Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin (January 22 1869 – December 29 1916) was a Russian mystic who is perceived as having influenced the later years of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II, his wife the Tsaritsa Alexandra, and their only son, Tsarevich Alexei. Rasputin had often been called the "Mad Monk”, while others considered him a religious pilgrim, believing him to be a psychic and faith healer.
Some believe that Rasputin helped to discredit the tsarist government, leading to the fall in 1917 of the Romanov dynasty. Contemporary opinions saw Rasputin variously as a saintly mystic, visionary, healer, and prophet, and, on the other hand, as a debauched religious charlatan. Historians may find both to be true, but there is much uncertainty about his life and presence.
Rasputin was born a peasant in the small village of Pokrovskoye, along the Tura River in the Tobolsk guberniya (now Tyumen Oblast) in Siberia. Not much is known about his childhood, and what is known was most likely passed down through his family members. He had two known siblings, a sister called Maria and an older brother named Dmitri. His sister Maria, said to have been epileptic, was drowned in a river. One day, when Rasputin was playing with his brother, Dmitri fell into a pond and Rasputin jumped in to save him. They were both pulled out of the water by a stranger, but Dmitri eventually died of pneumonia. The deaths of both siblings more or less connected with water, has understandably been seen as far more than mere coincidence, but there is no proof of anything untoward having happened. Both fatalities affected Rasputin, so he subsequently named two of his children Maria and Dmitri.
The myths surrounding Rasputin portray him as showing indications of supernatural powers throughout his childhood. Efim Rasputin, Grigori's father, raised horses, and one ostensible example of these powers was when he mysteriously identified the man who had stolen one of the horses. Rasputin had a knack for identifying thieves and seems to have assumed that everyone possessed this supernatural power.
When he was around the age of eighteen, Grigori spent three months in the Verkhoturye Monastery, possibly a penance for theft. His experience there, combined with a reported vision of the Mother of God on his return, turned him towards the life of a religious mystic and wanderer. It also looks like he came into contact with the banned Christian sect known as the khlysty (flagellants), whose impassioned services, ending in physical exhaustion, led to rumors that religious and sexual ecstasy were combined in these rituals. Suspicions (which have not generally been accepted by historians) that Rasputin was one of the Khlysts threatened his reputation right to the end of his life. Indeed, Alexander Guchkov charged him with being a member of this illegal and orgiastic sect. The Tsar perceived the very real threat of a scandal and ordered his own investigations, but he did not, in the end, remove Rasputin from his position of influence; quite the contrary, he fired his minister of interior for a "lack of control over the press". He pronounced the affair to be a private one closed to debate.
Shortly after leaving the monastery, Rasputin visited a holy man named Makariy, whose hut was nearby. Makariy had an enormous influence on Rasputin, who would model himself after him. Rasputin married Praskovia Fyodorovna Dubrovina in 1889, and they had three children, named Dmitri, Varvara, and Maria. Rasputin also had another child with another woman. In 1901, he left his home in Pokrovskoye as a strannik (or pilgrim) and, during the time of his journeying, travelled to Greece and Jerusalem. In 1903, Rasputin arrived in Saint Petersburg, where he gradually gained a reputation as a starets (or holy man) with healing and prophetical powers.
Rasputin was wandering as a pilgrim in Siberia when he heard reports of Tsarevich Alexei's illness (it was not publicly known in 1934 that Alexei had hemophilia). This disease was widespread among European royalty descended from Victoria of the United Kingdom, who was Alexei's great-grandmother. When the young Tsarevich, while vacationing with his family, got a bruise after falling off a horse, he suffered internal bleeding for days. The Tsarina, looking everywhere for help, asked her best friend, Anna Vyrubova, to secure the help of the charismatic peasant healer Rasputin in 1905. Skeptics have claimed that he did so by hypnosis—although, during a particularly grave crisis, from his home in Siberia, Rasputin was believed to have eased the suffering, in Saint Petersburg, of the Tsarevich through prayer. Diarmuid Jeffreys has proposed that the medical treatment halted due to Rasputin's intervention included aspirin, then a newly-available (since 1899) "wonder drug" for the treatment of pain.
The Tsar referred to Rasputin as "our friend" and a "holy man", a sign of the trust that the family placed in him. Rasputin had a considerable personal and political influence on Alexandra, and both the Tsar and Tsarina considered him a man of God and a religious prophet. Everyone desirous of an audience with the royal couple had to go through him, a situation which angered certain individuals. Alexandra came to believe that God spoke to her through Rasputin. Of course, this relationship can also be viewed in the context of the very strong, traditional, age-old bond between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian leadership. Another important factor was probably the Tsarina's German-Protestant origin: she was definitely highly fascinated by her new Orthodox outlook—the Orthodox religion puts a great deal of faith in the healing powers of prayer.
Rasputin soon became a controversial figure, becoming involved in a paradigm of sharp political struggle involving monarchist, anti-monarchist, revolutionary and other political forces and interests. He was accused by many eminent persons of various misdeeds, ranging from an unrestricted sexual life (including raping a nun) to undue political domination over the royal family.
While fascinated by him, the Saint Petersburg elite did not widely accept Rasputin: he did not fit in with the royal family, and he and the Russian Orthodox Church had a very tense relationship. The Holy Synod frequently attacked Rasputin, accusing him of a variety of immoral or evil practices, but such anecdotal evidence on Rasputin's life should be treated skeptically, however abundant. Because Rasputin was a court official, though, he and his apartment were under 24-hour surveillance, and, accordingly, there exists some credible evidence about his lifestyle in the form of the famous "staircase notes"—reports from police spies which were not given only to the Tsar but also published in newspapers.
During World War I, Rasputin became the focus of accusations of unpatriotic influence at court; the unpopular Tsarina, meanwhile, was of German descent, and she came to be accused of acting as a spy in German employ.
When Rasputin expressed an interest in going to the front to bless the troops early in the war, the Commander-in-Chief, Grand Duke Nicholas, promised to hang him if he dared to show up there. Rasputin then claimed that he had a revelation that the Russian armies would not be successful until the Tsar personally took command. With this, the ill-prepared Nicholas proceeded to take personal command of the Russian army, with dire consequences for himself as well as for Russia.
While Tsar Nicholas II was away at the front, Rasputin's influence over Tsarina Alexandra increased immensely. He soon became her confidant and personal adviser, who convinced her to fill some governmental offices with his own handpicked candidates. Because of World War I and the ossifying effects of feudalism and a meddling government bureaucracy, Russia's economy was declining at a very rapid rate.
The legends recounting the death of Rasputin are perhaps even more bizarre than his strange life. According to Greg King's 1996 book The Man Who Killed Rasputin, a previous attempt on Rasputin's life had been made and had failed: Rasputin was visiting his wife and children in his hometown, Pokrovskoye, along the Tura River, in Siberia. On June 29, 1914, he had either just received a telegram or was just exiting church, when he was attacked suddenly by Khionia Guseva, a former prostitute who had become a disciple of the monk Iliodor, once a friend of Rasputin's but now absolutely disgusted with his behavior and disrespectful talk about the royal family. Iliodor had appealed to women who had been harmed by Rasputin, and together they formed a survivors' support group.
Guseva thrust a knife into Rasputin's abdomen, and his entrails hung out of what seemed like a mortal wound. Convinced of her success, Guseva supposedly screamed, "I have killed the antichrist!" After intensive surgery, however, Rasputin recovered. It was said of his survival that "the soul of this cursed muzhik was sewn on his body." His daughter, Maria, pointed out in her memoirs that he was never the same man after that: he seemed to tire more easily and frequently took opium for pain.
The murder of Rasputin has become legend, some of it invented by the very men who killed him, which is why it becomes difficult to discern exactly what happened. It is however, agreed that Russian nobles afraid of the fast growing popularity of Rasputin among the Royal family, decided to remove him by murder. Count Yusupov and a few others invited the elder pilgrim to Yusupovs' Moika Palace, where they served him cakes and red wine laced with a massive amount of cyanide. According to legend, Rasputin was unaffected, although Vasily Maklakov had supplied enough poison to kill five men. Conversely, Maria's account asserts that, if her father did eat or drink poison, it was not in the cakes or wine, because, after the attack by Guseva, he had hyperacidity, and avoided anything with sugar. In fact, she expressed doubt that he was poisoned at all.
Determined to finish the job, Yusupov became anxious about the possibility that Rasputin might live until the morning, which would leave the conspirators with no time to conceal his body. Yusupov ran upstairs to consult the others and then came back down to shoot Rasputin through the back with a revolver. Rasputin fell, and the company left the palace for a while. Yusupov, who had left without a coat, decided to return to grab one, and, while at the palace, he went to check up on the body. Suddenly, Rasputin opened his eyes, grabbed Yusupov by the throat and strangled him. As he made his bid for freedom, however, the other conspirators arrived and fired at him. After being hit three times in the back, Rasputin fell once more. As they neared his body, the party found that, remarkably, he was still alive, struggling to get up. They clubbed him into submission and, after wrapping his body in a sheet, threw him into an icy river, and he finally met his end there—as had both his siblings before him.
Three days later, the body of Rasputin, poisoned, shot four times and badly beaten, was recovered from the Neva River and autopsied. The cause of death was hypothermia. His arms were found in an upright position, as if he had tried to claw his way out from under the ice. In the autopsy, it was found that he had indeed been poisoned, and that the poison alone should have been enough to kill him.
Yet another report, also supporting the idea that he was still alive after submerging through the ice into the Neva River, is that after his body was pulled from the river, water was found in the lungs, showing that he didn't die until he was submerged into the water.
Subsequently, the Empress Alexandra buried Rasputin's body in the grounds of Tsarskoye Selo, but, after the February Revolution, a group of workers from Saint Petersburg uncovered the remains, carried them into a nearby wood and burnt them.
As the body of Rasputin was burned, he appeared to sit up in the fire. After being poisoned, shot, beaten, drowned, and officially verified as dead, he thoroughly horrified bystanders in his apparent attempts to move and get up. This legend is attributed to improper cremation. Since his body was in inexperienced hands, his tendons were probably not cut before burning. Consequently, when his body was heated, the tendons shrunk, forcing his legs to bend, and his body to bend at the waist, resulting in him sitting up. This final happenstance only poured fuel on the fire of legends and mysteries surrounding Rasputin, which would continue to live on, long after he had truly passed away.
After Rasputin's death, his secretary Simonovich realized that Rasputin had moved a lot of money into Maria's account. Indeed, he seemed generally to have set all his affairs in order. Mere weeks before he was assassinated, according to secretary Simonovich, Rasputin wrote the following:
"I write and leave behind me this letter at St. Petersburg. I feel that I shall leave life before January 1. I wish to make known to the Russian people, to Papa, to the Russian Mother and to the Children, to the land of Russia, what they must understand. If I am killed by common assassins, and especially by my brothers the Russian peasants, you, Tsar of Russia, will have nothing to fear for your children, they will reign for hundreds of years in Russia. 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 they will not wash their hands from my blood. 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 nobles in the country. Tsar of the land of Russia, if you hear the sound of the bell which will tell you that Grigori has been killed, you must know this: if it was your relations who have wrought my death, then no one in the family, that is to say, none of your children or relations, will remain alive for more than two years. They will be killed by the Russian people. I go, and I feel in me the divine command to tell the Russian Tsar how he must live if I have disappeared. You must reflect and act prudently. Think of your safety and tell your relations that I have paid for them with my blood. I shall be killed. I am no longer among the living. Pray, pray, be strong, think of your blessed family. -Grigori"
Why he wrote this prophetic letter, if it was not made up by Simonovich, is still a mystery. Oddly enough, he predicted that he would not live to see the New Year, which turned out to be true. He was assassinated eight days before 1917. Some speculate that Rasputin had a spiritual vision foreshadowing such an event, and, although he did not explicitly say so, there is certainly a strong suggestion in the letter that that might be so. Others believe that Rasputin was conscious of the fact that he was widely reviled by many of the Russian people at the time and that a number of them wanted him dead—although many of his fellow peasants seem to have supported his success with the royal court. After the great speech that inspired Yusupov to make his move, rumors were flying about the Duma that something was soon happen to Rasputin, and he may simply have gotten wind of the rumors without knowing who exactly the conspirators were. Still, he does come across in the letter as being totally certain of the eventuality, which is strange for one who might only have heard rumors of it.
Rasputin's daughter, Maria Rasputin (Matryona Rasputina) (1889–1977), emigrated to France after the October Revolution, and then to the U.S. There she worked as a dancer and then a tiger-trainer in a circus. She left memoires about her father, wherein she painted an almost saintly picture of him, insisting that most of the negative stories were based on slander and the misinterpretations of facts by his enemies.