A monster of a man, Gregory Rasputin devoted his life to scandalous debauchery and distorted mysticism. Notoriously known as the “mad monk,” this bogus holy man came from obscurity and rose to a position of supreme mystic at the royal court of the Romanovs where it was believed he healed Alexis, the tsar and tsarina’s son, who suffered from Hemophillia. His story is one of deceit, betrayal, and greed and his end was as strange as it gets.
He was born in 1872, the child of Siberian peasants. He was illiterate and possessed a mean streak even as a young boy. He raped a nun at age 16 and by age 18, he had changed his name from Gregory Yefimovich Novykh to Rasputin, which in Russian means, “debauched one.” At about 18, he became a religious convert and joined the Khlysty sect, a renegade scion of the Russian Orthodox Church. He picked this group because its founders preached of prolonged sexual activity as a means to becoming closer to God.
He married at the age of 19 and sired four children, but left his family to travel to Greece and Jerusalem where he recreated himself as a holy man. It was a trip to St. Petersburg in 1903 that opened the golden door to power and infamy. Here, he met the Bishop of Saratov, Hermogen, who knew the rulers of Russia had interests in both mysticism and anything that could cure their ailing son. In 1905, with a recommendation from the Bishop himself, Rasputin was summoned to the royal palace.
He gained credence and power by somehow curtailing the hemophiliac’s loss of blood after many others had failed. How he did this remains a mystery to this day, but this action sealed his reputation as a healer and cemented his position in the hearts of the Romanovs, especially the Tsarina.
Despite the fact Rasputin indulged himself inappropriately outside the royal court, and the Romanovs as well as the public at large were informed of all the salacious details, the Tsarina Alexandra refused to let him leave. The Russian public did not understand her loyalty, as they did not know why she was so grateful to him. She sought Rasputin’s advice on Russian policy, and his influence over matters of state, dark as it was, grew.
After 1911, Alexandra grew increasingly dependent on Rasputin and allowed him to select appointees for several high government posts. Public perception ranged from initial misunderstanding to an erosion of respect for Russia’s royal family, who was now seen as weak and ineffectual.
This perceived weakness helped to destroy general respect for the Tsar and Tsarina, which was only deepened when Russia‘s governance was left in the hands of the Tsarina and Rasputin after Tsar Nicholas left the court to take command of the royal army.
The surge of discontent at the royal court over Rasputin’s damage to the reputation of monarchy spurred a cabal among a group of court nobles led by Felix Yusupov. The plan was to murder Rasputin. Yusupov invited Rasputin to his home for dinner on December 29, 1916 where he served him poisoned cake and wine. When Rasputin did not even sicken, much less die, his host shot him.
He did collapse briefly, but regained his strength and escaped into the courtyard where he was stabbed repeatedly and shot again by another conspirator. The men, fearful he was still not dead, dumped his body in the Neva River along the banks where it was later discovered.
The attempt to salvage the reputation of the monarchy came too late. Rasputin had been an ugly despicable man, but what was to come to Russia was even worse. The royal family would soon be murdered in the name of Bolshevism ending forever the reign of the imperial Romanov dynasty.