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The Death of Rasputin the Russian Monk

Updated on April 19, 2015
Rasputin stares into the camera.
Rasputin stares into the camera. | Source

Grigori Rasputin was a mystic, faith healer, and psychic who lived from 1869 to 1916 in Imperial Russia. He rose to prominence when he was employed by Tsar Nicolas II of Russia to heal his haemophiliac son, Tsarevich Alexei.

Prior to his presence at the royal court, Rasputin was a wanderer, travelling between cloisters to impart his laconic understanding of the Bible to Orthodox monks; though he was never officially affiliated with the Church.

There are widespread rumors and legends surrounding Rasputin’s death; primarily regarding his inability to die from conventional methods of assassination.

Rasputin with Tsarina Alexandra and Tsarevich Alexei on either side.
Rasputin with Tsarina Alexandra and Tsarevich Alexei on either side. | Source

Why was Rasputin killed?

Rasputin managed to treat Tsarevich Alexei for an injury that had caused him to bleed internally. He understood the anti-coagulant effect of aspirin and leeches, and prescribed rest and hypnosis instead. His salubrious effect on Alexei led to the royal family calling him a friend and a man of God. Tsarina Alexandra came to believe that God spoke to her through him.

Rasputin with female admirers.
Rasputin with female admirers. | Source
Propaganda concerning Rasputin's influence over the royal family.
Propaganda concerning Rasputin's influence over the royal family. | Source

Rasputin’s close relationship with the Tsar and Tsarina ultimately led to his downfall. He had a great deal of influence over them, and his status as a mystic prompted the creation of bizarre and eccentric rumors regarding his social life and his relationship with the royals. In particular, he was accused of being a member of the promiscuous Khlysty cult, which led to gossip about depraved orgies and criminal sexual activity, including the rape of a nun.

It is likely that these rumors were created by politicians and the Orthodox Church, who both sought the level of influence that Rasputin enjoyed. Many politicians wanted the Tsar to give them greater power, which encouraged them to use Rasputin’s controversial reputation to discredit the royal family. To make matters worse, Rasputin often bragged about his influence, and used his authority to have critics dismissed from their posts. He also believed that closeness to God required inner spirituality rather than adherence to the Church’s instruction, which riled Church leaders.

Rasputin with Church leaders. They had no love for the mystic monk.
Rasputin with Church leaders. They had no love for the mystic monk. | Source

However, there may be evidence to support some of the rumors. Rasputin appeared to believe that salvation could only be achieved by first yielding to temptation. It also appears that his anti-war beliefs led to a severe depression during WW1, which culminated in drunkenness and (possibly) sexual promiscuity.

Tsarina Alexandra believed that God could speak to her through Rasputin.
Tsarina Alexandra believed that God could speak to her through Rasputin. | Source

When General Nikolayevich threatened to hang him if he ever came to bless the troops, Rasputin claimed to have a vision that the Tsar should take command of the armed forces (removing the General). This had disastrous consequences for the war effort, and it turned many powerful individuals against him at home and abroad.

With the Tsar absent, Rasputin was left alone with the Tsarina, leading to rumors about their relationship. As the Tsarina was of German descent, she was accused of being a German spy. Rasputin was also able to fill many political offices with his own hand-picked candidates, consolidating his power. With the wartime economy in ruins, his influence was seen as highly detrimental.

Rasputin with Russian military officers.
Rasputin with Russian military officers. | Source

Who killed Rasputin?

The list of suspects for Rasputin’s murder was extensive. The Church craved his level of influence and was outraged by his apparent immorality. In addition, many politicians had been removed from office by Rasputin, and many more were critical of his disastrous effect on domestic and foreign policy. The armed forces were also in disarray following the Tsar’s decision to take command, and several generals would have desired revenge for their dismissal. Finally, Russia’s major allies (France, Britain, and the USA) would all have regretted Russia’s increasing ineptitude in the war, and Rasputin’s desire to withdraw Russia from the conflict.

In fact, a number of culprits contributed to the murder of Rasputin. After a rousing and derogatory speech in parliament about the Tsarina and her mystic monk; Vladimir Purishkevich (a politician) was recruited by the aristocratic patriot, Felix Yusupov, to take part in the murder. Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, a military man, was also present. Recent evidence suggests British secret servicemen were likewise involved, with a fatal shot being fired by SIS agent, Oswald Rayner.

Rasputin in the later years of his life.
Rasputin in the later years of his life. | Source

Rasputin's history in a song

How did Rasputin die?

Felix Yusopov's account of Rasputin's death was accepted for many decades, though in recent years it has been credibly disputed.

According to Yusupov, on the 16th of December 1916, he lured Rasputin to his Moika palace with the suggestion that Princess Irina would be present. The monk was led to the cellar by Yusupov, Purishkevich, and Pavlovich, and supposedly given food and wine mixed with enough cyanide to kill five men. Legend states that he was unaffected by the poison. It is possible that Rasputin practiced mithridatism, which might have allowed him to develop an immunity to poison by regularly ingesting non-lethal doses.

It became clear that Rasputin might survive the night, leaving no time for disposal of the corpse. The murderers panicked, causing Yusupov to shoot Rasputin in the back with a revolver. They temporarily left the scene to prepare a car to transport the body. When Yusupov came back to collect his coat, Rasputin allegedly sat up and attempted to strangle him. Pavlovich and Purishkevich heard the struggle and returned to shoot him again, but even then, the mad monk was still struggling to his feet. The three murderers then battered him with clubs until he was motionless. They subsequently wrapped his body in a carpet and threw it into the icy depths of the Neva River.

After the body was recovered, an autopsy supposedly revealed that he died from drowning, suggesting he was still alive when thrown into the river. The Tsarina buried his body, but it was later uncovered by Bolsheviks and burned in the woods. According to legend, the body sat up and appeared to move while being burned. It is likely that Rasputin’s tendons were not cut before cremation, allowing for the possibility of movement from the effects of the heat.

Rasputin was shot in the head by someone using a British revolver.
Rasputin was shot in the head by someone using a British revolver. | Source

New evidence emerges

Yusupov’s account changed significantly over the years, and recent evidence suggests it may be partially false. These later reviews confirmed he was beaten and stabbed, but it is unclear if he was ever poisoned. However, it is possible that the cyanide evaporated when he was burned.

Rasputin was shot approximately four times, and new evidence indicates that one of these was a fatal shot to the head. The bullet for this shot was lead and non-jacketed; a type used only by the British. Forensic evidence suggests a British Webley revolver was used to kill Rasputin.

The British secret service (SIS) were present in St. Petersburg at the time of the murder. They were concerned about Rasputin’s desire to see Russia withdraw from the war, and his increasing influence within Russian politics. A Russian withdrawal would have seen Britain greatly outnumbered on the Western front.

The British SIS officers, Oswald Rayner and Stephen Alley, both had close ties to the Yusupov family, and witnesses place Rayner at the murder. Rayner also met with Yusupov in the weeks leading up to the murder. Stephen Alley appeared to be jointly culpable when eight days after the killing he wrote about an event "not going exactly to plan", with the "loose ends" being cleared up by Rayner.

Rasputin found his place in history.
Rasputin found his place in history. | Source

Summary

The evidence points to the assassination of Rasputin by British agents. Several Russian nobles and politicians contributed to the planning and execution of the plot. Rasputin likely died from a shot to the head fired by the British SIS agent, Oswald Rayner. He was shot at least twice beforehand, as well as being beaten and stabbed. Following the shooting, his dead body was thrown into the Neva River. It is speculation that he was alive when dumped, or that he was poisoned with cyanide. After being dug up and burned, it's possible that his body sat up and moved due to its improper cremation.

© 2013 Thomas Swan

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    • helplesszealot profile image

      helplesszealot 4 years ago

      Nice article, I have always been fascinated by Rasputin. Apparently the Erotica museum in St Petersburg has his member preserved and on display. Haven't investigated this claim though.

    • Thomas Swan profile image
      Author

      Thomas Swan 4 years ago from New Zealand

      Cheers helplesszealot! Haha, it could be one of many claims about him. Would be a bit grotesque, but possibly interesting from an anatomical perspective. He was a giant of a man, with a very large face and hands. I read somewhere that his murderers crushed his testicles while torturing him. Yeesh!

    • Angie Jardine profile image

      Angie Jardine 4 years ago from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ...

      Fascinating as usual, Thomas … it is such a shame the exact truth of everything will never be known but this explanation does seem plausible.

      He was the sort of character about whom urban myths might arise …

    • Thomas Swan profile image
      Author

      Thomas Swan 4 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks Angie. It's a shame, but the legends spawned by that doubt are certainly fuel for the imagination. He seemed to have power over people as evidenced by his following. He also knew hypnosis, and that stare... is a tad creepy. Even his supposed murderers wrote that it "didn't go to plan" for whatever reason, and while Yusupov may have made things up, his account was at least partially true. There are modern day individuals like Derren Brown who understand psychology enough to appear to be powerful mystics, and perhaps Rasputin was a predecessor. He was certainly intelligent, as seen from his ability to heal the Tsarevich by understanding what can prevent the blood from coagulating. So I think it's possible to be a scientist and still buy into the legends somewhat.

    • Elias Zanetti profile image

      Elias Zanetti 4 years ago from Athens, Greece

      Certainly one of the most enigmatic figures in history. I remember many years ago I decided to read Edvard Radzinsky's The Rasputin File mostly because I was fascinated by Rasputin's legend. By the end of the book, my fascination simply shifted towards the historical background of a period in turmoil which happens to be one of the turning points of 20th century. I think it's much more sensible to try to uncover the mystical or magical veil that dresses his legend and to seek the real Rasputin. Was he just an opportunist with his own agenda of acquiring power or perhaps there was something more in his anti-war beliefs and the way that he discredited the tsarist regime?

    • Thomas Swan profile image
      Author

      Thomas Swan 4 years ago from New Zealand

      He was a religious man with a spiritual rather than authoritarian side it seems, so I think his anti-war beliefs were genuine. I don't think he was a spy for Germany because if he was meant to be hated, he would have been pro-war.... though he did want to bless the troops, so who knows. Also, his rise to the royal court was from a completely unknown background, and depended on his being able to heal the Tsarevich. It seems to be very much down to chance, unless of course the Tsarina had a role in ascribing the Tsarevich's improved condition to Rasputin. It's clear that opponents of the Tsar created and used rumors about Rasputin to discredit the regime. I think he was an opportunist who used his position too readily, and acquired too many enemies. Thanks for commenting Elias.

    • helplesszealot profile image

      helplesszealot 4 years ago

      Hi Elias

      It was Edvard's book that also helped fuel my interest in Rasputin and Russia as a whole.

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 4 years ago from Los Angeles

      This mysterious man was as controversial in death as it was in life. If the circumstances of his death are still disputable and unknown, his influence at the royal court and in the intricate Russian politics, is and it has been for a long time known. Very interesting hub and a pleasure to read

    • Thomas Swan profile image
      Author

      Thomas Swan 4 years ago from New Zealand

      Thanks Petra, that is indeed the case, though the evidence that the British fired the fatal shot is fairly convincing, and some have called it conclusive. I was just reading that he predicted his own death (not surprising), but also said that all of the Tsar's family would be dead within two years if the murderers were related to the Tsar. Yusupov and Pavlovich were related to the Tsar, and the Tsar's family did all die within two years due to the Russian revolution. Eerie!

    • SilentReed profile image

      SilentReed 4 years ago from Philippines

      He was caricatured as a mad monk. Your article raises some interesting question about Rasputin's life and the part he played in Russian history. Was he politically astute and a power broker or merely a palace toady? Rasputin may have had a hypnotic hold on the Tzarina but it's hard to believe that Tzar Nicholas, whose reign was bloody and brutal would allow a monk to influence his decisions in domestic and foreign policy. Perhaps it was the Tzar's own desire to withdraw Russia from the conflict. There is the possibility that Rasputin was made a scapegoat for the disastrous way the war was being conducted. Was the murder of Rasputin a warning from foreign and domestic power blocs to Tzar Nicholas that he could just as easily be deposed?

    • Thomas Swan profile image
      Author

      Thomas Swan 4 years ago from New Zealand

      Cheers SilentReed. There are certainly many questions that still surround him. Regarding your questions, remember that Rasputin had a "vision" that the Tsar should take command. The Tsar appeared to believe this vision, and did indeed take command. Mysticism was very popular among the Russian aristocracy at this time, and it's possible that the Tsar became convinced after Rasputin healed his son. The Tsarina certainly was. However, the vision story may have been concocted as an excuse should the war turn bad. That way they could blame Rasputin for it, so he may have been a scapegoat. Those culpable for the murder were loyalists to the Tsar working with British. Perhaps the Tsar ultimately ordered the murder? The Tsar's enemies were quite happy to use Rasputin to discredit the regime.

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