Grigori Effimovich Rasputin remains an enigma, a man of contradicting identities. To some, he was a revered holy man, embarking on spiritual journeys and possessing the power to heal. Yet, others viewed him as a corrupt sorcerer, capable of bringing ruin to the Russian Empire. Regardless of one’s perception, Rasputin undeniably left an indelible mark on the Russian monarchy and played a pivotal role in the Bolshevik Revolution. His life, wrapped in myths and tales of witchcraft, continues to captivate our imaginations. Perhaps you even recall the animated movie “Anastasia” that delved into his intriguing story.
Throughout his existence, Rasputin skillfully ingratiated himself into the royal family, becoming a trusted advisor. However, his rise to power raised concerns among many Russian citizens. Some viewed him as a threat capable of manipulating the Tsar and Tsarista. Rumors of his affair with the Tsarista, coupled with his excessive drinking, alleged German sympathies, and claims of possessing healing powers, only fueled the public’s worry. But let us focus not on Rasputin’s life but rather on his mysterious demise.
Rasputin met his untimely end on the night of December 16/17 in a premeditated conspiracy. The plot was masterminded by Prince Felix Yusopov, next in line to the throne and married to the Tsar’s niece, along with Grand Duke Dmitry Palovich, the Tsar’s cousin, Vladimir Purishkevich, a member of parliament, Lieutenant Sukhotin, and Dr. Lazavert^1^. They devised a cunning plan to invite Rasputin to Yusopov’s house, intending to poison him using cyanide-laced pastries. Little did they know that events would take an unexpected turn. The rest of the story surrounding his death is shrouded in mystery, given the destruction of numerous Russian and Soviet records over the years.
In their first attempt, Rasputin declined the pastries, claiming to be full from indulging in a copious amount of food and drink. However, when Yusopov returned to confer with the other conspirators, Rasputin inexplicably changed his mind and helped himself to the poisoned delicacies. Strangely, nothing happened. Can you imagine their bewilderment? They had administered the poison, and yet Rasputin appeared unaffected! Frustrated, Yusopov retrieved a gun and shot Rasputin, causing him to collapse onto the floor, seemingly lifeless. Hours later, Yusopov, curious about the body’s condition, discovered that it was still warm. Astonishingly, when he informed the others, Rasputin suddenly rose up and fled into the night^2^.
Once again, Rasputin’s pursuers caught up to him and shot him twice more, one of the bullets piercing his head. Even after enduring such brutal assaults, Rasputin remained alive. It makes one wonder whether there was some truth to the tales of his magical healing powers! Despite the attackers wrapping him up and failing to weigh down his body, they cast him into the frigid waters of the river during the heart of the Petrograd winter. When Rasputin’s lifeless form was eventually discovered, signs of a struggle with the ropes that bound him were evident, suggesting a fierce determination to survive even in the face of certain death. His autopsy revealed no traces of poison, three bullet wounds, and a minimal amount of water^2^.
To this day, the mystery surrounding Rasputin’s ability to evade death multiple times before succumbing to eternal slumber remains unresolved. Some experts believe that he may not have been served the poison at all. Others propose the intriguing theory of “alcoholic gastritis,” which could have hindered the absorption of the drug[^3^]. Ultimately, we may never know the full truth. Nevertheless, isn’t the allure of an unresolved mystery what truly captivates us?
P.S. For a more lighthearted take on Rasputin’s story, you can always enjoy the catchy lyrics of Boney M’s “Ra Ra Rasputin” (although, as a historian, I must admit that it might not be the most scholarly approach)!
[^3^]: “Rasputin’s Death,” Frederick Dillon. The British Medical Journal Vol. 2, No. 3836 (Jul. 14, 1934), p. 88.