|Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin in 1915|
Rasputin already had the reputation of a holy man when he first came to St. Petersburg in 1903. Clad in monk’s robes and with a Russian monk’s long hair and beard, Rasputin was dirty, unkempt, and he stank. He was said, however, to be a healer. His dark, intense eyes seemed to hypnotize many on whom they fixed their gaze. He was first introduced to the family of Tsar Nikolai II and Tsarina Aleksandra in 1905. In 1908, Aleksandra summoned him to the royal palace when the Tsarevich Alexei had become desperately sick. The child suffered from hemophilia and was bleeding internally. With his seemingly mysterious powers, Rasputin calmed the boy. The bleeding stopped. As Rasputin left the palace, he warned the royal couple that in his hands lay their son’s life and the very future of the Romanov dynasty.
Rasputin (center) with the imperial
family. Tsarina Aleksandra is to
his left; Tsarevich Alexei, to his right.
|A cartoon, 1917, lampooning Rasputin’s
reputed control of the tsar and tsarina
At last, five conspirators, including Prince Felix Yusupov (married to the tsar’s niece) and Vladimir Mitrofanovich Purishkevich, plotted to assassinate Rasputin. On the night of December 29, 1916, Rasputin was invited to Yusupov’s palace on the Neva River. In the library, Yusupov served Rasputin cakes and wine laced with potassium cyanide, a deadly poison. Rasputin devoured the cakes and drank the wine, but the poison had no effect on him. Yusupov and his co-conspirators were surprised and frightened. “We were seized with an insane dread that this man was inviolable, that he was superhuman, that he couldn’t be killed,” wrote one of them later. “He glared at us with his black, black eyes as though he read our minds and would fool us.”
|Prince Felix Yusupov|
Yusupov left the room and returned with a pistol. He fired one shot and then another into Rasputin’s side. Rasputin fell, writhing in agony, but soon lay still. Thinking him near death, the men left the room; but when they returned, Rasputin was on his hands and knees. He sprang at them and then ran through the door and into the garden. As Rasputin stumbled into the darkness, Purishkevich fired several more shots. Rasputin fell, groaning. Frantic with fear, Yusupov kicked the head of the prostrate man and beat it with a rubber club. When it seemed that Rasputin was at last dead, the men wrapped his body in a sheet and carried it to the river’s edge. Breaking the ice, they threw the body into the bitter-cold water. But when the body was found two days later, its lungs were filled with water. Rasputin had not been dead when he was thrown into the river. He had died by drowning.