On December 17th 1916, one of the most notorious murders in History took place. At the luxurious Yusupov Palace in St. Petersburg, Grigory Rasputin, also known (quite wrongly) as “The Mad Monk” and the closest friend and adviser to Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra, was brutally murdered by Prince Felix Yusupov and his friends.
Prince Yusupov (pictured) was not opposed to the Royal family. On the contrary, he was a strong supporter of the monarchy and murdered Rasputin in the hope of saving, not destroying, the Russian monarchy. In fact the murder became one of the main causes of the Russian Revolution, which started a few weeks later.
Rasputin, an almost illiterate peasant from Siberia had gained a reputation as a Holy Man and a Faith Healer when he arrived at St Petersburg in 1904 aged 35. Within a year he met the Royal family. Alexandra the neurotic and unpopular Tsarina, who had a keen interest in Faith Healers and mystics, liked Rasputin because he seemed to represent the “real” Russian people. But more important, Rasputin was able to stop her beloved son Prince Alexis’ haemophilia. Quite how he did this remains one of many mysteries about Rasputin, but probably it amounted to little more than calming the frightened boy and panic-struck mother when he was bleeding in agony.
The problem was that the Royal Family had decided to keep their young son’s potentially fatal illness secret from the Russian people- it would never do to let them know that the heir to the throne might die at any time- so the Russian people could never understand why this drunken foul-mouthed, dirty, uncivilised- it was said he did not even know how to use a knife and fork- and debauched peasant could become so powerful. The rumours spread. All the follies and mistakes of Nicholas could be blamed on Rasputin, who, it was suggested, was the real ruler of Russia. And it is true that for a relatively short time from 1915-1916, whilst Nicholas was at Army Headquarters leading the war against Germany and Alexandra was running the government at home, Rasputin really did become powerful in politics. Alexandra in particular believed that Rasputin was guided directly by God, so every suggestion he made must be followed.
Rasputin himself was never interested in either power or money. He was certainly a heavy drinker and liked to enjoy himself. He was a shrewd judge of character, as when he summed the incompetent Tsar as a man who “lacked insides”. He correctly warned Nicholas that entering World War 1 would doom the monarchy, but for once his advice was ignored
The story of his murder is itself bizarre, although many of the myths, first put forward by Yusupov himself, have been debunked. It is however true that he predicted his own death and the fall of the Monarchy in a letter he wrote to the Tsar a few weeks earlier.
On the fatal day he went to a party at Yusupov’s Palace. When he arrived there was no party, but he was assured that the other guests would arrive soon. In the meantime he was invited to have wine and cakes- both laced with large doses of cyanide. When they failed to kill him, Yusupov shot him several times. Assuming Rasputin was now dead, he invited the other plotters to take the body away. But the shots had not been fatal, and to their horror Rasputin got up and started to walk away. It was only when he was shot several more times, and at last fatally in the head, could they take the body to a nearby canal to dump it. Yusupov was able to escape to the USA where he spent the next 50 years dining out on the story
In the weeks that followed the murder, nothing changed. The Tsar continued to stay at his army Headquarters, Tsarina Alexandra continued to rule the country from St Petersburg, the government continued to drift helplessly, the war continued to go badly and the food and fuel shortages got worse. Now at last the Russian people realised that it was not Rasputin who had been the problem, but the Tsar. Strikes and demonstrations started in St. Petersburg in February 1917 and within a few days the Tsar was forced to abdicate. In one last act of revenge, a mob discovered where Rasputin had been buried and burnt his remains. 18 months later, just as Rasputin had predicted, the Royal family too were murdered.