Grigori Rasputin

"Rasputin" redirects here. For other uses, see Rasputin (disambiguation).

This name uses Eastern Slavic naming customs; the patronymic is Yefimovich and the family name is Rasputin.
Grigori Rasputin
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
Religion Russian Orthodox
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 (j)ɪˈfʲiməvʲɪtɕ 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. Advising his wife Alexandra Feodorovna in countless political issues Rasputin became an easy scapegoat for Russian aristocrats, nationalists and liberals.

There is uncertainty over much of Rasputin's life and the degree of influence that he exerted over the weak-willed Tsar and the strong-willed Tsarina.[3] Accounts are often based on dubious memoirs, hearsay, and legend.[note 1] While his influence and position may have been exaggerated — Rasputin became synonymous with power, debauchery and lust — his presence played a significant role in the increasing unpopularity of the Imperial couple.[7] Rasputin was murdered by monarchists who hoped to save Tsarism by ending his sway over the royal family.

Early life

Pokrovskoe, along the Tura River in 1912. Rasputin raised money for (the decoration of) the church [8] that was built c. 1906 and destroyed in 1950. Photo by Sergey Prokudin-Gorsky[9]

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."[10][11][12] The next day, he was baptized and named after St. Gregory of Nyssa, whose feast day is on 10 January.[13]

Grigori was the fifth of nine children. Only two survived, Grigori and Feodosiya.[14][15] He never attended school, as there was not one in the area.[16] (The first Russian Empire Census in 1897, registered 87.5 per cent of the Siberian population as illiterate.[17]) In Pokrovskoe, a village with 200 dwellings and roughly thousand inhabitants, Grigori was regarded as an outsider, but one endowed with mysterious gifts. In those days Rasputin acquired a reputation as a brawler. Having a rude attitude towards the district head, he was locked up in jail for two nights. This seems to be the only mention of Rasputin's criminal past.[18]

On 2 February 1887, Rasputin married Praskovia Fyodorovna Dubrovina (1865/6–1936) and they had three children: Dmitri, Matryona and Varvara. Two earlier sons and a daughter died young.[note 4] In an unknown year Rasputin left his village, his wife, children and parents and spent several months in a monastery in Verkhoturye.[19] Alexander Spiridovich suggested after the death of a child.[20] May be Rasputin was curious as the monastery was enlarged to receive more pilgrims.[21] Outside the monastery lived starets Makary, a hermit, whose influence led him to give up tobacco, alcohol and meat. When he returned to the village, he had become a fervent and inspired convert.[22][23][24] His children dreaded the long hours of enforced prayer and fasting "for which everything, anniversaries or penitence, served as an excuse."[25]

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.[26][27] By 1900, Rasputin was identified as a strannik,[28] a religious wanderer, visiting holy places on foot and exchanging teaching for hospitality. However, he usually went home to help his family for sowing and the harvest. He is sometimes considered a yurodiviy ("holy fool"),[29] and a starets ("elder"), but he did not consider himself a starets,[19] as these lived in seclusion and silence. To label him as a yurodiviy is problematic, as Rasputin was often described as intelligent.

According to Platonov Rasputin critized the local priest who had a mechanical way of praying. In 1902, private gatherings in his house had to be abandoned because of all the attention that he was receiving from locals.[30] 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.[31][32][33] His interpretations of the Scriptures were so keen and so original that even learned churchmen liked to listen to them.[34] 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.[35]

Spiridovich thinks that Rasputin arrived in St Petersburg in the middle of 1904 and according to Sukhomlinov he met with the tsarina when she was still pregnant.[36] Rasputin went to Alexander Nevsky Lavra to seek sustenance and lodgings. Theophanes of Poltava was amazed by his tenacious memory and psychological perspicacity, and he offered to allow Rasputin to live in his apartment. Either he or Countess Sophia Ignatieva introduced Rasputin to Milica of Montenegro and her sister Anastasia, who were interested in Persian mysticism,[37] spiritism, and occultism. On 1 November 1905, Milica presented Rasputin to Tsar Nicholas and his wife Alexandra who had moved to Peterhof Palace because of all the unrest in the capital.[38]

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 light, street cars and railway connections, the Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias was willing 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, Sergei Witte was the first Russian Prime Minister. By the end of the year the real ruler of the country was Dmitri Trepov because of continuing bloody fighting against police and soldiers in the streets.[39] In April 1906, when Witte, a reformist, was succeeded by the conservative Ivan Goremykin and the Russian Constitution of 1906 was introduced, the Tsar, regretting his 'moment of weakness', retained the title of autocrat and maintained his unique dominating position in relation to the Russian Church.[40]

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)

On 13 October 1906 Rasputin paid a visit to the Imperial family and presented an icon. On request of the Tsar he visited the next prime minister, Pyotr Stolypin. A few weeks before, 29 people had been killed on Aptekarsky Island in a bomb attack by the Maximalists and two of Stolypin's children were wounded. Rasputin was invited to pray.

According to Edward Radzinsky Alexandra was upset about his unpleasant sounding last name,[note 5] and Rasputin was asked to write a permission for a name change.[42] In December 1906 "Grigori explained that six families in Pokrovskoe bore the surname Rasputin, and this was producing "every sort of confusion" and "to end this ... by permitting me and my descendants to take the name Rasputin-Novyi (Новый)", which means "Rasputin-New" or the "New Rasputin".[43][44][45]

On 6 April 1907, Rasputin was invited to Alexander Palace in Tsarskoe Selo, this time to see Tsesarevich Alexei, the heir. The boy had suffered an injury which caused him painful bleeding. By then it was not known that Alexei had a severe form of hemophilia B,[46] a disorder that was widespread among European royalty.[47][note 6] The doctors could not supply a cure, and the desperate Tsarina invited Rasputin.[48] He was able to calm the parents and their son, standing at the foot of the bed and praying. From that moment Alexandra believed Rasputin was Alexei's savior.

Pierre Gilliard,[49] the French historian Hélène Carrère d'Encausse,[50] and journalist Diarmuid Jeffreys speculated that Rasputin's healing practice included halting the administration of aspirin, a pain-relieving analgesic available since 1899.[51][52] Aspirin is an antiaggregant and has blood-thinning properties; the mechanism of action of aspirin is that it prevents clotting and promotes bleeding, which could have caused the hemarthrosis at the root of Alexei's joints swelling and pain.[53][54]

In September 1912 the Romanovs were visiting their hunting retreat in the Białowieża Forest; on 5 September the careless Tsesarevich jumped into a rowboat and hit one of the oarlocks. A large bruise appeared within minutes. Within a week the hematoma reduced in size.[55] In mid September 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."[56] Alexei had to be carried out in an almost unconscious state. His temperature rose and his heartbeat dropped, caused by a swelling in the left groin; Alexandra barely left his bedside. A constant record was kept of the boy's temperature. On 10 October, a medical bulletin appeared in the newspapers,[57] and Alexei received the last sacrament. His condition improved at once, according the Tsar. According to Nelipa Robert K. Massie was correct to recommend that psychological factors do play a part.[58] The positive trend continued throughout the next day.[59] (It is not exactly clear on which day, either 9,[60] 10 or 11 October the Tsarina turned to her lady-in-waiting and best friend, Anna Vyrubova,[61][62] to secure the help of the peasant healer, who at that time was out of favor.) According to his daughter Rasputin received the telegram on 12 October[note 7] and the next day he responded,[64] with 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."[65] On 19 October his condition was considerably better and the hematoma disappeared, but Alexei had to undergo orthopedic therapy to straighten his left leg.[66]

The 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 Papnadato was expelled from St. Petersburg in 1914.[67][68][69] Felix Yusupov, one of Rasputin's enemies, suggested that he secretly drugged Alexei[70] with Tibetan herbs which he had obtained from a "quack doctor", Peter Badmayev, but his three envelopes with powder were politely rejected by the court.[71][72] For Fuhrmann, these ideas on hypnosis[73] and drugs flourished because the imperial family lived such isolated lives.[74] (Since the Revolution of 1905 they lived almost as much apart from Russian society as if they were settlers in Canada.[74][75]) 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."[76] For Maria Rasputin and Vladimir Sukhomlinov, it was magnetism. For Shelley, the secret of his power lay in the sense of calm, gentle strength, and shining warmth of conviction.[77]


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 obsessed with anything occult.[78][79] 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 Pyotr Ouspensky), sometimes in the absence of clergy.

Alexandra worried a lot about herself, her son and his condition; she had invited her physician 42 times within two months.[80] Earlier Papus had visited Russia three times, in 1901, 1905, and 1906, serving the Tsar and Tsarina both as physician and occult consultant.[81] After the healer Nizier Anthelme Philippe died, 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, who affirmed "the existence of a perpetual warfare between flesh and spirit"[82] and called themselves "Men of God". In September 1907 the 'Spiritual Consistory' of Tobolsk accused Rasputin of spreading false doctrines: kissing and bathing with women.[83][84] (Rasputin usually welcomed his female followers with a kiss.) During the inquiry Rasputin disappeared (it seems) and "the effort of local priests to discipline their most troublesome parishioner failed."[85] 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."[8] In 1908 Theofan traveled to Siberia and examined all the documents from the Tobolsk inquiry, but failed to find anything of interest.[86]

"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. On 8 December 1908 Rasputin brought his wife to Tsarkoe Selo.[48] In 1909, within four months, Rasputin had visited the Romanovs six times.[87] Rasputin "knew how to amuse and enliven the little boy".[88] Alexandra was in conflict with her mother- and sister-in-law about her continuing patronage of Rasputin. In 1910 the press started a campaign against Rasputin. Nikolai Pavlovich Sablin and Charles Sydney Gibbes were sent to Rasputin to find out more.[89] Theofan lost his interest and Stolypin wanted to ban him from the capital.[note 8] When Rasputin arrived in St Petersburg, he returned within three weeks to his home village, according to Spiridovich.[90]

Early 1911 the Tsar instructed Rasputin to join a group of pilgrims.[91] Rasputin first 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 arrived in Jerusalem and the Holy Land.[92] On his way back he visited his right-wing friend Iliodor who gathered huge crowds in Tsaritsyn. 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."[93]

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.[94] The given[95] or stolen[96] letters were handed by Kokovtsov to the Tsar.[97][98] Kokovtsov offered Rasputin 200,000 rubles, equaling $100,000, to leave the capital. He also ordered the newspapers not to mention Rasputin's name in connection with the Empress. Alexandra became sick and refused to meet with Rasputin for a period of time. Rasputin had become one of the most hated people in Russia.[99]

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.[100]

There is little or no proof that Rasputin was a member of the Khlysty,[101] but he does appear to have been influenced by their practices,[102] accepting some of their beliefs, for example those regarding sin as a necessary part of redemption.[103] Suspicions that Rasputin, a good dancer,[104][105] was one of the Khlysty tarnished his reputation right until the end of his life.[106][107][note 9] The Holy Synod frequently attacked Rasputin, accusing him of a variety of immoral or evil practices.

Finally Nicholas II accepted investigations on Rasputin. The new bishop in Tobolsk, Alexey V. Molchanov, started to investigate the case on 1 September 1912. Two months later the bishop concluded Rasputin was an "orthodox Christian ... who sought the truth"[111] and the investigations were stopped.[70][74][112] After the Spała incident Rasputin regained influence at court and also in church affairs.

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.[113] Rasputin's behaviour was discussed in the Fourth Duma,[114] and in March 1913 the Octobrists, led by Alexander Guchkov, commissioned an investigation,[115][116] but "anyone bold enough to criticize Rasputin found only condemnation from the Tsarina."[117] The emperor and his wife referred to Rasputin as Grigori, our "Friend" or "holy man", avoiding his last name. Worried about the threat of a scandal, the Tsar asked Rasputin to leave for Siberia; but a few days later, at the demand of the Empress, the order was cancelled. Nicholas criticized the politicians.[118] The Tsar dismissed Kokovtsov on 29 January 1914.[119] He was replaced by the decrepit and absent-minded Ivan Goremykin, and Bark as Minister of Finance. According to Pavel Milyukov, in May 1914 Rasputin had become an influential factor in Russian politics.[120]

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.[121] Around 3:00 pm[122][123] on Sunday 12 July [O.S. 29 June] 1914,[83] Rasputin went out from the house in reply to a telegram he had received from the Tsarina on the threat of war.[124][125][126][127][128] At that moment he was suddenly approached by what looked like a beggar. When Rasputin was checking his pockets for money this woman, the 33-year old Khionia Guseva who had her face concealed with a black kerchief, pulled out a dagger.[129] 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.[122] Covered with blood, Rasputin was brought into his house. A doctor from a neighboring village gave first aid. The next day Alexandr Vladimirov arrived from Tyumen, and assessed the mesentery was scraped.[130]

On Thursday Rasputin was transported by steamboat to Tyumen, accompanied by his wife and daughter. The Tsarina[131] sent her own physician, Roman Vreden[132] 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 he left the hospital;[133] by mid-September he was back in Petrograd. His daughter Maria records that Rasputin believed that Iliodor and Vladimir Dzhunkovsky had organized the attack.[134][135] According to her he was never the same man afterwards. He started to drink (sweet or semi-sweet Georgian or Crimean[136]) dessert wines.[137] [138] (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 all the way around the Gulf of Bothnia to Christiania.[note 10] 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."[139] 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.[140] Guseva was locked in a madhouse in Tomsk and a trial was avoided.[141]

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.[142]

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.[143] Two sets of detectives were attached to his person;[144] one was to act undercover.[145] From 1 January 1915 modified reports from Okhrana spies — the "staircase notes" — had to provide evidence about Rasputin's lifestyle.[146] They were given to the Tsar in an attempt to convince him to break with Rasputin.[147] 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.[148][149]

On 25 March 1915 Rasputin left for Moscow by nighttrain. On the next day he was followed by eight Okhrana policemen. On the 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.[150][151] In the original police report there is "not one word about Rasputin being drunk, about any insulted Gypsy chorus girls, about indecent language, public exhibitionism, and most critically, about any arrest."[152] According to Smith they were celebrating a business deal, and had invited two journalists.[153][154] A few days later a waiter assessed the story as bunkum when talking to Gerard Shelley.[155] An unreliable report was presented in June; the police did not interview any singer or witness in the restaurant. 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.[156] The footballer and secret agent R. H. Bruce Lockhart mentioned he saw everything with his own eyes;[157] Smith found out he lied; the incident did not happen in Summer, and in April Lockhart stayed in Kiev.[158]

World War I

See also: World War I
Entrance of Gorochovaia 64 near the Tsarskoe train station. Rasputin's 5-room apartment, No. 20, paid by either the Empress,[159] Alexander Taneyev or the banker Dmitry Lvovich Rubinstein, was on the third floor and had a view into the courtyard.[160] 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."[161]

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".[162][163] 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.[164][165]

On 25 July 1914 (N.S.), during the July Crisis, the Council of Ministers decreed war preparations starting on the next day, and partial mobilisation as a precaution against the Austro-Hungarian Empire to support the Kingdom of Serbia.[166] On the 26th Rasputin spoke out against Russia going to war; he begged the Tsar to do everything in his power to avoid it.[167] On the 27th Vyrubova asked Rasputin to change his mind on the war, but he stuck to his position.[168] On the 28th Austria declared war on Serbia, leading to a partial mobilization of Russia. But, in the morning of 29 July [O.S. 16 July] 1914 the wavering 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."[169] "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[170] led to the cancellation of Russian general mobilization; the Tsar chose a partial mobilization in the evening.[171] Then Nicholas II met with protests from Sergei Sazonov. According to Samuel Hoare: "I believe myself that, had he not insisted upon general mobilisation on July 30th, the Emperor would have continued to hesitate, and Russian mobilisation … would never have been possible".[172] 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 11][note 12] The Duma "met on August 8 for three hours to pass emergency war credits, it was not asked to remain in session because it would only be in the way.[178]

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.[179] The crowd called for the Empress, who had German roots, to be locked up in a convent.[180] In June under pressure of public opinion Sukhomlinov left on charges of abuse of power, inactivity and high treason. On August 9, 1915, Sazonov, minister of foreign affairs, announced: "The government hangs in mid-air, having support neither from above nor from below."[181] Lenin wrote an article for the Zimmerwald Conference calling for the defeat of the Russian government.[182] He rejected both the defense of Russia and the cry for peace; instead he promoted a civil war. When the German army occupied Warsaw in August 1915 the situation looked extremely grave, because of a shortage in weapons and ammunition.[note 13] Nobody had expected according to Sukhomlinov the war would take so long. The situation was so serious that there were rumours of revolution and talk of a separate peace with Germany.[184]

On 23 August 1915 the Tsar Nicholas took supreme command of the Russian armies, 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[185][186] who, according to Maklakov, were the only ones who supported the Tsar in his decision. "Having one man in charge of the situation would consolidate all decision making."[187] According to Sukhomlinov the Tsar was unusually certain about his decision [188] as he felt ‘the heavy burden of political leadership slipping from his shoulders with immense relief’.[189] However, his frequent absences from the Russian capital, proved to be dire consequences for himself as well as for Russia. As he was absolutely incompetent in military matters his action disturbed the Entente Powers and delighted the Germans.[190] Moreover, 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.[191][192] Nicholas’s physical distance from the capital created a political vacuum. This void was filled, with the encouragement of her husband, by the empress.[193] 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 by an ukaze and would not gather again until 9 February 1916. Trotsky declared in September: "The right of nations to select their own government must be the immovable fundamental principle of international relations."[194] Vasily Maklakov published his famous article, describing Russia as a vehicle with no brakes, driven along a narrow mountain path by a "mad chauffeur".[195]


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 ..."[196]
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.

Nicholas's hostility to parliamentarism emerged at the very beginning of his reign in 1894; to him it would cause Russia to disintegrate.[197] According to A. Kulikov "Nicholas was pursuing the entirely specific idea of gradually replacing absolutism with dualism, rather than with parliamentarism."[197] After Nicholas II issued the October Manifesto of 1905 granting civil liberties and a national legislature (the Imperial Duma, the Lower House and a reformed State Council, the Upper House), the Committee of Ministers was replaced with a Council of Ministers of Russia. The Duma was tolerated but frequently ignored. In theory "All the laws passed by the Duma are submitted to the State Council and, vice versa, laws passed by the council are to be reviewed by the Duma." The deputies tried to bring the Council of Ministers "uninterested in reform"[198] under control of the Duma.[199] On July 1, 1914 the Tsar suggested that the Duma should be reduced to merely a consultative body.

For the Octobrists and the Kadets, the liberals in the parliament, Rasputin and Alexandra, who believed in Tsarist autocracy[200] were the main obstacles. On 19 August 1915, after an unsuccessful attempt to discredit Rasputin and the Tsarina in a newspaper, Prince Vladimir Orlov[70] 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.[201][202][203][204]

While seldom meeting with Alexandra personally after the debate in the Third Duma, Rasputin had become her personal adviser through daily telephone calls or weekly meetings with Vyrubova. 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.[205] According to Pierre Gilliard "her desires were interpreted by Rasputin, they seemed in her eyes to have the sanction and authority of a revelation."[206]

"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."[149]

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.[207]

In late 1915 there was a shortage of coal in the capital and other big cities; Alexander Trepov was appointed as the new Minister of Transport. Alexandra and Rasputin advised the Tsar in military strategies around Riga where the Germans were stopped.[208] Rasputin told the old Goremykin it was not right not to convene the Duma as all were trying to cooperate; one must show them a little confidence.[209]

On 6 December Rasputin was invited to see Alexei when the boy had returned from Stavka (in Mogilev) because of a cold, and nosebleeds.[210] According to Gaillard "The Imperatritsa once again attributed the improvement in the Tsesarevich's health to Rasputin's prayers, she remained convinced that the child had been saved thanks to his help."[211]

In January 1916 Rasputin was opposed to the plan to send the old Goremykin away.[212] At the end of the month Boris Stürmer was appointed as Prime Minister being a master of political compromise. (Then he "visited Rasputin secretly within twenty-four hours of his appointment, promising to be loyal and to carry out his requests."[213]) According to Harold Williams Stürmer was 'a more corrupt, cynical, incompetent and lying functionary it would be difficult to find in the Russian Empire', but 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, suggesting he was willing to work with the legislature.)

Khvostov and Beletsky concocted a plan to kill Rasputin; the only way to get rid of him. What happened is hard to understand; every author has a different view on the intrigues between Khvostov, who was not appointed as Prime Minister,[214][215][216] and Beletsky who was keen to become minister of the interior him self,[217] or seems to have been fed up with his superior.[218] Khvostov repeated the rumour which accused Rasputin of working for a separate peace and suggesting that Alexandra and Rasputin were German agents or spies.[219][220][221][222][223] Evidence that Rasputin actually worked for the Germans is flimsy at best.[224][225][226] Rather paranoid, Rasputin went to Alexander Spiridovich, head of the palace police, on 1 March. He was constantly in a state of nervous excitement and decided to complain about Khvostov to the imperial couple. Khvostov had to resign within three days and was bannished to his estate for six months. Boris Stürmer was also appointed on the Ministry of Interior, the most powerful of all, which had under its control governors, police and gendarme. 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 home; four weeks later he was back in the capital. He met on Lake Ladoga with Gerard Shelley, whom he told he planned to go to the front;[227] though General Mikhail Alekseev refused to see him. The Minister of Foreign Affairs Sazonov, who had pleaded for an independent and autonomous Russian Poland, was demoted and replaced in July. Aleksandr Khvostov, Alexei's uncle, not in good health, was appointed as Minister of the Interior. On 8 August Rasputin told Alexandra the Russian army should not cross the Carpathians;[228] 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 as troops were sent from Riga to the south.[208] 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.

On 14 September Alexander Protopopov, pro-peace like Alexandra, Stürmer, and Rasputin, had been invited as Minister of the Interior. Placing the vice-president of the Duma in a key post might improve the relations between the Duma and the throne,[229] but his contacts on peace in Stockholm became a scandal.[note 14] (The Cadets/Octobrists had come to the conclusion that the war could not be won.[236]) 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 by the Council of Ministers.[212]

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, and became her advisor. According to Figes the public was outraged[237] and the opposition parties decided to attack Stürmer, his government and the "Dark forces".[238] A strongly prevailing opinion that Rasputin was the actual ruler of the country was of great psychological importance.[239]

Imperial Duma

Pavel Milyukov succeeded in firing the engines of radical protest in the country.[240]

On 1 November the government, under the pro peace Boris Stürmer, [241] 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".[242] He highlighted numerous governmental failures, concluding that Stürmer's policies placed in jeopardy the Triple Entente. After each accusation – many times without basis and lying intentionally – he asked "Is this stupidity or is it treason?" and the listeners answered "stupidity!", "treason!", or "both!". His speech was spread in flyers (by Puriskevich' hospital train) on the front and at the Hinterland.[243] Stürmer and Protopopov asked in vain for the dissolution of the Duma.[244] 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, his brother George Mikhailovich and Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich all requested the Tsar to fire Stürmer (and Aleksei Bobrinsky, the minister of agriculture).[245] Grand Duke Michael wrote a candid letter to his brother warning him that the political situation was tense:

The public hatred for certain people who allegedly are close to you and who are forming part of the present government has, to my amazement, brought together the right, the left and the moderate; and this hatred, along with the demands for changes are already openly expressed.[246]

Grand Duke Nikolai Mikhailovich, probably one of the key players,[247][248] 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.[249]

On 19 November the popular Vladimir Purishkevich held a two-hour speech in the Duma, accusing the government of "Germanophilism" and stifling "public initiative."[250] The monarchy – because of what he called the "ministerial leapfrog" – had become "fully descredited".[251][252] The trouble was that the different ministries did not cooperate. For him the government was the problem. (Actually the ministers were not allowed to cooperate directly, without contacting and approval of the Tsar.[253])

"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."[254]
Rasputin and the Imperial couple. Anonymous caricature in 1916

Purishkevich, a buffoon character, stated that Rasputin's murky influence over the Tsarina had made him a threat to the empire: "an illiterate moujik shall govern Russia no longer!"[255] "While Rasputin is alive, we cannot win".[256]

Prince Felix Yusupov was impressed by the remarkable speech.[257] He visited Purishkevich, who quickly agreed to participate in the murder of Rasputin. Yusupov then approached the lawyer Vasily Maklakov, who agreed to advise him.[258] 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.[259] Yusupov then approached Sergei Mikhailovich Sukhotin (1887–1926), a friend of Zinaida Yusupova, his mother. Sukhotin served the Guards Rifle Brigade, Life Guards Infantry,[260] but recuperating from injuries in Hotel Astoria, changed into a hospital for wounded officers.[261]

At the beginning of November the Progressive Bloc decided to stress the demand for a responsible government.[262] According to Figes there was practically no one ... who did not see the need for a fundamental change in the structure of the government.[240] Grand Duke Paul Alexandrovich of Russia, Dmitri's father, tried to persuade Nicholas on his nameday (6 December) to change his policy[263] and accept a new constitution in order to save the monarchy.[note 15] [note 16] Also Rodzianko told Nicholas the truth, after being urged by the Tsar's mother and sisters. To him it was clear Alexandra should not be allowed to interfere in state affairs until the end of the war; she treated her husband as if he were a little boy, quite incapable of taking care of himself.[212]

Alexander Guchkov, an Old Believer, "who had come to the painful conclusion the situation could only improve when the Tsar was sent away",[266] 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. "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."[267] Alexandra suggested to her husband to expel Guchkov, Milyukov, Polivanov and Prince Lvov to Siberia.[268][269] Then the Duma would lose and Rasputin would gain influence. A separate peace between Russia and Germany could become reality. On 6 December Kerensky began secretly recruiting members for a new government.[270]

The campaign of the party of the Empress and Rasputin was waged steadily against the eight ministers who "had resisted the removal of the commander in chief (Grand Duke Nikolai), and one after the other they were discharged."[271] According to Giles Milton:

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 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.[272]

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",[273] 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 the Interior. Both Alexandra and Protopopov traveled to Stavka; the first to convince her husband to have Protopopov appointed. Rasputin and Vyrubova each sent five telegrams to support her.[274][275] Trepov was furious and 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[276] and to end the war on base of his Septemberprogramm (1914). On 2 December[277] Pokrovsky said that Russia would never sign a peace treaty with the Central Powers, which caused a storm of applause in the Duma. The 'peace offensive' was bound to fail;[278] the terms too vague to be taken seriously.[278][279][280]

The allies refused an intermediation by president W. Wilson on 18 December [O.S. 5 December] 1916.[281] On the same day Harold Williams or John Hanbury-Williams wrote to Lloyd George:

No one has the faintest idea what the Emperor will do. He has been at Tsarskoe Selo for some days, but the only thing that has been done is to appoint a Minister for Foreign Affairs, mainly I suppose because there had to be a minister to reply to the German peace proposals. The new Minister [Pokrovsky] is a very honest and hard working man, though he is not a diplomat. He will certainly not take any part in separate peace talk, and altogether I think that for the moment the idea of a separate peace is knocked on the head. But if Milyukov and the other Duma speakers had not smashed Stürmer God only knows what might have happened. On the whole the general feeling is cheerful. The country is united and absolutely determined. The gang is cornered, its intrigues are exposed, and it seems impossible that the fate of such a huge Empire should remain much longer at the mercy of the plotting of a hysterical woman with a depraved peasant.[282][283]
In 1908 Fräulein Anna Vyrubova "openly became his fanatical admirer, the driving force of his cult, and was at the head of his loyalists".[90] 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.

The appointment of Protopopov was approved on 7 December. Trepov, having failed to eliminate Protopopov, tried to bribe Rasputin in the next days.[284][285] With the help of general A.A. Mosolov,[286] his brother-in-law, Trepov offered a substantial amount of money, a bodyguard and a house to Rasputin, if he would leave politics.[287][288][289] Rasputin refused and apparently feared that he would die before the end of the year.[290][291] His death might be expected at any time and it seems he accepted his destiny.[292] 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.[293] On 13 December Rasputin warned against the influence of Trepov,[208] who had threatened to shut the troublesome Duma completely in her attempt to control the Tsar.[294] Rasputin hardly left his house, except visiting Vyrubova in Tsarkoe Selo. His most frequent guest, the diamond dealer Aron Simanovitch, but also his financial aide, published a strangely prophetic letter "The Spirit of Gregory Efimovich Rasputin of the village of Pokrovskoe", intended for the Tsar.[295] According to Edvard Radzinsky the prophecy is not by Rasputin.[292][296][297]

On Friday afternoon, 16 December, Rasputin returned from the "banya" at 3 p.m. 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,[298] of a proposed midnight visit to Yusupov in his palace. Protopopov, a late visitor who only stayed ten minutes, begged him not to go out that night.[299][300]

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 Christmas recess for one month; according to Nelipa "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."[301]


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."[302] 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 met Rasputin in the past six 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. (She later denied she was involved and sued MGM).[303] Around midnight on Saturday 17 December Prince Felix went with Dr Stanislaus de Lazovert to Rasputin's apartment. Yusupov did not use the regular stairs at this unseemly hour, but a stairwell for servants in the courtyard and knocked at the kitchen door. After half an hour they returned to the recently refurbished palace, where a sound-proof room, part of the wine cellar, had been specially prepared for the crime with carpets, stain-glass lamps, etc. Four bottles, containing different kinds of sweet wine, were placed either in a window, a side-board or on a table. Waiting in his drawing room on another floor were the fellow conspirators: Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, Purishkevich, his assistant Lazovert and Sukhotin. According to Yusupov and Purishkevich a gramophone in the study played interminably the Yankee Doodle, when Rasputin came in.[304] Perhaps some women were invited but Yusupov did not mention their names; Radzinsky suggested Dimitri's step-sister Marianne Pistohlkors and film star Vera Karalli.[305] Smith came up with Princess Olga Paley and Anna von Drenteln.[306] Somewhere in the building were a major-domo and a valet, waiting for orders.[307]

Yusupov mentions in his unreliable memoirs, he first offered Rasputin tea and petit fours laced with a large amount of potassium cyanide, played his guitar and sang some gypsy ballads. According to the diplomat Maurice Paléologue, who in later years rewrote his diary, they discussed spirituality and occultism;[308] the antique dealer Albert Stopford wrote that politics was the issue.[309] Purishkevich, a teetotaler, mentions he could hear bottles were opened. After an hour or so, Rasputin was fairly drunk.[note 17] Yusupov went upstairs and came back with a 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.[311] Then Rasputin fell onto a white bearskin. According to Maria Rasputin it went all very quick; no sweets, no guitar nor record playing. Rasputin would have become suspicious as Yusupov's wife never showed up.[312] According to Yusupov's protégé, Victor Contreras, Lazavert who was assigned to poison the wine and cakes for Rasputin, couldn’t do it. After the murder he seems to have written a letter to Yusupov, where he reported that he, the doctor, who gave the oath of Hippocrates, found no strength to add the poison.[313]

However, Yusupov did not succeed in killing Rasputin. According to Maria Rasputin the bullet wounds were slight. After a while "Rasputin opened his eyes and became aware of his predicament."[314] 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 the conspirators. Alarmed by the noise, Purishkevich went down and fired at Rasputin four times, missing three times. Only one bullet penetrated the right kidney and lodged into the spine.[315] Rasputin never reached the gate,[316] but fell into the snow, just outside the door. According to Nelipa 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 18] Then the body was carried back inside. A nervous Yusupov severely hit his victim in his right eye with his shoe.[320]

Felix's private apartment was on the east side of the palace, Embankment 94. Between the basement and his rooms, halfway 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).[321][322]

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,[323] to suggest that Rasputin had left the palace alive.[324] Because Purishkevich's wife refused to burn the fur coat and the rubber[325] galoshes[326] in her small fireplace in Purishkevich's ambulance train, the conspirators went back from the Warsaw station to the Moika palace with these large items.[327]

Two city policemen on duty, who heard a "rapid fire" of gunshot sequence,[316] 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.[328] 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.[329][330][331][332][333][334][335] However, this policeman told his superiors everything he had heard and seen.[323]

After the body was wrapped in a broadcloth, Dimitri and his fellow conspirators drove in the direction of Krestovsky island.[336] The sentry on the bridge was asleep which allowed the murderers to draw up quite close to the railing and throw the corpse into a hole in the ice of the Malaya Nevka River. They drove back, without noticing that one of Rasputin's galoshes was stuck between the pylons of the bridge. They also forgot to attach weights to the feet to make the body sink. The fur coat formed an air bell and the corpse drifted into an ice mass; it prevented the body's disposal into the sea.[337]

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.[338] 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."[339]

The next morning, around 8 a.m. Protopopov phoned, and asked Rasputin's daughters where their father was. At eleven he still had not shown up. When the police arrived they searched the apartment for compromising correspondance with the Tsarina.[340] In the mean time Rasputin's disappearance was reported by Maria to Vyrubova.[341] 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 all 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. When interrogated, Felix explained the blood with a story that by accident one of his sporting dogs was shot by Grand Duke Dmitri. In the early 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.[342] Maria and her sister affirmed it belonged to their father. With twilight approaching the search had to be abandoned until the following morning. (The next day it was sunny, but the temperature dropped to -14 C. The river was frozen) The police concentrated upon the vicinity of the Petrovsky bridge. Then the Neva shores were explored by divers, but the ice seriously hampered their work which produced no result.[343]

Felix and Dmitri both tried to gain access to the empress. 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 on Sunday evening, heading to the front. On Monday 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 (but refused to tell the police where the body was).

On Monday morning 19 December,[344] Rasputin's beaver-fur coat and the body were discovered close to the river bank, 140 meters west of the bridge.[345] 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, as he gave Felix permission to leave for the Crimea, but Felix was stopped at the train station. In the evening an autopsy on the thawed corpse by Kosorotov, a forensic expert, in a poorly lit mortuary room[338][346] established that the cause of his instant death was the third bullet in his frontal lobe. (Kosorotov's official report is still missing.[347]) According to Nelipa with strong evidence there was an exit wound at the back of the head.[348] The first and third shots were made at close range,[349] 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, his right cheek was shattered when the body hit the pylon of the bridge.[350] Kosorotov found that Rasputin's genitals were crushed.[338]

Chesmensky Almshouse[351]

On 21 December Rasputin's body was taken in a zinc coffin from the Chesmensky Almshouse[352] to be buried in a corner on the property of Vyrubova [70] and adjacent to the palace.[353] 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.[354][355] Later that day Irina's father Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich wrote his brother 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.[356][357] He ensured that Rasputin's murder would never become a matter for the court to judge.[358] On Saturday 24 December Dmitri left at two in the morning for Qazvin in Persia, Felix for Rakitnoe, his estate near Belgorod; during the trip they were forbidden to talk, and also to send and receive telegrams. The police were ordered to stop their inquest.[359][360]

Towards the February Revolution

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."[251]
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
The abdication of Nicholas II on March 2, 1917. In the royal train: Minister of the Court Baron Fredericks, General N. Ruzsky, V.V. Shulgin, A.I. Guchkov, Nicholas II. (State Historical Museum)

On 28 December, according to Paléologue, there was a failed attempt to assassinate Alexandra; the lone assailant was caught and hanged the next day.[361] The Duma President Mikhail Rodzianko, Grand Duchess Marie Pavlovna and British ambassador Buchanan joined calls for Alexandra to be removed from influence, but Nicholas still refused to take their advice.[362] More and more people came to the conclusion that the problem was not Rasputin but the 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 that began on Monday, the 20th. Quarrels broke out especially near bakeries and butchers' shops. Two days later the situation began to grow serious when strikes broke out in the Putilov workshops. The Tsar ordered Sergey Semyonovich Khabalov and Nikolay Iudovich Ivanov to suppress the rioting by force; machine guns were put up on the top of some roofs. On the evening of Sunday 26 February, mutinous soldiers of the fourth company of the Pavlovski regiment refused to fall in on parade when commanded, shot two officers, and joined the protesters on the streets, demanding a new constitutional government and woman suffrage. The next day soldiers of the Volynsky Regiment brought the Litovsky, Preobrazhensky, and Moskovsky Regiments out on the street to join the rebellion. 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"[363]

In Tsarskoe Selo, the units guarding the Alexander Palace "declared their neutrality" and thus abandoned the imperial family on 28 February. The monarchy was deserted by all the élites of the old society, the landowners, the army officers, the industrialists, and politicians of the Duma. The Tsar left Mogilev, but was unable to travel to Petrograd. 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, to resign.[364] 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 8 March all the movements of the imperial family were restricted as the grave of Rasputin had become a place of veneration for the Tsarina and her daughters.[365] 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:

View of Moika River by the Imperial Stables, 1809
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."[366]

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.[367] According to some authors, the truck broke down or the snow forced them to stop and the corpse was burned in a field.[368][369][370] It is more likely the corpse was incinerated (between 3 and 7 in the morning) in the cauldrons of in the nearby boiler shop[371][372][373] of the Saint Petersburg State Polytechnical University, including the coffin, without leaving a single trace.[374] Anything that had to do with Rasputin disappeared permanently.

Contemporary 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."[375] What is left are the biased accounts of 19-year-old Maria Rasputin and the murderers, the 29-year-old Felix Yusupov and 47-year-old Vladimir Purishkevich, and others. 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."[376]
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.[377]

Concerning the details of the murder, not even the murderers could give consistent accounts. Differing opinions ranged from the colour of shirt he wore[135][378] to whose weapon or car was used[379] or even where he was finally wounded. Neither Purishkevich nor Yusupov mention the close quarter shot to the forehead.[380] 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.[381]

The caliber of the weapon that was used cannot be measured.[382] "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."[383] 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."[384]

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.[385] According to Nelipa "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."[386]

Fuhrmann suggests Buchanan knew already at 5.30 in the morning Rasputin was dead (and not missing).[387] 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".[388]


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.[389] 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;[390] to Yusupov his eyes were "phosphorescent"; to Tamara Karsavina he had the eyes of a maniac;[391] Elena Dzhanumova wrote in her diary, "What eyes he has! You cannot endure his gaze for long."[392]
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:

Persistent errors

In popular culture

Drawing of Rasputin by Elena Nikandrovna Klokacheva in State Hermitage Museum
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 Wilson's 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." "Of the diabolical schemer portrayed by Sir Bernard Pares there is no sign." According to Dominic Lieven, "more rubbish has been written on Rasputin than on any other figure in Russian history."[5][6]
  2. All the dates are in Old style unless New Style is mentioned.
  3. His parents were Efim Vilkin Rasputin (24 December 1841 – autumn 1916) and Anna Parshukova (1839/40 – 30 January 1906)
  4. Their children were 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. His enemies charged his name derived from the verb 'rasputnichat', which means "to lead a dissolute life" and "to be drunken and dissipated".[41] Others suggested the noun 'Rasputnik', a debauchee, 'Rasputitsa', spring and fall periods in which, because of heavy snow or rain, unpaved roads are impassable, 'Rasputye', a place where several roads part, 'rasput', a crossroads or "Rasputiny' meaning dissolute, lewd, wanton, lecherous, immoral, profligate.
  6. See Haemophilia in European royalty for more information on this royal disease, due to the lack of just one protein.
  7. If Rasputin's daughter - after eleven years - was right about the day the telegram was sent by Rasputin (October 13th) "the longstanding claim that Rasputin had somehow alleviated Alexei's condition is simply fictitious."[63]
  8. 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.
  9. The basis for the denunciation of Rasputin as a Khlyst was mixed bathing, a common custom among the peasants in many parts of Siberia.[108][109][110]
  10. 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. Maxim Gorki published his manuscript.
  11. For more details on Causes of World War I see A.J.P. Taylor,[173] R.J. Evans[174] 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.[175][176][177] They paid special attention to the telegram of Nicholas II dated July 29, 1914
  12. 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'.
  13. "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."[183]
  14. From 16 April till 20 June Milyukov, Protopopov and a delegation of 16 State Duma delegates had visited France, and England.[230] Protopopov stayed behind and travelled alone to Sweden, where met the German industrialist and politician Hugo Stinnes, Knut Wallenberg, the Swedish Minister of Foreign Affairs,[231] Hellmuth Lucius von Stoedten, the German envoy in Sweden, and Fritz M. Warburg, a banker and member of the Warburg family.[232][233][234][235]
  15. On the day of his coronation the Tsar swore to preserve the autocracy. He was convinced to keep it intact for his son. 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.
  16. Zinaida Yusupova, Alexandra's sister Elisabeth,[264] Grand Duchess Victoria, Prince Michael and the Tsar's mother tried to influence the Emperor or his stubborn wife[70] to remove Rasputin, but without success.[265] For years the Tsar's niece Duchess Marie was openly hostile to Alexandra.
  17. Most sources say Yusupov offered Rasputin Madeira; it is possible he drank imported Malvasia Madeira, or Madeira from the Crimea.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.[310]
  18. According to Nelipa the third gunshot will never identify Rasputin's killer in the manner Cook proposed.[317][318] Nelipa suggests Oswald Rayner was a silent partner.[319]
  19. 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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