Gregory Efimovich Rasputin was born in 1869 in Prokovskoe, Siberia. Coming from a peasant background, Rasputin never learned to read or write despite attending a school, although this obviously did not affect his rise to influence. Although he was often referred to as 'The Mad Monk', he was not actually a cleric when he rose to fame...
When he came of age, Rasputin joined a monastery, but his calling did not last long and he soon discovered the pleasures of the opposite sex. Leaving the monastic life of the Russian Orthodox Church in favour of an almost bardic lifestyle, he travelled around as a 'Faith Healer' and claimed to possess special powers that enabled him to heal the sick, surviving off the donations of the people he had 'cured'. He was also known to make money in the gypsy art of Fortune Telling and the Tarot. During the early 20th Century, Astrology and the Occult were increasingly popular with the upper classes. In Paris, mystics and psychics were doing an incredible trade and the 'bourgeoisie' in Russia soon followed suit.
Rasputin was an unkempt, but imposing figure. Tall with a dark beard and spellbinding eyes, he used his natural charisma and deep quiet voice in an almost vaudeville manner when presenting himself. He soon took his 'show' to St Petersburg and made a name for himself as something of a mystic. It wasn't long before he caught the eye of more powerful people amongst the Russian aristocracy.
Rasputin and the Romanovs
While in St Petersburg, Rasputin met the Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. Their only son, Alexei, suffered from haemophilia. Physicians were unable to help Alexei, and the Tsarina became frustrated. During a particularly bad bleeding episode the Tsar, looking for something of a miracle, called upon his wife's newfound friend and supposed 'faith healer', Rasputin. Somehow Rasputin managed to stop Alexei's bleeding; as a result, he became a hero to the Romanov family and started moving in the Tsarina's social circles. He was said to have great influence over Alexandra and supposedly manipulated her. This relationship led to resentment on the part of the Tsarina's husband Nicholas and his powerful and influential peers in the Russian nobility, but the Tsar was afraid to send Rasputin away for fear of being blamed for killing Alexei.
The First World War soon bought Russia into conflict with Germany and in 1915, the Tsar (on the advice of his wife) went off to the Russian Front to take direct command of his troops fighting the Germans. In his absence, Nicholas II left his wife in charge of the Imperial Government. However, given that she was German and the Russians were currently engaged in a bloody conflict with that nation, the general public did not particularly like or trust her. With Rasputin's influence growing stronger the 'monk' began to advise Alexandra, a move that continued to distance the Romanov family from the Russian people, and it was not too long before rumours of an affair began to spread throughout the palace.
The first person to suspect that all was not well with Rasputin was Peter Stolypin, Russia's newly appointed Prime Minister. He believed that Rasputin was evil and advised the Tsar to distance himself. Stories of pacts with the Devil and 'magic eyes' that hypnotised all around, including the Romanovs, most probably came from the Prime Minister. Stolypin even supplied the Tsar with documented evidence of Rasputin's various wild antics1. The Tsar dismissed these misgivings as he did not want to upset his wife, who had grown to trust Rasputin (she believed that her son would remain healthy as long as Rasputin was around). The mystic convinced Alexandra further that if he should leave or die, the Romanov dynasty would end in bloodshed2. Her fear for her family's lives and her utter trust in Rasputin pushed the Tsarina into keeping him by her side.
When he initially arrived in St Petersburg, Rasputin built up quite a band of followers within the Russian Orthodox Church. However, as rumours began to circulate about the various (and numerous) women that Rasputin was seducing, including many in the palace, these supporters began to turn on him and attempted to banish him. One by one, these opponents began to disappear, possibly by order of the Tsarina. While the Russian populace began to believe that Rasputin had some form of hypnotic control over the Tsar and Tsarina, the Tsar himself was being pushed close to insanity by the constant rumours about Rasputin and his wife.
The Death of Rasputin
By now a group of aristocrats, led by Prince Felix Youssoupov, husband of Nicholas II's niece Princess Irina Alexandrovna, decided that Rasputin's influence had grown too great and that he needed to be disposed of if the Russian monarchy was to be saved. These aristocrats used Rasputin's much publicised love of women to lure him to his death. Princess Irina was to be the bait, but she declined at the last moment. Undeterred, on the night of 16 December, 1916 Rasputin was invited to the Youssoupov palace and the monk's lust for beautiful women was used to lure him into a trap.
Prince Felix offered Rasputin pastries which contained lethal amounts of cyanide. He declined, but eventually indulged himself. This poison was supposed to have an immediate effect, but Rasputin was showing no signs of dying. Growing impatient, one of the assassins took a pistol and shot him. The murderers, under the impression he was dead, went to celebrate. About an hour later, Prince Felix returned to see the body. He shook Rasputin, and while he was still warm, there were no signs of life. As Felix went to leave, however, Rasputin rose to his feet and went about strangling the prince. Freeing himself, Felix rushed to tell the others that the mad monk was still alive.
Rasputin ran across the courtyard, yelling 'Felix, Felix, I'll tell everything to the Tsarina.' A conspirator shot him in the back and again in the head. Rasputin crawled on the ground, and his assailant struck him with a blow to the head. By this time, Felix, thoroughly shaken, took a dumbbell and bludgeoned Rasputin. They then bound him and threw him into the Neva River. There he would remain for three days until the Tsar returned and Rasputin's body was taken from under the ice. The Tsar was outraged and exiled Prince Felix and the conspirators, but it was to be one of his last actions as ruler of Russia. The Bolsheviks were becoming a powerful force and the Revolution was approaching. The state of Russia was about to change...
Some say that the legend surrounding Rasputin and his death is fabricated and not an accurate description of the truth. Although his body was found to have multiple stabs and shots, there is still a certain doubt about the authenticity of the accounts. Conclusive evidence found water in Rasputin's lungs, showing that he actually drowned: despite being shot three times, bludgeoned and poisoned, it was the waters that killed him. Whatever the case, the legend remained strong and was aided by the fact that the Romanov family and the long line of Tsar's ended not long after Rasputin's death, just as the 'Mad Monk' had foreseen.
Rasputin became the subject of many books, television programmes and even movies (Christopher Lee played him in the Hammer film Rasputin - the Mad Monk), while Doctor Who actor Tom Baker took on the role in the film Nicholas and Alexandra. He was also featured in the incredibly catchy song 'Rasputin' by Boney M3 and has become the embodiment of evil in Mike Mignola's Hellboy Graphic Novel.