Nearly a century has passed since he walked amongst the living, but people still ask, “Who was Rasputin?”
Grigori Yefemovich arrived in St. Petersburg in 1903. His strange appeal introduced him to circles of society to which no peasant ever rose. It’s hard for anyone living now to understand how remarkable Rasputin’s story really is.
Alexei Romanov was born in 1904, to the nation’s great relief and the joy of his parents, Tsar Nicholas and the Empress Alexandra. But the joy of the Russian royals was short-lived. Thanks to an unlucky inheritance passed down to him from his great-grandmother Queen Victoria, Alexei inherited hemophilia, a rare and incurable genetic disorder that prevents the blood from clotting. A hemophiliac can bleed to death from a minor injury. Alexandra was a carrier, but none of her daughters had inherited the disorder. Now the illness had finally manifested itself in the sole heir to the crown, the tsarevich, Alexei.
The little boy was delicate, and for the small circle of people who were in the know, it was clear the son and heir to the Russian throne would never live to inherit it. Apart from the heartache this would cause any family, Alexei’s parents viewed his condition as a threat to the nation’s stability. If he died, the throne would pass to a different branch of the family so the little boy’s precarious health was a closely guarded secret. Though he was frequently ill, the family gave away no hint of anxiety.
Nicholas II of the Romanov dynasty was the last tsar of Russia. The family had ruled for more than 300 years, but shadows were gathering when Nicholas assumed the throne in 1894.
He and the Empress Alexandra were unpopular from the beginning. The reclusive Alexandra was particularly disliked by the Russian people. She was of German descent, a nation widely distrusted by Russians. Despite her marriage to Tsar Nicholas, her dress and demeanor remained decidedly un-Russian, which the people interpreted as a rebuke to their culture.
Nicholas was a reluctant tsar. He once described his occupation as being “the owner of Russia”, but his heart obviously wasn’t in it. He had no interest in military pomp and circumstance. His family was the center of his life: he idolized his wife and devoted himself to their children. A gentle nature is rarely associated with strong leadership and the Tsar’s small stature and indecisiveness added to the overall impression of weakness.