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Rasputin, the Monk Who Brought Down a Dynasty
by Jennifer Brainard

An unwashed sexually promiscuous peasant helped to bring down the empire of the Tsars in Russia. In the years before the Russian Revolution, Rasputin, who styled himself a holy man, became the confidant of the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia. His growing influence separated the Tsar from his people - his notorious affairs with aristocratic women, and rumors that he was having an affair with the Tsarina herself, convinced many that he was a disgrace to the court, and must go.

Rasputin was an unusual man who appears to have had genuine healing talents. He came to the attention to Tsar Nicholas II and the Tsarina Alexandria when he successfully healed the favorite hunting dog of a member of the royal family. They were interested in his reputation as a healer, because of the illness of their son Alexis. After having 5 daughters, Nicholas and his wife had finally had a much beloved son and heir to the throne. Unfortunately, the young Tsarevich suffered from hemophilia, a painful malady which usually resulted in death at a young age at that time. When they heard of Rasputin the Tsarina called him in to heal the apparently dying Alexis. After Rasputin laid his hands on the boy, he began to improve and finally recovered. His influence with the royal family remained strong after that. In fact his growing influence, and the envy this caused, led to his death.

Rasputin appears to have had some premonitions of his death. There are reports that when the Tsar departed for the front after being home for a brief time, he, as usual, asked for the monk's blessing. Rasputin is reported to have said, "This time it is you who must bless me." He seems to have put his affairs in order. There is also a letter from Rasputin in which he predicts disaster for Russia and for himself: ".My hour will soon come. I have no fear but you must know that the hour will be bitter. I will suffer a great martyrdom. I will forgive my torturers and will inherit the kingdom." And in an interview on the day of his death, he told an acquaintance "Little mother, I feel my end is near. They'll kill me and then the throne won't last 3 months."

He was advised by a friend that there was a plot against his life, and that he shouldn't go out that night. In spite of all this he went to the house of his murderer, Prince Yusupov. Yusupov and his co-conspirators put Cyanide into cream cakes, enough, Yusupov later said, to kill Rasputin many times over. Although Rasputin declined the cakes, not caring for sweets, at last he was persuaded to eat two. There was no visible effect on him. Yusupov suggested wine, and poured poisoned wine for him. Again, he was reluctant, but was persuaded. Yusupov was horrified that the poison seemed to have no effect on him and began to feel desperate. Two hours later, Rasputin seemed tired but was still very much alive. He then got his revolver and shot him in the heart. He appeared lifeless and Yusupov could find no pulse. He said that as he looked at the corpse, first one eye opened, and then the next. Rasputin leaped to his feet and attacked Yusupov, attempting to strangle him, all the while foaming at the mouth. Rasputin then left the house and was moving across the courtyard, saying that he was going to tell the Tsarina, when his co-conspirator Purishkevich shot at him, finally striking him in the back. Rasputin stopped and Purishkevich fired again, sending him to the ground. He then kicked the corpse in the temple, leaving a grave wound.

The corpse was brought into the house, and Yusupov lost control, repeatedly beating Rasputin about the head with a blackjack. There is some suggestion that the body was sexually abused as well. They drove the body to a nearby bridge and dumped the body in the water. The body was eventually found 226 meters downstream where it had traveled under the ice. The autopsy revealed that he had water in his lungs, which meant that he was still alive when he went into the water. A photograph from the autopsy suggests that he was still trying to free himself from his bonds.

Poisoned, shot, clubbed, drowned - the man who would not die. Was Rasputin a superhuman with protection from angels or evil forces? A recent book by Edvard Radzinsky, using previously unavailable sources from Russia, including autopsy photographs, suggests that Rasputin was not harder to kill than any other mortal, but that the assassins were merely incompetent. Yusupov may have embellished the details later (after the revolution) to cover his bungling attempt at assassination.

The poor decisions that were made by the Tsar during the time of Rasputin's influence and the hatred that his presence inspired in the people probably contributed significantly to the fall of the Tsar in the last days of the dynasty. People lost confidence in their ruler at a time of grave crisis. Russia was fighting in World War I and losing badly. There were severe shortages of food and supplies at home. As public confidence lapsed, the revolutionary ideas fermenting in Russia for 50 years began to come to the surface. Finally, shortly after Rasputin's death, the Russian Revolution swept away Nicholas and his family forever.


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