Prince Felix Yusupov believed it was his patriotic duty to kill Grigori Rasputin, the malevolent ‘holy man’, and deliver Russia from her most dangerous internal enemy.

Two Montenegrin princesses, Militsa and Anastasia, who married into the imperial family, introduced Grigori Rasputin to the Tsarina in 1905, as they believed he could heal the Tsarevich Alexei.

Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna
Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna

Alexei inherited haemophilia from his mother, as Britain’s Queen Victoria passed on the gene to her descendants. The boy often lay in bed moaning from pain. Alexei’s illness was kept secret from the Russian people and some of the Tsar’s relatives.

The doctors’ treatments failed, as haemophilia was life-threatening and incurable, so Empress Alexandra turned to Rasputin for help. She also consulted Rasputin on religious matters.

Malignant Force

Cartoon: Tsar and Tsarina as Rasputin's puppets.
Cartoon: Tsar and Tsarina as Rasputin’s puppets.

Rasputin became a malignant force in the imperial couple’s lives, as he interfered in politics and made recommendations for key government posts. He promoted politicians, industrialists and bankers who embraced him, brought cases of champagne or Madeira, introduced him to high society and discussed state matters as if he was an expert.

Ministers were appointed and dismissed in rapid succession. No one remained in office long enough to master the job. Patronage of Rasputin was the fast track to promotion, and criticism of the ‘holy man’ led to demotion or sacking.

The monarchical institutions—the church, the army or the civil bureaucracy—wanted nothing to do with this dirty, barely literate peasant.

Rumours persisted the two were having an affair and that Rasputin had raped the four grand duchesses.

Scandalous Behaviour

Tsarevich Alexei
Tsarevich Alexei

The governess complained to the Tsarina in 1910 of Rasputin’s scandalous behaviour when he loitered in their quarters whilst the grand duchesses prepared for bed. The Tsarina immediately sacked the governess but Tsar Nicholas II persuaded his wife not to permit Rasputin visiting “sensitive areas” of the palace.

Relatives, including the Tsarina’s sister, Elizabeth, tried to warn her but the Tsarina refused to hear anything against Rasputin which caused alienation within the family.

Away from the Court, Rasputin led a very scandalous life for a holy man. He visited prostitutes and nightclubs. He drank to excess and exposed himself in public. Rasputin also seduced many court ladies.

In 1914 Rasputin strongly advised against Russian participation in World War I. He was accused of being a German spy, as he had access to military information and decisions, including deployments and campaigns. Russians suspected Rasputin passed on these secrets to Germans visiting his flat.

Felix Yusupov

Felix Yusupov and his wife, Princess Irina Alexandrovna of Russia, 1915
Felix Yusupov and his wife, Princess Irina Alexandrovna of Russia, 1915

Yusupov’s father was sacked as Governor-General of Moscow, when he failed to control dangerous riots and told the Tsar that Rasputin had far too much influence in government affairs. Yusupov’s mother also fell out of favour, when she told the Tsarina of Rasputin’s corrupting influence at Court.

Some historians claim Yusupov wanted revenge because Rasputin rejected his advances. (Yusupov was a homosexual and a transvestite.) Maria, Rasputin’s daughter, claimed she once found Yusupov in her father’s study, completely naked.

The opportunity to murder Rasputin came at a party. Yusupov invited Rasputin to meet his wife Irina, and he laced the wine and some chocolate cakes with potassium cyanide. Yusupov shot Rasputin when the poison failed to work. Yusupov and two friends, Grand Duke Dimitri Pavlovich and Vladimir Purishkevich, rolled Rasputin up in a carpet and tossed him from a bridge into the River Neva on 30 December 1916. His body was found days later.


King, Greg, The man who killed Rasputin: Prince Felix Youssoupov and the murder that helped bring down the Russian Empire, Carol Publ, Secaucus, NJ, 1998

King, Greg, and Wilson, Penny, The Fate of the Romanovs, John Wiley & Sons Inc, Hoboken NJ, 2003

Massie, Robert K, Nicholas & AlexandraNicholas & Alexandra, Indigo, London, 1996 [Originally published in 1967]

Perry, John Curtin, The Flight of the Romanovs, Basic Books, New York, 1999

Pipes, Richard, The Russian Revolution 1899-1919, The Harvill Press, London, 1997 [Originally published in 1990]

Radzinsky, Edvard, Rasputin: The Last Word, Allen & Unwin, St Leonards, 2000

Shukman, Harold, Rasputin, Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud, 1997

Nicholas & Alexandra, 1971 – Film directed by Franklin J Schaffner

© 2009 Carolyn M Cash

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 11 April 2009.

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