If I’d tell you a single man of humble origins toppled one of the largest empires in history, you’d probably call me madman. The Romanovs, the ruling dynasty of the Russian Empire, having produced as unique monarchs as Peter the Great and Catherine the Great, destroyed by the antics of a mystic. And that was no other than Rasputin. A man who claimed to be holy. Regardless of truthfulness of this claim, he was believed by the Russian emperor Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra Feodorovna. This dangerous friendship with Rasputin would seal their downfall, together with that of the old imperial Russia that burned during the Russian Revolution of 1917.

#1 Rasputin’s eyes

Or maybe you remember Disney’s Rasputin, the Mad Monk who tried to murder Anastasia. Although the real muzhik (peasant) was actually a friend of the Imperial family, including Anastasia and her siblings, in common with his Disney counterpart is the mystery surrounding his spooky assassination. While in life Rasputin was said to possess an uncanny and unique presence. His main weapon were his pale blue eyes, which casted a mesmerising gaze. Described as soothing blue orbs that hid a dormant sensual beast underneath. And equally strong too was his―quoting his detractors here―goat smell. A fact that apparently drove many women of the high Russian society mad with pleasure.

Rasputin intensely gazing at the reader
Rasputin in 1910. His influence over Nicholas and Alexandra meant many Russians wrote to him asking for help, or tried to sway him to their cause. Author: Karl Karlovich Bulla. Source

#2 The Siberian peasant

Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin was born on 21st January (Old calendar: 9th January) 1869, in the village of Prokrovskoye, Siberia. Literally, in the middle of nowhere. He was a son of peasants, no doubt a hardened lit in -40 degrees Siberia. Apart from his near illiteracy, a common characteristic in the overwhelming peasant population of the Russian Empire, not much is known of his childhood and personality then.

In 1886 he married Praskovya Dubrovina, and of their children, only Dmitry, Maria, and Varvara survived to adulthood. A decade after his marriage, he left family behind and embarked on a pilgrimage to the monastery of St. Nicholas, in Verkhoturye. This was an infamous place, for its members, known as the Khlysty sect, looked for God through orgies. After this exhilarating experience Rasputin was in no rush to return home (can’t blame him), and so he also pilgrimaged to Mount Athos, in Greece.

When he finally returned home, Rasputin was a changed man. He had become vegetarian, quit drinking, and prayed more than ever. Or at least, that’s what he claimed. While still a married man, Rasputin developed a habit of travelling frequently, spending more and more time in the taverns. And when he was in Prokrovskoye, a group of acolytes begun following him everywhere, like ducklings. A fact I imagine, was frowned on by his wife.

Despite his questionable new friends, and the negligent involvement with the children, Pravskoya remained loyal to him. Between 1902 and 1904, Rasputin travelled again, this time to Kazan, where he was recommended to Bishop Sergei in St Petersburg, the imperial capital. There he became friends with the Theofan of Poltava, the later personal confessor of the Tsar Nicholas Romanov and the Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna. It was Theofan who introduced Rasputin to Grand Duchess Militzia, the wife of a cousin of the Tsar. And it was Militzia who introduced the shabby and grimy starets (spiritual father) to the tsarina Alexandra in 1905.

Nicholas seated. Alexandra stands behind him on the right. The four Grand Duchesses, from left to right: Olga, Maria, Anastasia, and Tatiana. The Tsesarevich Alexei between the last two. 1913. Author: Boasson and Eggler St. Petersburg Nevsky 24. Source

#3 Rasputin, lover of the Russian queen?

Alexandra was a very pious and god-fearing woman, so how came she was suddenly fascinated (although never to the point of having an affair with him) by the dissolute Rasputin, whose unholy lifestyle was already earning him several powerful enemies in the Russian church?

The answer is the incurable disease Alexandra’s son, the heir to the throne Alexei, suffered. Although the family kept it a well-guarded secret, all the symptoms point to haemophilia, a genetic disorder which prevents the blood from clotting, thus leading to severe bleeding episodes that can easily cause death. Rasputin seemed to be the only one capable, not only to stop the bleeding as if by art of magic, but also to ease the excruciating pain of Alexei during the bouts, which swelled his joints and confined him to bed. One of the most famous episodes and which contributed to talks of Rasputin’s power as a mystic, was in 1912, when Alexei found himself with one foot on the other side already. However, Rasputin sent a telegram to reassure Alexandra that the boy would live, and urged her not to allow the doctors to touch or move him.

The day after, Alexei miraculously recovered. Some believe nowadays that Rasputin possessed hypnotic abilities, while others argue that bleeding can be intensified under emotional stress, therefore Rasputin’s unparalleled self-confidence calmed the stressed Tsarina, in turn allowing Alexei to calm. And by keeping the doctors from touching him, he allowed Alexei to relax, thus the bleeding receded. Alexandra’s trust in Rasputin became unshakable henceforth, believing he was the only hope for her son to live a long life, and went on to call Rasputin, ‘Our Friend’.

Although impecable in the eyes of Nicholas and Alexandra, Rasputin behaved very differently with his followers, mostly women. He preached that salvation was possible only through redemption of the sin. Only to brazenly offer them a 3-in-1 deal in his bedroom: sin, redemption and salvation.

“My child, you think I’m polluting you, but I’m not. I’m purifying you”

Rasputin’s famous line when trying to get laid. 1913

Although for most of us such line could never work at all, it did wonders for Rasputin. Furthermore, some of the cuckolded men, proudly stated it was an honour that Father Grigori, had shagged their wives. Not sure ‘honour’ is a word that sane people use when a perverted mystic seduces their wives.

Mostly women of course
Rasputin and his admirers, 1914. Author: Karl Karlovich Bulla. Source

#4 Rise to power

When words failed, drunk and lustful, he would knock on neighbouring doors, begging for sex from any female residents: seamstresses, servants, and even the concierge wife. Often it ended with the incognito police officers who watched him under orders from Nicholas, returning him to bed.

Hundreds flocked to his apartments, either seeking Rasputin’s spiritual power, or attracted by his influence over the Empress. He often responded by issuing recommendation letters in exchange for payment, but often he gave the money to the poor and destitute, keeping just enough for his daughter’s dowry. Sex was also an accepted currency for female applicants.

Rasputin crossing the viewer
Rasputin absolving you of your sins. Source: Wikipedia

Despite his charms over the ladies of St Petersburg, most aristocrats despised him on account of his nefarious sway over Nicholas, but specially, Alexandra. With Nicholas away at the front in 1916 during WW1, Alexandra had free hand to dismiss dozens of capable and much needed ministers. And she did, simply because Rasputin didn’t like them. The feeling was mutual with these ministers. Russia was loosing the war, there were critical food shortages in the capital, and although Rasputin was not to blame for any of this, people perceived otherwise. Russia was a powder keg. Rasputin was the spark.

#5 Rasputin’s assassination

With Russia on the verge of defeat in the war and revolution at home, it was inevitable that eventually someone would take matters on his own hands. A group of royalist nobles, led by Prince Felix Yusupov, had had Rasputin earmarked for some time, and knowing the Mad Monk was interested in Yusupov’s wife, Irina, they invited him to Yusupov’s Moika Palace, on December 30 1916 (O.S. 17 December), with the pretext that he would meet Irina there.

According to Yusupov’s memoirs, he brought Rasputin to the basement, where like a drunkard at 3am searching for fries and kebabs, the starets gobbled up the poisoned snacks Yusupov offered him. The trouble was, he was seemingly unaffected. Panicking, Yusupov took a revolver and shot Rasputin in the chest. Not even that was enough to kill Rasputin, who inexplicably rose and attacked Yusupov. What followed was a cat and mouse play, the prize: his life. However, too tired to escape, Rasputin was finished off by the shot of Purishkevich, another of the conspirators. His body was wrapped in a blanket, and dumped into a hole in the frozen river Neva.

The scene of the crime
Yusupov’s palace cellar, where Rasputin was poisoned. Picture taken in 1917. Source

In his memoirs, Yusupov claimed that Rasputin death’s had been caused by drowning, but Kosoratov, the senior surgeon who performed the autopsy, proved took apart this myth. The cause of death, he said, had been a gunshot to his forehead, at close-range.

Another preternatural claim, although more difficult to deny or verify, was that before his assassination, Rasputin had predicted to the Tsarina that the Romanov’s rule, and consequently her son’s life, would end if he was murdered. Rasputin got it right. Nicholas, Alexandra, and their children followed Rasputin to the tomb, after the Bolsheviks murdered them seven months later, in Yekaterinburg.

#6 Aftermath. Relics of Rasputin

After the Provisional Government took over the control of the country in early 1917, Rasputin’s corpse was exhumed and burned. However, over the years many have claimed to possess a relic of the Mad Monk, preserved over the years to worship it.

Most famous of all, is that belonging to Dr Igor Knyazkin. In 2004, he opened Russia’s first Museum of Erotica in St Petersburg, and it’s easy to guess which item gathered the most attention. Rasputin’s gigantic willy, preserved in excellent condition, appearing just like it did when he used it to bless the married women of St Petersburg.

Bad news however, for all of us who are eager to see his acclaimed, 150 year old penis floating in a jar. According to Kosoratov, when he performed the autopsy Rasputin still had his tool of redemption attached. Moreover, Doctor Knyazkin has always refused to reveal how he acquired it. The fact that someone would want to possess his pickled penis, is another testament to the awe and mystery surrounding the life and death of Rasputin.

What do you think about Rasputin? Villain or simply misunderstood? Drop a comment and subscribe for more. And if you liked the story of this depraved monk, why not give it a deeper read to this vibrant and touching narration of Robert K. Massie?