“For more than half a century the world has known Rasputin as the Devil Incarnate, the evil éminence grise of the last of the Tsars, a bearded, lustful, drunken priest who wallowed in fornication, raped girls, women, nuns and was perhaps even the lover to Tsaritsa Alexandra” reads the dust jacket of Rasputin, published in 1972 by Cassell & Company.
Grigori Rasputin was a Russian mystic who was murdered in 1916, aged 47 years, possibly on the tenth attempt. He was born in a Siberian village in 1869 and married in 1886 but got passionate about religion in 1897 and left his village to go on a pilgrimage. For many years after that he lived as a holy wanderer, visiting holy sites in Russia and further afield but returning regularly to his village, his wife and three children.
He met Tsar Nicholas II in 1905 in St Petersburg and either that year or 1906 was praying for the health of Alexei, the son of the Tsar and Alexandra, who suffered from haemophilia. His star rose at court, particularly after September 1915 after Nicholas II went to oversee Russian armies in World War I and Tsaritsa Alexandra and Rasputin were seen as very powerful. Conservative noblemen assassinated Rasputin in December 1916 – he took a lot of effort to kill – and his body thrown into the frozen Neva river.
Separating recorded facts from prejudice
Author R.J. Minney wrote about his research: “I have tried to separate the strong prejudice against Rasputin (so much of which has survived) from the facts available in records that can be examined and analyzed”. The research included two books by Maria Rasputin about her father and family life in Siberia and St Petersburg, and an intimate and frank biography of the last Tsar’s sister, as well as narratives by other women who know Rasputin. He also looked through history books, published collections of letters from Tsaritsa to Tsar and vice versa, and the Tsar’s diary.
R.J. also talked to British diplomats and a member of the intelligence service between 1915 and 1920 and many others.
“It is not my purpose to prove that Rasputin was a saint or a sinner.. as the story unfolds you will be able to judge which of these alternatives is applicable”.
R.J.’s account is vivid and detailed starting with the description of the Siberian village Pokrovskoe, 200 miles East of the Urals. “Slowly the landscape, frozen white for half the year, with sliver birch tees beautiful by a filigree of snow, begins to awaken”.
The personalities and places of the intertwined life of the mystic and his family with the family and friends of Tsar Nicholas II and the Russian aristocracy in the dying days of the Russian empire come alive in R.J.’s telling.
“The bitterly cold winter had brought the temperatures down to 40O below zero. The railways, on which the food supplies depended, were brought to a standstill… Women began to demonstrate on the streets – they had suffered acute privation in the two and half years of war, and most of them had lost a husband, or a father, of heaven knew how many sons” of the gathering storm of the Revolution which started on 8 March 1917.
As R.J. comments: “Whichever way you look at it he was an outstanding figure in modern history, larger than life even in the shadow cast by him across the years.” He dedicated the book to his daughter Primrose, who followed him as a journalist on Essex and then London magazines.
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)