16. Grigori Rasputin wormed his way into the affections of the Russian royal family, though how much power he had over the Tsar is a mystery
He was the holy man who charmed his way into the inner circle of the Russian royal family. Grigori Rasputin came from almost nowhere to be far more than just a friend to the family of Tsar Nicholas II, the last monarch of Russia. But just how powerful was the ‘Mad Monk’? Did he, as some contemporaries feared, have almost complete control over the royal family? Or did the Tsar merely tolerate his presence knowing that his wife was happy and his son safe? This has long been – and continues to be – the source of much heated debate.
Born a Siberian peasant in 1869, Rasputin joined the Orthodox Church as a young man. After years of wandering, he ended up in St. Petersburg and used his unique charms and mysticisms to start making a name for himself within Russian society. He became acquainted with the ruling Romanovs and offered to treat their son, Alexei, who suffered from hemophilia. He allegedly stopped the boy’s bleeding. The Tsarina was amazed and hugely grateful. She invited Rasputin to become her son’s primary carer, bringing him into the inner circle.
Just how powerful Rasputin was within this inner circle is highly debatable. He did give some military tips to the Tsar. Most notably, in the summer of 1915 he advised the Tsar to take full control of the Russian Army. This meant the King left the capital for the front, leaving the Tsarina – and, critics argued, Rasputin, too – in charge of the country. Undoubtedly, the self-proclaimed man of God did have some hold over the Tsarina. However, claims that he used her as his puppet or that he had sexual relations with numerous women of high society may just have been anti-monarchical propaganda spread in the wake of the 1917 revolution.
The Tsar’s supporters certainly believed Rasputin to be a harmful influence. In December 2016, they murdered him in the most brutal way imaginable, and then threw his body into the river. But it was too late to save the Russian monarchy. Just a few weeks later, the people rose up. Tired of the war, the Russians demanded their Tsar step down. The Russian Revolution had begun.
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