Gregori Rasputin (above) was assassinated on today’s date, December 30 in 1916. This man was as strange and mysterious a character as could have been invented by any novelist. He was a figure whom, as stated elsewhere in my Blog, belonged in a nightmare. And the circumstances surrounding his death on this date were equally mysterious, nearly to the point of being unbelievable. But I shall try here to give the facts as best as I can manage. And you, my readers can judge for yourselves as to whether they are believable or not.
Rasputin, Alexei, and Alexandra
The basic problem was this: When the heir to throne, Alexei, was born on August 12, 1904 it was soon discovered that he suffered from hemophilia – an illness that prevents a clot from forming to stop any bleeding either external or internally. Russia was a weak but extremely important player on the world stage especially by 1916 when she was embroiled on the Allied side against Germany and Austria during
World War One. If Alexei’s condition (that the heir to the throne was in such delicate health) had become public knowledge especially during the extreme political stress of wartime, the effect would have been enormously destabilizing. Thus his hemophilia was a closely kept secret. Rasputin was first presented to the Russian Emperor (Czar) Nicholas II and the Empress (Czarina) Alexandra (above) on Nov. 1, 1905. He was not a monk or even a priest – he was a “starets” a kind of wondering holy-man. But when Alexei suffered from his episodes of bleeding and on at least or more occasions when Rasputin was present, the bleeding stopped, Empress Alexandra became totally convinced that he was the only salvation for her son. Thus this man was kept in the very bosom of the Imperial Family.
Rasputin Becomes a BIG Problem
As the course of the war ground on and on, the public popularity of the Imperial Family and the Empress in particular fell steeply. The poor families were seeing their young men killed by the hundreds of thousands, seemingly for no reason, while they starved at home. The noble class didn’t starve, but they suffered the same losses of their sons for the same useless cause. And all of it in the service of an Imperial Family which kept this unkempt, monstrous man in their midst for no apparent reason. According to biographer Robert Massie: “He rose
and slept and rose again without ever bothering to change his clothes. His hands were grimy, his nails black, his beard tangled and encrusted with debris.” And his influence extended to telling the Empress who should be appointed to the government and to important army commands. Having this man at the very heart of the government and the ruling family was indeed a nightmare. It was clear to anyone that this man had to go. And one man who determined to get rid of Rasputin was Prince Felix Yussoupov (above), one of the very richest men in Russia, and the husband of the Czar’s niece, Irina. Felix was a fairly thin. slight figure of a man. But he was very charming and was a social friend of Rasputin’s.
The Conspiracy to Murder Rasputin
This is where the story gets difficult to believe in its details. But I am following the account of Massie, which is based primarily on the account of Yussoupov himself. And different accounts have surfaced over the years to muddy the picture. As “Wikipedia” puts it: “So the murder of Rasputin has become something of a legend, some of it invented, perhaps embellished or simply misremembered.”
In any event Prince Felix invited Rasputin at a late hour to his basement apartment at the Moika (below) Palace in St. Petersburg, one
of his many family possessions. The lure was that Felix’s wife Princess Irina was supposedly there, and Rasputin had always wanted to meet her. Irina was actually in the Crimea, but Rasputin thought that she was waiting to meet him. The band of conspirators numbered five: Yussoupov, Vladimir Purishkevich a member of the Duma (the Russian Parliament), an officer named Sukhotin, Dr. Lazovert, a Doctor from the Army, and a young friend of Prince Felix: Grand Duke Dimitry Pavlovich. So late on the night of today’s date, they lured Rasputin to Prince Felix’s basement with plenty of wine, cakes and the promise of Princess Irina.
The Murder of Rasputin
So Rasputin entered Felix’s apartment with it’s low vaulted ceilings and rich furnishings and rugs. Upstairs a gramophone played of all tunes “Yankee Doodle” so Prince Felix could claim that there was another party going on which Irina was attending, but she would be with them shortly. There was an array of cakes which Rasputin gobbled
down, each of which had been laced with cyanide according to Dr. Lazovert. Only the poisoned cakes didn’t seem to be having any effect on Rasputin.He asked for some wine which Lazovert said he had laced with enough poison to kill several men. Still Rasputin showed no effect. So Felix went up and consulted with his cohorts as to what next? Purishkevich the elder of the group (above) urged them to finish the man off. Prince Felix went back down holding Dimity’s revolver behind his back, and found Rasputin seated and calling for more wine. Felix got him to take a look at a crucifix which he had on the shelf. When Rasputin turned his back, Prince Felix fired, and Rasputin screamed and fell backward onto the floor.
“…the green eyes of a viper…”
The rest of the group ran downstairs when they heard the shot. Dr. Lazovert quickly took his pulse and declared Rasputin dead. But the Dr. spoke too soon. While Yussoupov was briefly alone with the “corpse”, it’s face twitched, then its eyes opened! “I then saw both eyes — the green eyes of a viper — staring at me with an expression of diabolical hatred” Prince Felix recalled. Rasputin then leapt to his feet and grabbed Felix by the throat! Screaming, Prince Felix tore himself away and ran up the stairs with Rasputin on all fours roaring in fury right behind him. Purishkevich dashed outside to see Rasputinrunning across the snowy courtyard towards the iron gate to the street. Purishkevich fired two shots which missed, but got him in the shoulders with the third shot. Prince Felix reappeared and began hitting the body with a rubber club. When at last the body was dead it was wrapped up in a rope, and then taken to a hole in the ice of the frozen Neva river and pushed through. When it was found three days later, Rasputin lungs were filled with water. Chained, riddled with bullets and full of poison he had died from drowning.
That is the way that the story was told by Prince Felix Yussoupov and several of his cohorts. Dr. Lazovert later denied the part about the cyanide laced cakes and wine saying that his Hippocratic Oath as a Doctor would never permit him to do such things. Rasputin’s daughter, Maria disputed all of the details about the shots, saying that it was just one that had hit and killed her father. Prince Felix was placed under arrest, but was never put on trial. Instead the Czar, had him exiled from Russia for life (above:Felix & Irina in exile). The other conspirators were exiled to distant fronts. Rasputin’s grave was ransacked by the Bolsheviks following their triumph in the Revolution. Prince Felix lived until the ripe old age of 80, dying in Paris in 1967. So there it is, much of it anyway. Look at he facts, or research it further on your own and believe what you will. But one thing is certain: Rasputin was the very embodiment of pure evil, and he got what he deserved – whatever the details.
“Nicholas and Alexandra” by Robert K. Massie, Random House, New York, 1967