A century ago tonight, Grigori Rasputin became the victim of an elaborate and murderous plot.
That evening, the controversial Siberian monk was lured to the palatial home of Prince Felix Yusupov for a private party. There he happily ate cakes laced with enough cyanide to kill ten men, and guzzled the wine – also poisoned – brought to him by his royal host. When it became clear that Rasputin was not even going to develop a stomachache from the poisoned treats, Yusupov and his co-conspirators became increasingly frightened, as one method after another failed to kill the monk.
At last the noblemen succeeded in murdering Rasputin. Had it not been for their desperation, the monk would no doubt have survived the poison, the gunfire, and the beating. He would probably have gone on influencing the Romanov tsar and tsarina and living a heady life in the Russian capital. Yet had he died later, of natural causes, his triumphs and misdeeds would eventually have been lost in the historical mists.
But Yusupov and his co-conspirators unintentionally guaranteed the Mad Monk immortality, and not only by the cruel and spectacular way in which they committed the deed. Two weeks before he was killed, Rasputin had written a letter to the tsar and tsarina that included this passage:
If you hear the sound of the bell which will tell you that Grigory has been killed, you must know this: if it was your relations who have wrought my death, then none of your children will remain alive for more than two years.
Prince Felix Yusupov, nephew of Tsar Nicolas, was ignorant of this letter. He had no way of knowing that it was through him that the monk’s last and greatest prophecy would be fulfilled: the tsar, tsarina, and all five of their children were murdered in Siberia 18 months later.
The Empress Alexandra was devastated by Rasputin’s death. He was the only man alive who could save Alexei and now he was gone.
It is unknown whether she considered the implications of a man known to be favored by her being murdered despite her protection. But looking back, it was another sign that the people were increasingly dismissive of the imperial Romanovs.
Nicholas had no military experience and the war was not going well. At the front, men starved; at home, women and children went hungry. The Romanovs, however, seemed oblivious. It is more likely that the tsar’s gestures that were meant to give courage were misplaced or misinterpreted by a struggling people. The pretty grand duchesses, the impressive uniforms, the picturesque photographs looked as though they were part of a different war than the one being fought by the Russian army.
By the end of 1916, the extended Romanov family was desperate.
Someone had to put a stop to Rasputin. For some reason, the tsar and tsarina appeared to be completely bamboozled by this drunken, filthy man who took bribes and sold government appointments.
Perhaps Rasputin sensed he had gone too far. He sent this prophetic letter to the tsarina in early December:
I write and leave behind me this letter at St. Petersburg. I feel that I shall leave life before January 1st. I wish to make known to the Russian people to Papa to the Russian Mother and to the children to the land of Russia what they must understand. If I am killed by common assassins and especially by my brothers the Russian peasants, you Tsar of Russia, have nothing to fear. Remain on your throne and govern and you, Russian Tsar, will have nothing to fear for your children, they will reign for hundreds of years in Russia.But if I am murdered by boyars, nobles and if they shed my blood, their hands will remain soiled with my blood for twenty-five years they will not wash their hands from my blood. They will leave Russia. Brothers will kill brothers, and they will kill each other and hate each other, and for twenty-five years there will be no peace in the country.The Tsar of the land of Russia, if you hear the sound of the bell which will tell you that Grigory has been killed, you must know this: if it was your relations who have wrought my death, then none of your children will remain alive for more than two years. And if they do, they will beg for death as they will see the defeat of Russia, see the Antichrist coming, plague, poverty, destroyed churches, and desecrated sanctuaries where everyone is dead.The Russian Tsar, you will be killed by the Russian people and the people will be cursed and will serve as the devil’s weapon killing each other everywhere. Three times for 25 years they will destroy the Russian people and the orthodox faith and the Russian land will die.I shall be killed. I am no longer among the living. Pray, pray, be strong, and think of your blessed family.
Rasputin did not see 1917.
Inevitably, a plot was hatched. Five nobles, including the tsar’s cousin and his nephew by marriage, conspired to poison the monk.