The end of December, 2016 marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Rasputin, the “mad monk of Russia”, or “lover of the Russian queen” if you believe the Boney M song, though you probably shouldn’t.
While the song is undoubtedly a floor-filler, unsurprisingly it is not exactly a reliable historical account of Rasputin’s life.
Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, a mystic and spiritual healer born in Pokrovskoe in Siberia, wielded huge influence over the Russian royal family, particularly Alexandra, the Tsarina, who looked to the spiritual healer to cure her haemophiliac son, Alexei.
The life of Rasputin was certainly pretty strange but it is the stories surrounding his death that are the strangest of all.
The death of Rasputin – December, 1916.
What is known is that one evening Rasputin went to the Yusupov Palace in St Petersburg at the invitation of Prince Felix Yusupov. Rasputin’s dead body was recovered from the frozen Neva River days later.
No one is completely sure what happened in between these two events.The most well-known account of the events comes from Prince Yusupov himself in his memoirs Lost Splendour. This autobiography reads more like a boy’s own adventure story than a reliable historical document and many doubt the authenticity of what he wrote.
According to Yusupov, when Rasputin arrived at the palace he was taken down to the cellar where he was given cake and madeira wine. Upstairs, a gramophone played Yankee Doodle Dandy to fool the monk in to believing there was a party in full swing.
Yusupov and his accomplices had planned things carefully. The cakes offered to Rasputin had been laced with enough potassium cyanide to slay a monastery full of monks. But Rasputin just kept eating them.
Incredulous at the monk’s survival, Prince Yusupov poured madeira into a cyanide-laced wine glass and handed it to Rasputin. Instead of collapsing into unconsciousness within seconds, as would be expected from a massive dose of cyanide, Rasputin continued to sip the wine like a connoisseur.
A second lethal glass disappeared into the monk’s mouth with little apparent effect other than some difficulty swallowing. Asked if he was feeling unwell he replied “Yes, my head is heavy and I’ve a burning sensation in my stomach.”
A third glass of tainted wine only seemed to revive him. Having ingested their whole stock of cyanide, the group of assassins were somewhat at a loss as to what to do next.