Over time, Rasputin became more and more necessary to the Romanovs, at least in Alexandra’s opinion. The monk gradually became a fixture in the palace. He was given unrestrained access to the palace and was casually familiar with the family. Despite the rumors and substantiated stories, nothing could harm him with the Romanovs.
People noticed it, and reacted with resentment. In a sign of imminent trouble, suggestive cartoons appeared in the newspapers, disrespectfully portraying the tsar and tsarina as manipulated children, and the tsarina as Rasputin’s lover. This is stunning, given the newspapers were censored. Even a year earlier, no editor would have had the courage to print them.
If there was any doubt in the minds of Nicholas and Alexandra, it disappeared when Alexei had another scare. Rasputin was in Siberia when Alexandra’s frantic telegram arrived: the doctors said the boy couldn’t live through the night. Rasputin responded immediately, reassuring the Empress that God had heard her prayers and Alexei would recover.
The next day the tsarevich was better. After that, nothing could dislodge Rasputin.
The Great War was in progress when Tsar Nicholas plunged Russia into the fight.
Initially, it was a popular decision and the people supported Russia’s participation. The Tsar went to the field in 1915 to personally lead the troops, leaving his wife to rule the country. Alexei was comparatively well during this period and was occasionally with the tsar, in the field.
With the Tsar away, the whispers about Rasputin and the Tsarina grew louder. We’ll never know if there was truth to the rumors, but the Russians – who were ignorant of the Tsarevich’s illness – could account for the monk’s presence in no other way.
Like her husband, the Empress Alexandra exercised questionable judgment. In gratitude to Rasputin, the Empress allowed him to appoint government officials. The monk bragged about his power, and the already unpopular Alexandra became an object of disgust – the more so because Rasputin openly sold these appointments to the highest bidder.
Despite the darkening horizon, Alexandra refused to curb Rasputin’s power. Tsar Nicholas heard complaints and wrote to his wife in 1916, questioning Rasputin’s influence. Alexandra responded, reassuring her husband of the monk’s goodness. The tsar was satisfied.
In Britain, King George V was following events in Russia with anxious eyes. He and the tsar were first cousins and looked enough alike to be twins. There had been a few discussions of offering a home to their Russian cousins until things settled down. But they hesitated.