The Death of Rasputin the Russian Monk
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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'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.
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.
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