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Rasputin and the Tsarina - Tales from History
1663    Dibyendu Banerjee    01/01/2022

Born to a peasant family in Pokrovskoye, a small village in Western Siberia in 1869, Gregorian Yefimovich Rasputin, the so-called Mad Monk, revered and reviled in an equal measure during his lifetime, started life as a lowly peasant and died in 1916, as a close ally of the last Russian Tsar and his wife during the early 20th century. Known to be a sexual deviant, mystic healer, political saboteur and renegade monk, few historical figures can claim to have so many myths and legends attached to their name than Rasputin. His life and death is shrouded in the aura of mythical tales, making him an almost larger than life figure in Russian history. He was often described as a holy man in the guise of an unwashed, foul-mouthed peasant and during the day, he served as a spiritual advisor to royals and aristocrats, while at night, he crawled the streets of the city, guzzling cheap wine and seeking out sexual conquests.

It is said that young Rasputin turned to religion early in his life and his mystical gifts were reportedly in evidence by the time he was only 12. It is also said that the family cows produced more milk in his presence and once he helped to find a stolen horse by correctly prophesying the place where the stolen animal was kept. He had a religious conversion experience in his early life and after taking a spell of pilgrimage in a monastery in his late 20s, he claimed that he could take on the sins of the women by sleeping with them and thus help them find the grace of God. With the irresistible attraction of his mesmeric eyes and an ability to contract and expand his pupils at will, he had won plenty of willing disciples, especially the women, despite his poor personal hygiene.

rasputin and the tsarina

Despite his marriage and fathering several children, Rasputin abandoned family life and every spring he used to set off on treks to various holy places and boasted of the hardship he had to suffer in the course of the journey. Even he claimed that once he had gone six months without changing his underwear and smelled like a goat. He was also reported of his foul breath and teeth like blackened stumps. However, that did not deter the young women he frequently brought back from his travels, who were given distinctly unholy nicknames such as Sexy Kitten, Hot Maid or Boss Lady. Strange it may sound, but once he even invited his two sisters, aged 15 and 20, to join him at a bathhouse in the city of Kiev for a session of rejoicing. When he was confronted by their outraged mother about that, he told her that she should feel happy and rejoiced about that, as The Day of Salvation has dawned on her two daughters. However, his wild and indiscriminate sexual relationship with those women was not unknown to his wife, Praskovia Dubrovina, three years his senior, who had married him when he was a very young man of 18 and remained loyal to him to the end. She calmly tolerated his polygamy and once remarked cryptically that he has enough for all of the women, perhaps vaguely referring to the legendary size of Rasputin’s male genital.

rasputin and the tsarina

With his magnetic charm, Rasputin had developed a small circle of followers by the early 1900s and stories about his activity and charisma began to spread in Siberia. During 1904 or 1905, he travelled to the city of Kazan and despite the gossips of having sex with female followers, he acquired the reputation as a holy man, helping people to resolve their spiritual crises and anxieties. Finally, he ended up in St. Petersburg, the seat of royal power, where he mingled with the church leaders and the social elite, including Anna Vyrubova, a Russian Empire lady-in-waiting, as well as the best friend and confidante of Tsarina Alexandra Fyodorovna, who became convinced that Rasputin had miraculous powers. Eventually, he was introduced to Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Tsarina Alexandra, one of Queen Victoria’s grandchildren. In those days, Russia was dominated by religion and superstition, many were fascinated with spiritualism and the occult, while the men of faith commanded enormous interest and respect. Likewise, the Romanovs also had many religious advisors and attendants, but even then, they were very much worried about the health of their only male heir, Tsesarevich Alexei, who was a haemophiliac, the hereditary condition which affects the blood’s ability to clot. Rasputin took the opportunity of the situation and somehow, by his charisma, persuasion, hypnotism or some other force, he convinced the Tsarina he could ease the boy’s suffering.

rasputin and the tsarina
The Romanov Family

As luck would have it, Alexei developed a severe haemorrhage in his thigh and groin in the summer of 1912, after a jolting carriage ride near the royal hunting grounds in the summer of 1912 and was suffering from excruciating pain and delirious with fever. When Rasputin was contacted, he advised to stop all medications and after a day, the boy became completely cured, which amazed the tsarina and Rasputin was immediately enlisted as her close adviser. It is speculated that probably the bleeding stopped as a result of Rasputin’s disallowing the administration of aspirin, which was used by the Russian court doctors for pain relief, but later discovered to be an anti-coagulant that would have worsened the bleeding considerably. Whatever may the reason, after the incident, an apartment was allotted for Rasputin in the capital and he became a regular visitor to the Winter Palace, while his wife remained at home in Pokrovskoye.

Without any formal affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church, Rasputin presented himself in the Imperial Court as a holy man. At the same time, his behaviour away from court offered a different portrait, tinted with sexual scandals involving affairs with women of all social backgrounds, from street prostitutes to the aristocrat ladies of the elite society, added with his drunkenness, which scandalized the public.When not with the Romanovs, Rasputin was often engaged in drunken parties, visited brothels and also provided spiritual guidance and sexual services to several society women in St Petersburg. He also loved to visit the bathhouse where he would have his genitals soaped by one of his little ladies, his female followers and after that, they would thrash him with twigs for arousal. Followed by the rousing session, he used to take a brisk walk to the nearest church to renounce Satan, mumbling repeatedly, without sin there is no repentance.

rasputin and the tsarina
Rasputin surrounded by women

However, Rasputin became close to the royal family at the wrong time when their popularity was already heading in the wrong direction. With his constant presence in the royal court, he soon became a controversial figure, accused of acting as a puppet master over the royal couple, suspected of exerting undue political influence over the tsar and was even rumoured of having an affair with the tsarina. In addition to that, Rasputin openly boasted during his regular bar crawls that the Tsarina, the throne and the Russian government were in his hands. Nevertheless, Tsarina Alexandra was known to be a conservative and prudish Victorian woman and it is not likely that she would be involved in a sexual relationship with Rasputin. However, although there is no proof, the rumour was so intense that most of the people in the Russian Empire believed it to be true. This prompted the opposition to circulate pornographic postcards, depicting the two in different compromising andpromiscuous positions as a weapon of propaganda against the Romanov dynasty.

rasputin and the tsarina
An infamous cartoon depicting Rasputin and the tsarina

The situation worsened in September 1915, when the Tsar left for the frontline and Alexandra was asked to manage the domestic affairs in his absence. Rasputin immediately took the opportunity and started to wield great power as her adviser, appointing his chosen church ministers and other public officials. As a result, the people began to assume that the Tsar had actually left the country to the control of the mysterious Rasputin, who was close to the Empress.Soonthe German-born queen was accused of selling Petrograd’s food supplies to the Germans through an intermediary. Although there was no evidence of Alexandra’s treachery, she was undoubtedly incompetent to handle the situation, was spellbound by Rasputin and was eager to accept and implement his advice indiscriminately. Rasputin’s most visible impact on the government was his demand for the replacement of ministers, mostly for the benefit of his benefactors and drinking partners and between September 1915 and February 1917, Russia went through the replacement of four prime ministers, three war ministers and five interior ministers at his behest, which destabilised an already foundering government.

rasputin and the tsarina
Rasputin and the Tsarina

Rasputin’s erratic and extreme eccentric behaviour and unwanted influence on the Tsarina soon came to symbolize everything negative in Russian politics and society. While the conservative aristocrats were apprehensive that the mad monk might bring down the dynasty, others were worried that his meddling was weakening an already struggling government and undermining the war effort. Finally, a group of nobles led by Prince Felix Yusupov, the richest man in Russia and the husband of Irina, the Czar’s only niece, decided to kill the Siberian preacher as his influence over the tsarina threatened the empire. Accordingly, in collaboration with Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich and right-wing politician Vladimir Purishkevich, the mad monk of Russia was killed on 30 December 1916, which was 17 December, according to the Russian calendar used in those days, in the basement of the Moika Palace, the Saint Petersburg residence of Prince Felix Yussupov. Nobody really knows, what happened that night at the Moika Palace. But it is said that after he arrived at the palace, Rasputin was ushered into the basement on the pretext to meet Irina, the beautiful wife of Yussupov and was served a platter of cakes and numerous glasses of wine laced with potassium cyanide.

However, as Rasputin appeared to be unaffected by the poison, a desperate and surprised Yussupov borrowed the revolver of the Grand Duke Dmitri, the tzar’s cousin, and shot Rasputin once in the chest. He collapsed, but leapt up suddenly within a moment and attacked Yusupov, who freed himself and fled. But as he followed Yusupov even into the palace's courtyard, he was shot multiple times by Purishkevich and finally collapsed into a snowbank. His wrapped body was then dropped by the team into the icy Malaya Nevka River. Later, after his body was fished out, an autopsy was conducted, which noted three gunshot wounds, but no evidence of poisoning was found.

rasputin and the tsarina

Ridiculously, although Rasputin was assassinated to save the Romanov dynasty, within a few months, Tsar Nicholas II had to abdicate the Russian throne on 15 March 1917, as a result of the February Revolution and all the members of the Romanov family were annihilated in the next year. Rasputin was assassinated, but the myth about him survived. Hidden under the myth, there is the truth that his influence did indeed play a huge role in the contempt for the royal household. Rasputin was assassinated, but the tale about him evidences that mythology can grow to become more important than the truth.

rasputin and the tsarina
Basement of the Yusupov Palace, where Rasputin was murdered
The Tragedy of the Tuileries Palace Journey through the Holocaust
Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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