Grigori Rasputin was born into a peasant family in a village in Siberia, Russia, in approximately 1869. At that time life in Siberia was hard. The area was virtually untouched by the rise in technology that was sweeping much of Europe during Industrial Revolution. As a result of his poor upbringing, Rasputin received little schooling and it is believed that he never learnt to read or write.
Accounts of Rasputin’s early years claim that he possessed supernatural powers, while others cite examples of extreme cruelty. It was this dubious, frightening reputation that was and has remained associated with Rasputin, and earned him the nickname, “the Mad Monk.”
In fact, although Rasputin entered the Verkhoture Monastery in Russia at the age of 19, with the intention of becoming a monk, he left shortly after to marry Proskovia Fyodorovna, with whom he had 3 children; only one of which survived. However, by his early 20’s he’d returned to what he considered his calling, and took on the life of a wandering holy man, or strannik, who lived off the goodwill and gifts from peasant communities he visited. It was on these travels, which took him as far afield as Greece and the Middle East, that Rasputin gained a reputation as a healer.
In 1903, Rasputin’s wanderings brought him to St. Petersburg. Such was his fame as a mystic and faith healer at this point, that by 1905 he was introduced to Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna. Desperate for help for their son Alexis, who suffered from haemophilia, they invited him to court. Rasputin was able to convince the Tsarina, falsely, that he could cure the boy, with the royal family firmly believing in his reputation as a starets; a Russian holy man.
In the following years Rasputin grew in influence. Then, in October 1912 Alexis became seriously ill. The Tsarina sent a telegram to Rasputin who replied that Alexis would live. He was proved correct. So it was that when the boy recovered, the Tsar and Tsarina’s faith in him was confirmed. But this success and rise to prominence would lead to his eventual downfall. Between 1906 and 1914, his association grew with the Royal family to the extent that he began to undermine the dynasty’s credibility by the press. His predictions also now took a darker tone. On the eve of World War One, he was saying that calamity would befall the country; A concerned Tsar Nicholas II took command of the Russian Army, with Tsarina Alexandra assuming responsibility for domestic policy. She dismissed ministers who warned her of Rasputin’s undue influence.
It was around this time, June 1914, when a woman named Khioniya Guseva stabbed but failed to kill Rasputin. It is believed that the woman, who’d been disguised as a beggar, stabbed him at the behest of a political rival. The stab wound was severe and led to Rasputin spending weeks in recovery after surgery. It would not be the last time such an attempt was made.
As the wandering monk’s influence over the Tsarina grew, the country’s officials became more worried about his power. It sealed his fate, as Prince Felix Yusupov, another member of the Russian royal family, finally decided that the murder of Rasputin was essential.
On 29th December a group of conspirators, including the Tsar’s first cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich and Prince Yusupov, invited Rasputin to Yusupov’s palace and fed him wine and cakes laced with cyanide. However, though Rasputin became rather drunk, the poison had no effect. Amazed that Rasputin had survived, the prince and his helpers then lured Rasputin to a party early in the morning of 30th December 1916. This time they made no mistake, as Prince Yusupov shot him. The murderers wrapped the body in a carpet and threw it into the Neva River. When Rasputin’s body was found three days later, three bullet wounds covered his body. He was buried on 3rd January 1917.
Yet even after his death, Rasputin’s strange reputation for prophecy did not fade. Just prior, he had predicted that if he were to be murdered by government officials, the entire imperial family would be killed by the Russian people. It came true 15 months later, when the Tsar, his wife and all of their children were murdered by assassins amidst the Russian Revolution.
Dr Kathryn Bates is a graduate of archaeology and history. She has excavated across the world as an archaeologist, and tutored medieval history at Leicester University. She joined the administrative team at Oxford Open Learning twelve years ago. Alongside her distance learning work, Dr Bates is a bestselling novelist, and an itinerant creative writing tutor for primary school children.