to eliminate Protopopov, tried to bribe Rasputin in the next days.[258][259] With the help of general A.A. Mosolov,[260] his brother-in-law, Trepov offered a substantial amount of money, a bodyguard and a house to Rasputin, if he would leave politics.[261][262][263]

Rasputin apparently feared that he would die before the end of the year.[264][265] According to Shelley in Britain most were convinced that Rasputin was a dangerous person and that it would help the cause of the Allies if he was forcibly removed.[266] His death might be expected at any time; it seems he accepted his destiny.[267] On 13 December Rasputin warned against the influence of Trepov.[194] It seems he hardly left his house. It is not likely he burned his correspondence and moved money to his daughters from his bank account.[268][269][270][271][272] His most frequent guest, the diamond dealer Aron Simanovitch, but also his secretary published a strangely prophetic letter "The Spirit of Gregory Efimovich Rasputin of the village of Pokrovskoe", intended for the Tsar.[273] According to Edvard Radzinsky the prophecy is not by Rasputin.[267][274][275]

On Friday afternoon, 16 December, Rasputin returned from the "banya" at 3 p.m. About seven individuals visited his apartment onwards. Around 8 p.m. he told Anna Vyrubova, who presented him a small icon, signed and dated at the back by the Tsarina and her daughters,[276] of a proposed midnight visit to Yusupov in his palace. Protopopov, a late visitor who only stayed ten minutes, seems to have begged him not to go out that night.[277][278]

Nelipa thinks what happened next was intentionally timed; both Grand Duke Dmitry and Purishkevich, assisting at the front, had arrived in the city. Rasputin was murdered on the night after the Duma went into recess. "The forthcoming recess would eliminate the otherwise predictable uproar from any of the delegates at the Tauride Palace, had the murder been arranged a few days earlier."[279]


On the left side of the Moika Palace was Felix' apartment with the basement underneath

There are very few facts between the night Rasputin disappeared and the day his corpse was dredged up from the river. "As far as the Yusupov Palace is concerned, the Police had no right to make inquiries unless invited to do so. The Director of Police was unable to ask the simplest of questions such as who was present at the palace on the night," and "nothing other than a cursory search was allowed inside."[280] So the murder of Rasputin has become something of a legend, some of it invented, perhaps embellished or simply misremembered.


Felix Yusupov (1914) married Irina Aleksandrovna Romanova, the only niece of the Tsar.
Basement of the Yusupov Palace on the Moika in St Petersburg, where Grigori Rasputin was murdered

Yusupov, who had visited Rasputin in the past few months for treatment, invited Rasputin to the Moika Palace, intimating his wife, Princess Irina, would be back from Koreiz and Rasputin could meet her after a housewarming party. (Yusupov later denied his wife was involved).[281] Around midnight, on Friday 16/Saturday 17 December, Prince Felix went with Dr. Stanislaus de Lazovert to Rasputin's apartment. Yusupov didn't use the regular stairs at this unseemly hour, but a stairwell in the courtyard. Around one o'clock in the morning they drove to the recently refurbished palace, where a sound-proof room, part of the wine cellar, had been specially prepared for the crime. According to Purishkevich they had placed four bottles, containing different kinds of sweet wines, in a window. Waiting in his drawing room on another floor were the fellow conspirators: Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, Purishkevich, his assistant Lazovert and Sukhotin, a friend of Felix's mother.[note 14] It seems some women were invited but Yusupov did not mention their names; Radzinsky suggested Dimitri's step-sister Marianne Pistohlkors and film star Vera Karalli.[282]

According to Yusupov in his memoirs, he offered Rasputin tea and petit fours laced with a large amount of cyanide. According to the diplomat Maurice Paléologue, who in later years rewrote his memoirs, they discussed spirituality and occultism;[283] The antique dealer Albert Stopford wrote that politics was the issue.[284] Purishkevich, a teetotaler, mentions he could hear bottles were opened and after an hour or so Rasputin was fairly drunk. It is highly likely Yusupov offered Rasputin top wines from the Crimea, from his own vineyard, and perhaps a cherry brandy[note 15] Yusupov went upstairs and came back with Dmitri's revolver. Rasputin was shot at close quarters by Felix sitting left of him. The bullet entered the chest, penetrating the stomach and the liver; it left the body on the right side.[286] Then Rasputin fell onto a white bearskin.

However, Yusupov did not succeed in killing Rasputin. After a while "Rasputin opened his eyes and became aware of his predicament."[287] He struggled up the stairs to reach the first landing, opening an unlocked door to the courtyard, which had been—not long before—used by Yusupov's conspirators. Alarmed by the noise, Purishkevich went down and fired at Rasputin four times, missing three times (from an unknown distance according to Nelipa). The bullet penetrated the right kidney and lodged into the spine.[288] Rasputin never reached the gate,[289] but fell into the snow, just outside the door. Both shots were fatal; he would have died within 10–20 minutes, but when the body made a sudden movement, one of them placed his revolver on the forehead and pulled the trigger.[note 16] Then the body was carried back inside. A nervous Yusupov severely hit his victim in his right eye with his shoe.[293]

Felix private apartment was on the east side of the palace, Embankment 94. Between the basement and his rooms, half way up, was a door opening onto a cobbled forecourt of the house adjoining. The photo shows the courtyard (belonging to Moika Embankment 92, also owned by the Yusupovs) and the secret door (between the first and second window on the right).[294][295]

Two city policemen on duty heard a 'rapid fire' of gunshot sequence;[289] they had also seen cars coming and leaving. They discussed the issue on the Pochtamtsky Bridge. One of them questioned Yusupov's butler for details, but was sent away.[296] Twenty minutes later he was re-invited to the palace. Purishkevich boasted he had shot Rasputin, and asked the policeman, aware of his mistake, to keep it quiet for the sake of the Tsar.[297][298][299][300][301][302] However, this policeman told his superiors everything he had heard and seen.[303]

The conspirators had planned to burn Rasputin’s possessions; Sukhotin put on Rasputin’s fur coat, his galoshes, and gloves. He left together with Dmitri Pavlovich and Dr. Lazovert in Purishkevich's car,[303] to suggest that Rasputin had left the palace alive.[304] Because Purishkevich's wife refused to burn the fur coat and the rubber[305] galoshes[306] in her small fireplace in Purishkevich's ambulance train, the conspirators went back to the palace with these large items.

When the body was wrapped in a broadcloth, Dimitri and his fellow conspirators drove in the direction of Krestovsky island[307] and threw the corpse from the car over the railing into an ice-hole in the Malaya Nevka River. They drove back, without noticing that one of Rasputin's galoshes was stuck between the pylons of the bridge. Unfortunately for the plotters his coat "formed an air bell" and the corpse drifted into an ice mass; it prevented the body’s disposal into the sea.[308]

Days following

The wooden Bolshoy Petrovsky Bridge, from which Rasputin's body was thrown into the Malaya Nevka River
Rasputin's corpse on a sledge. "The body is that of a man of about 50 years old, of medium size, dressed in blue embroidered hospital robe, which covers a white shirt. His legs, in high leather boots, are tied with a rope, and the same rope ties his wrists.[309] The twine that had originally bound the hands had snapped allowing the hands to separate by the time the corpse was uplifted onto the ice. The corpse stiffened with raised arms."[310]

The next morning, at 8 a.m. the police came to Rasputin's apartment, and asked his daughters where their father was. At eleven he still had not shown up. Then Rasputin's disappearance was reported by Maria to Vyrubova.[311] When Vyrubova spoke of it to the Empress, Alexandra pointed out that Princess Irina was absent from Petrograd. When Protopopov mentioned the story reported by the policemen at the Moika, they began to believe that Rasputin had been lured into an ambush. On the Empress' orders, a police investigation commenced and traces of blood were discovered on the steps to the backdoor of the Yusupov Palace. Felix explained the blood with a story that by accident one of his dogs was shot by Grand Duke Dmitri. They both tried to gain access to the empress on Sunday. The Tsarina refused to meet the two, but said they could explain to her what had happened in a letter. Purishkevich assisted them writing and left the city at ten in the evening, heading to the front. The next day Prince Yusupov and Grand Duke Dmitri were placed under house arrest in the Sergei Palace when an Uhlenhuth test showed the blood was of human origin. Felix refused to tell the police where the body was.

In the afternoon, traces of blood were detected on the parapet of the Bolshoy Petrovsky bridge and one of Rasputin's galoshes was found under the bridge. In the middle of night Maria and her sister affirmed it belonged to their father. It was late, but the police knew where to investigate. On Monday morning, 19 December,[312] Rasputin's beaver-fur coat and the body were discovered close to the river bank, 140 meters west of the bridge.[313] The police and government officials arrived within 15 minutes. In the late afternoon it was decided the frozen corpse had to be taken to the desolate Chesmensky Almshouse. On the next day Makarov was fired, hindering a police investigation. In the evening an autopsy on the thawed corpse by Kosorotov, a forensic expert, in a poorly lit mortuary room[309][314] established that the cause of his instant death was the third bullet in his frontal lobe, according to Nelipa with strong evidence there was an exit wound at the back of the head.[315] (His official report is still missing.[316]) The first and third shots were made at close range,[317] but had exited his body. The second bullet was extracted. There were a number of injuries, most of them supposedly caused after his death. His right eye was struck by a blunt object, e.g. a boot, his right cheek was shattered when the body hit the pylon of the bridge.[318]

Chesme Almshouse[319]

On 21 December Rasputin's body was taken in a zinc coffin from the Chesmensky Almshouse[320] to be buried in a corner on the property of Vyrubova [58] and adjacent to the palace.[321] The burial at 8.45 in the morning was attended by the Imperial couple with their daughters, Vyrubova, her maid, and a few of Rasputin's friends, such as Lili Dehn, Protopopov and Colonel Loman. It is not clear whether Rasputin's two daughters were present, although Maria Rasputin claimed she was there.[322][323] Later that day Irina's father Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich wrote the Tsar to close the case. After a week and without an interrogation or a trial the Tsar sent Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich, and Yusupov into exile.[324][325] He ensured that Rasputin's murder would never become a matter for the court to judge.[326] On Saturday 24 December Dmitri left at two in the morning for Qazvin in Persia, Felix for Rakitnoe, his estate near Belgorod; the police were ordered to stop their inquest.[327][328]

Towards the February Revolution

View of Moika River by Imperial Stables 1809
A large gathering of people outside, some holding banners
Putilov workers protesting in the streets
General Kornilov and the head of the Provisional Government, Alexander Kerensky with his guards in Tsarskoe Selo after they arrested the Empress Alexandra, in March 1917.

On 27 December the hesitating Nikolai Golitsyn became the successor of Trepov, who was allowed to retire. Also Pavel Ignatieff, Alexander Makarov and Dmitry Shuvayev were replaced.

"In the seventeen months of the `Tsarina's rule', from September 1915 to February 1917, Russia had four Prime Ministers, five Ministers of the Interior, three Foreign Ministers, three War Ministers, two Ministers of Transport and four Ministers of Agriculture. This "ministerial leapfrog", as it came to be known, not only removed competent men from power, but also disorganized the work of government since no one remained long enough in office to master their responsibilities."[231]

More and more people came to the conclusion that the problem was not Rasputin but the weak-willed Emperor, who had secluded himself in Tsarskoe Selo, unable to react on what happened. The struggle between the Tsar and the Duma became more bitter than ever. Two rival institutions, the Duma and the Petrograd Soviet, which had established itself in the Tauride Palace too, competed for power. During the February Revolution, the government had difficulties to suppress the riots. On 26 February, the Tsar ordered the army to suppress the rioting by force, troops began to mutiny and join the protesters and demanding a new constitutional government. The meeting of the Duma was prorogued by the Tsar, although Golitsyn opposed its dissolution. A private body of Duma members was formed to help restore order. "On the evening of 27 February the Council of Ministers of Russia held its last meeting in the Marinsky Palace and formally submitted its resignation to the Tsar. The Provisional Committee of the State Duma ordered the arrest of all the ex-ministers and senior officials"[329]

The monarchy was deserted by all the élites of the old society, the landowners, the army officers, the industrialists, and politicians of the Duma. On 2 March 1917 Nikolai Ruzsky, Vasily Shulgin and Guchkov came to the train station at Pskov to persuade the Tsar, accompanied by Vladimir Freedericksz and Grand Duke Nicholas, to resign.[330] On 4 March the investigation on Rasputin was stopped by Kerensky and he extended an amnesty to the three main conspirators. On 6 March the British prime minister David Lloyd George gave a cautious welcome to the suggestion of the Russian Foreign Minister Pavel Milyukov that the toppled Tsar and his family be given sanctuary in Britain (although Lloyd George would have preferred that they go to a neutral country). On the 8th all the movements of the imperial family were restricted as the grave of Rasputin had become a place of worship for the Tsarina and her daughters.[331] Rasputin's secret grave site was found under a pile of rocks in the woods. The coffin was transported to the town hall, where a curious crowd gathered, and secured under guard over night. According to Moynahan:

Heat-only boiler station of the Saint Petersburg State Polytechnical University, where Kalmykov, Nelipa and Moe suppose Rasputin was cremated.

"Rasputin’s face was found to have turned black, and an icon was found on his chest. It bore the signatures of Vyrubova, Alexandra, and her four daughters. The body was put into a packing case that once held a piano and was driven in secret to the imperial stables in Petrograd. The next day it was loaded onto a truck and taken out of Petrograd on the Lesnoe Road."[332]

Authors do not agree what happened on the night of 10/11 March after the truck drove on its way north in the direction of Piskarevka in the Vyborgsky District.[333] According to some authors, the truck broke down or the snow forced them to stop and the corpse was burned in a field.[334][335][336] It is more likely the corpse was incinerated (between 3 and 7 in the morning) in the cauldrons of in the nearby boiler shop[337][338][339] of the Saint Petersburg State Polytechnical University, including the coffin, without leaving a single trace.[340] Anything that had to do with Rasputin disappeared permanently.

In August 1917 the Russian poet Alexander Blok started to work for the Extraordinary Investigation Commission to investigate illegal officio former ministers of action of the Chief Commander and other senior officials of both civil war and navy departments,[341] established on 4 March 1916, to transcribe the (Thirteenth Section's) interrogations of those who knew Grigori Rasputin. Between 1924-1927 the report, "The fall of the Tsarist regime" was published.[342]

Recent evidence

Post-mortem photograph of Rasputin showing the bullet wound in his forehead

The official police report, with details gathered in two days, and stopped with the idea the murder was solved, is unconvincing. "Unfortunately, after the Soviets came to power, many of the documents that formed part of the official secret investigation have either been destroyed, or have disappeared."[343] What is left are the memoirs of the murderers, the 29-year-old Felix Yusupov and 47-year-old Vladimir Purishkevich. The theatrical details of the murder given by Felix have never stood up to scrutiny. He changed his account several times; the statement given to the Petrograd police, the accounts given whilst in exile in the Crimea in 1917, his 1927 book, and finally the accounts given under oath to libel juries in 1934 and 1965 all differ to some extent.

"When asked [in 1965] by his attorney as to his motive killing Rasputin, he announced that he was motivated by his 'distaste for Rasputin's debaucheries.' This represented a major shift from his argument since 1917 that emphasized that he was motivated solely by patriotism for Russia."[344]

The second bullet came from Vladimir Purishkevich

Yusupov's role in the murder has been called into question, being consumed by the thought that "not a single important event at the front was decided [during the war] without a preliminary conference" between Alexandra and Rasputin.[345]

Concerning the details of the murder, not even the murderers could give consistent accounts. Differing opinions ranged from the colour of shirt he wore[126][346] to whose weapon or car was used[347] or even where he was finally wounded. Purishkevich said he fired at Rasputin from behind at a distance of twenty paces and hit Rasputin in the back of the head. However, there is no photo of the rear of Rasputin’s head.[348]

Neither Purishkevich nor Yusupov mention the close quarter shot to the forehead.[349] The caliber of the weapon that was used cannot be measured.[350] "The hypothesis that the gunshot to the head was caused by an unjacketed bullet (of British origin) is not supported by the forensic findings or police forensic photographs."[351] Nelipa thinks it is not very likely a Webley .455 inch and an unjacketed bullet was used, because its impact would have been different.

According to the 1916 autopsy report by Dmitri Kosorotov, two bullets had passed through the body, so it was impossible to tell how many people were shooting and to determine whether only one kind of revolver was used. "Kosorotov never stated that different caliber weapons were responsible."[352]

British Secret Intelligence Service

There were two officers of the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) in Petrograd at the time. Lieutenant Oswald Rayner and Captain Stephen Alley, born in a Arkhangelskoye Palace near Moscow in 1876, where his father was one of the prince's tutors. Rayner knew Yusupov since they had met at University of Oxford.[353] "Cook might be right that a British agent was present at the Yusupov Palace on the night of Rasputin’s murder" but "Rayner did not have to do any more than stand back and wait until the Russians would complete their pre-arranged task."[354]

Fuhrmann suggests Buchanan knew already at 5.30 in the morning Rasputin was dead (and not missing).[355] According to Sir Samuel Hoare, head of the British Intelligence Service in Russia: "If MI6 had a part in the killing of Rasputin, I would have expected to have found some trace of that".[356]


A strannik (Странник) by Vasily Perov
Everyone who met Rasputin remarked on his eyes and how hypnotic they were. His "shining steel-like" or "bright and brilliant" and "intelligent" eyes became legendary.[357] According to Shelley they seemed to emit soft, velvety rays, caressing one almost as one feels the caress of a melodious voice. According to Theofan, Paul Kurlov and Count Kokotsov he had "piercing" eyes;[358] to Yusupov his eyes were "phosphorescent"; to Tamara Karsavina he had the eyes of a maniac;[359] Elena Dzhanumova wrote in her diary, "What eyes he has! You cannot endure his gaze for long."[360]
Ergorov bathhouse ca. 1910 in St Petersburg
In 1992 the Museum of Grigory Rasputin in the selo of Pokrovskoye, Tyumen Oblast was set up

Rasputin was more multifaceted and more significant than the myths that grew up around him:

  • Rasputin was neither a monk nor a saint; he never belonged to any order or religious sect,[361] He was a strannik, who impressed many people with his knowledge and ability to explain the Bible in an uncomplicated way.[362] According to Baroness Sophie Buxhoeveden, he was a "starets in making."[59]
  • According to Lili Dehn, Rasputin spoke an almost incomprehensible Siberian dialect.[58] According to Andrei Amalrik, Rasputin "never produced a clear and understandable sentence. Always something was missing: the subject, the predicate or both."[363] According to Gerard Shelley he had a voice that once heard could never be forgotten.
  • It was widely believed that Rasputin had a gift for curing bodily ailments. "In the mind of the Tsarina, Rasputin was closely associated with the health of her son, and the welfare of the monarchy."[105] According to G. Shelley he fitted in with their creed and plan for the regeneration and salvation of Russia.[364]
  • Brian Moynahan describes him as "a complex figure, intelligent, ambitious, idle, generous to a fault, spiritual, and – utterly – amoral." He was an unusual mix, a muzhik, prophet and [at the end of his life] a party-goer.[365]
  • The myth about his dirty fingernails was just part of the campaign of the aristocracy against him.[62][366]
  • "At first sight Rasputin looks like a symbol of decadence and obscurantism, of the complete corruption of the imperial court in which he was able to float to the top. And so he has usually been treated in the history books. The temptation to wallow in the rhetoric of the lower depths in describing him is almost irresistible. And yet the truth is somewhat simpler: Rasputin was only able to play the part he did because of the dispersal of authority which very much deepened after Stolypin's death, and because of the bewildered and unhappy isolation in which the royal couple found themselves."[367]
  • "To the nobles and Nicholas’s family members, Rasputin was a dual character who could go straight from praying for the royal family to the brothel [bathhouse] down the street."[368] "Rasputin actually attributed half the propaganda against him to Grand Duke Nicholas."[369]
  • In Summer 1916 Anna Vyrubova, Lili Dehn and Rasputin went to Tobolsk, Verkhoturye and his home village. Most of the villagers were strongly against Rasputin's returning to Petrograd. This he refused to do. Even the Tsarina was wondering why Rasputin came back to the capital.[58]
  • The conspirators, who did not accept a peasant being so close to the Imperial couple, had hoped that Rasputin's removal would cause the Tsarina to retreat from political activities. They also believed that Rasputin was an agent of Germany, but he was more of a pacifist, and opposed to all wars.[221][370][371] The troubles of the country were attributed to him and the Tsarina.
  • Rasputin showed an interest in going to the front to bless the troops, but Grand Duke Nicholas, threatened to hang him if he dared to show up.[citation needed] It is possible the story got mixed up: General Mikhail Alekseev, the successor of Grand Duke Nicholas refused to meet him in Spring 1916.
  • Rasputin came to be seen on both the left and the right as the root cause of Russia's despair.[372] On the left he was despised as an enemy of democracy, while for many on the right he was damaging the monarchy. His eventual murderers were nobles who believed his disappearance would strengthen the throne.[373]
  • In Russia, Rasputin is seen by many ordinary people and clerics, among them the late Elder Nikolay Guryanov, as a righteous man.[374] However, Alexy II of Moscow said that any attempt to make a saint of Rasputin, Josef Stalin and Ivan the Terrible would be "madness."[375][376] Many Russian cities have a strip club called Rasputin.[377]
  • According to Dominic Lieven, "more rubbish has been written on Rasputin than on any other figure in Russian history."[378][379]
  • In 1920 Maria Rasputin and her husband Boris Soloviev fled to Vladivostok and they settled in France. In 1935 she moved to the United States, where she worked as a tiger-trainer in the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus. In her three memoirs – it is hard to find out which one is the most reliable,[380] certainly not the last one[381] – she painted an almost saintly picture of her father, insisting that most of the negative stories were based on slander and the misinterpretation of facts by his enemies.

Persistent errors

  • The date of Rasputin’s death is sometimes recorded as being 16 December 1916 (Old Style) or 13 days later on 29 December 1916 using New Style,[note 17] but the murderers left after midnight for Rasputin's apartment, when his guards were gone. The initial attempts to kill Rasputin began on the 17th and it is supposed he died within two hours between 3:00 and 4:00 am.[382]
  • There was alcohol in his body, but no water found in his lungs [383][384] and no cyanide in his stomach according to Kosorotov.[385][386][387] Maria Rasputin asserts that, after the attack by Guseva, her father suffered from hyperacidity and avoided anything with sugar.[388] She and Simanovitch, doubted he was poisoned at all.[389][390][391]
  • Also the "drowning story" became a fixed part of the legend, but Rasputin was already dead when thrown into the water.[392] "There is no evidence that Rasputin swallowed water after being pushed into the Neva or that he had freed his arm to make the sign of the cross."[393]
  • Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria was assassinated on Sunday 28 June 1914 (15 June O.S.); two weeks later Rasputin was attacked in his home village on 29 June 1914 (Old Style), so it is not "... one of the great coincidences of history...".[394]

In popular culture

Drawing of Rasputin by Jelena Nikandrovna Klokatsjeva in State Hermitage Museum
File:Anna Theodora Krarup Portrait of Rasputin 1916.jpg
Anna Theodora Krarup Portrait of Rasputin, signed 13 XII 1916

After his death the memoirs of those who knew Rasputin became a mini-industry. The basement where he died is a tourist attraction. Numerous film and stage productions have been based on his life. He has appeared as a fictionalized version of himself in numerous other media, as well as having several beverages named after him. More than 150 items on Rasputin like bands, comics and other products bear his name.


  1. Colin Wilson said in 1964, "No figure in modern history has provoked such a mass of sensational and unreliable literature as Grigori Rasputin. More than a hundred books have been written about him, and not a single one can be accepted as a sober presentation of his personality. There is an enormous amount of material on him, and most of it is full of invention or willful inaccuracy. Rasputin's life, then, is not 'history'; it is the clash of history with subjectivity."[4] See also his book The Occult: a history (1971), where he writes on p. 433, "Rasputin seems to possess the peculiar quality of inducing shameless inaccuracy in everyone who writes about him."[1]
  2. All the dates are in Old style unless New Style is mentioned.
  3. Efim Vilkin Rasputin (24 December 1841 – autumn 1916); Anna Parshukova (1839/40 – 30 January 1906)
  4. Michael (29 September 1888 – 16 April 1893); Anna (29 January 1892 – 3 May 1896); Grigori (25 May 1894 – 13 September 1894); Dmitri (25 October 1895 – 16 December 1933); Matryona (26 March 1898 – 27 September 1977); Barbara (28 November 1900 – 1925); Paraskeva (11 October 1903 – 20 December 1903)
  5. See Haemophilia in European royalty for more information on this royal disease, due to the lack of just one protein.
  6. In 1911, Yeniseysk Governorate was designated as the place of exile for vagrants. In 1913, there were already 46.700 exiles living in the region.
  7. The basis for the denunciation of Rasputin as a Khlyst was mixed bathing, a common custom among the peasants in many parts of Siberia.[97][98][99]
  8. The former monk Iliodor had written a book on Rasputin, entitling it "The Holy Devil" (1914). It was an appalling and libelous account alleging amorous ties between Grigori Rasputin and the Empress.
  9. For more details on Causes of World War I see A.J.P. Taylor,[163] R.J. Evans[164] and James Joll (2007) "The origins of the First World War". In recent years academic historians have reassessed the exchange of the Willy–Nicky correspondence.[165][166][167] They paid special attention to the telegram of Nicholas II dated July 29, 1914
  10. On 1 September [O.S. 19 August] 1914, St Petersburg by ukase changed its name to Petrograd, in order to remove the German words 'Sankt' and 'Burg'.
  11. "For a period of time in 1915 up to 25% of the Russian soldiers were sent to the front unarmed, with instructions to pick up what they could from the dead."[172]
  12. In the Russian Constitution of 1906 the Tsar retained an absolute veto over legislation, as well as the right to dismiss the Duma at any time, for any reason he found suitable.
  13. Zinaida Yusupova, Alexandra's sister Elisabeth,[227] Grand Duchess Victoria, Prince Michael and the Tsar's mother tried to influence the Emperor or his stubborn wife[58] to remove Rasputin, but without success.[242] For years the Tsar's niece Duchess Marie was openly hostile to Alexandra.
  14. Albert Stopford came up with two of Felix's brothers-in-law: Prince Feodor and Prince Nikita.
  15. The Yusupov family owned a private vineyard in Massandra, near Yalta, where since 1892 sweet or semi-sweet fortified wines such as madeira, port, sherry, but also champagne were produced. His palace in Koreiz had two wine cellars.[285]
  16. According to Nelipa the third gunshot will never identify Rasputin's killer in the manner Cook proposed.[290][291] Nelipa suggests Oswald Rayner was a silent partner.[292]
  17. This discrepancy arises due to the fact that the Gregorian calendar was not introduced into Soviet Russia until February 14, 1918, see Old Style and New Style dates.


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Portrait of Grigori Rasputin (1910)
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External links