Most people know the story—or at least the image of Rasputin—the bearded, mystical monk who infiltrated the Russian aristocracy. But his favor with the rulers of Russia didn’t last forever, and on this day in 1916 the monk was murdered, although it’s still a mystery who exactly orchestrated and carried out the deed.
The official account given by each of the conspirators, including Prince Felix Yusupov and Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, among other members of the political elite, doesn’t line up with each other, nor with the autopsy report. What they say is that they invited him over on the day of December 16, 1916. Before arriving, they supposedly put copious amounts of cyanide into the wine and cakes they would serve him. That’s about as far as they can all agree, in terms of what happened next. One account states that he initially declined to eat or drink, (his daughter said this was likely due to the fact that since he was stabbed in the abdomen by a prostitute and nearly died a couple years before, he avoided eating sweet or acidic foods as they caused him pain). However, despite his initial rejections, he eventually accepted and ate and drank. A different account by other of the conspirators states that he ate several cakes and drank a large amount of wine when initially offered them. In either case, to the great distress of the conspirators, he did not die, nor showed any ill effects at all.
They then discussed the issue away from Rasputin as to what to do now. It was decided that they should just shoot him, so Prince Yusupov went back downstairs to the cellar and shot Rasputin. After Rasputin fell and appeared to be mortally wounded, they stated they left the cellar for a time to plan how to dispose of the body.
The next part is hazy. In one account, the Prince shook Rasputin to see if he was dead, at which point the monk woke up and began to strangle Prince Yusupov. In reaction, the conspirators shot him three more times. In another account, the three came back down to see him; he was trying to get away, so they shot him. The nearly dead Rasputin was then beaten, bound and thrown into the Neva River.
There’s also a strange British connection. The bullet that hit Rasputin’s forehead came from a British gun, and the British certainly wanted Rasputin dead. But no one knows just how involved they were in the actual murder.
So what made the monk deserve all this? Rasputin came from a mysterious background—no one really knows much about his life before he showed up in St. Petersburg in 1903 at the age of 34. But once he was there, he slowly rose to fame. The Russian news channel RT writes:
Rasputin met Bishop Theophan, who was at first shocked by Rasputin’s dirty look and strong smell, but he was nonetheless mesmerized by the ‘holy’ man and shortly introduced him to the Montenegrin princesses, Militsa and Anastasia, who also fell under his spell. He was then introduced by the sisters to Nicholas II and Aleksandra (the Tsar and Tsarina). Aleksandra was impressed by him straight away and he became a regular visitor to the palace; she spent hours talking to him about religion. Rasputin would tell her that she and the Tsar needed to be closer to their people, that they should see him more often and trust him, because he would not betray them, to him they were equal to God, and he would always tell them the truth, not like the ministers, who don’t care about people and their tears. These kinds of words touched Aleksandra deeply; she absolutely believed that he was sent to the royal family by God, to protect the dynasty. To her, Rasputin was the answer to their hopes and prayers. The Tsar and Tsarina shared with him their concerns and worries, most importantly, over their son Aleksey’s (the only male heir to the throne) health. He suffered from hemophilia. Rasputin was the only one who was able to actually help their son, how he did it will always remain a mystery, but Aleksey got better.
Rasputin had tons of fans, like these people:
Soon, Rasputin was in with Nicholas and became his trusted advisor. Not everyone liked that, of course, especially not the other nobles who saw Rasputin as weird, smelly drunk guy. They wanted him out, and finally, on this very day in 1916, they got their way.
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