Grigori Rasputin, a peasant mystic who captivated Russia’s imperial court, met his death at the hands of his country’s aristocratic enemies 100 years ago.
BBC Russia’s Artem Krechetnikov analyzed Rasputin’s macabre murder and found some of the details of his death to be more myth than reality.
Few people in Russian history are as well known as the mystic from Tobolsk in Siberia, whose name has always been linked to scandal.
He has been called a “sex machine” and a “lover” of Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna.
The first description is perhaps an exaggeration and the second is simply false.
Russian opinion of him, during his time and afterwards, varies from “holy man” to “reptile”.
This last name was the one given by the reformist prime minister of the time, Pyotr Stolypin.
With the outbreak of war in 1914 hysteria ensued about “the occult forces surrounding the throne.”
Empress Alexandra, wife of Tsar Nicholas II, believed that Rasputin had mystical healing powers that could help her hemophiliac son Alexei, the heir to the throne.
Supporters of Russia’s alliance with France, eager to see Germany defeated militarily, suspected that Rasputin was undermining Russian foreign policy.
In early 1914, Rasputin told an Italian journalist: “God willing there won’t be a war, and I’ll be too busy having guessed it.”
Rasputin’s last moments are shrouded in mystery.
Why did you go to the palace of Prince Felix Yusupov in St. Petersburg?
According to two of his assassins – Prince Yusupov and Vladimir Purishkevich, a member of parliament – Yusupov called Rasputin on the night of December 30, 1916 on the pretext that his wife Irina wanted to join him.
But Irina was not in the palace, she had traveled to the Yusupovs’ house in the Crimea.
Yusupov alleged that he had taken Rasputin to a cellar where he gave him cakes sprinkled with poison.
But supposedly Rasputin did not succumb and asked to see Irina in the palace.
Yusupov’s accomplices were making a lot of noise upstairs, pretending they were having a party, and playing the American song Yankee Doodle on the gramophone.
But this version of the story does not seem likely.
Rasputin was uneducated but he was not stupid. The Yusupovs were incredibly wealthy. Irina was a member of the royal family so Rasputin could not have thought that she would be easily seduced.
According to Rasputin’s daughter Maria, Russian Interior Minister Alexander Protopopov had warned Rasputin that there was a plot to kill him.
advised him to He avoided socializing for a few days, but Rasputin told him, “It’s too late.”
So it remains a mystery why he visited the Yusupovs.
There were rumors that Empress Alexandra and Protopopov were planning to dissolve the parliament, the Duma, and introduce a state of emergency and demand peace.
It was quite possible that Yusupov would deceive Rasputin by promising to meet allies of the Empress.
What the killers told about what happened next sounds like a script for a horror movie.
After the poison supposedly didn’t work, Yusupov opened fire but Rasputin rose again, like a monster.
Nor did his blows to the forehead defeat Rasputin, who chased Yusupov across a courtyard.
Purishkevich then allegedly fired four shots into Rasputin’s back, knocking him down.
But what about the poison cakes?
People who knew Rasputin well said that he always shunned sweet foods because he believed they were harmful to his special powers.
The guards questioned about the murder indicated that they heard four consecutive shots.
A pathologist determined that the cause of death was a gunshot to the stomach that caused severe bleeding.
There was conflicting testimony about the shirt Rasputin was wearing. He was most likely killed before he took off his fur coat.
The murderers he was probably killed the moment he entered the palace, shot at close range.
Five aristocrats, led by Prince Yusupov, were involved, although some speculate that others were also involved in the plot.
According to another myth, Rasputin’s resistance to death was such that the conspirators had to drown him in ice water.
But the autopsy said: “No evidence of drowning was found. Rasputin was already dead when he was thrown into the water.”
Yusupov went into exile in Paris after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution and lived into his 80s.
Purishkevich was arrested in 1918 in Petrograd, the Bolshevik name for St. Petersburg, and later released on the orders of secret police chief Felix Dzerzhinsky.
He died of typhus in 1920 during the Russian civil war.
The violence and chaos of the Bolshevik revolution and terror made Rasputin’s words sound prophetic: “Without me everything will collapse.”
Too he had predicted his own assassination in a letter to Nicholas II. If the nobles did, he warned, the monarchy would collapse.
Communist revolutionaries assassinated the royal family in 1918.