7/1/1917 The Tsar’s sad Christmas

When Prince Felix Yusupov, Grand Duke Dmitri and their associates murdered Rasputin, they hoped that his elimination from the Tsar’s circle would shock him into adopting a more sensible approach to the governance of Russia. In this they are disappointed. When Rasputin’s body is recovered from the Neva, the police soon identify the men behind his murder. Their aristocratic status saves them from the full rigours of the law, but the Tsar orders them exiled from Petrograd. Family members and well wishers are forbidden from bidding them farewell at the station as they leave.

The Tsar becomes more determined to resist all demands to moderate his rule. He exiles another four grand dukes, whose loyalty he deems suspect. He sinks further into the political embrace of the Tsarina, who urges him to stand firm against any suggestion that he create some kind of representative government. He reduces his ties even to the pliant yes-men who populate his court.

Now it is Christmas in Russia. Previously this would have seen the Tsar and Tsarina exchange lavish gifts with the other members of royal family. This year though the event is passed in relative seclusion in their palace at Tsarskoe Selo.

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The Tsar, three of his daughters, and Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna, in 1916 (Wikipedia)

30/12/1916 The murder of Rasputin

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.

Word of Rasputin’s murder circulates quickly through Petrograd’s aristocratic circles. When Dmitri attends the theatre that evening, he is treated to a standing ovation.

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Rasputin and friends, in 1914 (Wikipedia)

Felix and Irina Yusupov (Wikipedia)

Rasputin (Wikipedia)