Russia is in a desperate state. Her armies have been shattered by the unprecedentedly bloody nature of the war, with it becoming increasingly difficult to find new recruits to make up the numbers. At home workers are restive and the Duma has become increasingly radicalised, with the fiery speeches of parliamentarians echoing the anger of the streets.
The empire seems therefore on the road to disaster, either defeat in the war or revolution at home, or both. The Tsar and his circle seem happy to bumble along, but many aristocrats are convinced that something must be done to rescue Russia from the abyss. There is talk of deposing the Tsar or forcing him to accept a constitutional government, though these plots remain stillborn.
However, one plot succeeds. Many of the aristocrats have become fixated on the figure of Rasputin, the peasant and self-declared holy man who has latched onto the Tsarina, exerting a great influence over her on account of his apparent ability to treat the symptoms of her son’s haemophilia. Rasputin’s role has become more political, with the careers of ministers advancing or retreating according to his patronage.
A group of plotters around Prince Felix Yusupov and Grand Duke Dmitri convince themselves that if Rasputin is eliminated then the Tsar will be shocked into setting Russia on the road to reform. Yusupov invites Rasputin to his palace to meet his wife Irina, the beautiful niece of the Tsar. Rasputin enjoys the company of women and accepts the invitation.
A bizarre series of events unfolds unfolds after Rasputin’s arrival at the Yusupov Palace in Petrograd. He is offered madeira wine and cakes, all laced with poison. He consumes them with gusto but they have no apparent effect. He becomes impatient at Irina’s non-appearance, but is told she will be joining them soon. At some point after midnight, Yusupov’s nerve cracks and he produces a pistol, shooting Rasputin at close range. The conspirators take him outside, planning to dump his body in the river. But he revives and tries to escape. The conspirators bring him down with more gunfire and then throw him into the Neva, weighed down with chains. That appears to be the end of him.
Rasputin and friends, in 1914 (Wikipedia)
Felix and Irina Yusupov (Wikipedia)