The July Meeting 2018
A talk by Louise Henshaw
Louise introduced her subject by explaining that Rasputin was an illiterate peasant who became a Russian Monk . He acquired great influence over the family of Tsar Nicholas II and was later assassinated as a result of a conspiracy among a small group of nobles who resented his power.
Rasputin was born in Siberia in in the early 1870s in poverty with no surname. His father was a peasant farmer and there were several other children all of whom died in infancy. His youth was unruly involving much debauchery, the theft of horses and he was known to be overly keen on women. He was 6 feet tall with a strong physical presence and had piercing blue eyes. He was reputed to have a horn under his hairline and was therefore perceived as a devil. He was recognised as a dangerous man and when given the option of changing his ways, he entered a monastery. By the time he left, he had learned how to attract and influence people.
About this time in the early 1900ís reports of his activities and charisma spread in Siberia and at Kazan on the Volga River he acquired the reputation of being a wise and holy man. Despite his womanising he continued to impress the hierarchy of the Church and arrangements were made for him to travel to Saint Petersburg. There he met a number of Church dignitaries and formed friendships with several members of the aristocracy who were instrumental in introducing Rasputin to the Tsar and the Romanov family.
He first met the Tsar in 1906 at the Peterhof Palace in St Petersburg and the Tsar recorded that he had made the acquaintance of a man of God. The Russian Empire was an autocracy run by the Tsars who were answerable only to God. Nicholas himself was an undersized man without much personal presence who unexpectedly became Tsar in 1894 aged 26 yrs. He physically resembled his cousin George V due to connections with the British Royal Family through Queen Victoria.
His wife Alexandra, who was very shy and extremely anxious, was also a direct descendent of Queen Victoria. Both the Tsar and Tsarina were seen as two very uncharismatic figureheads who had four daughters and one son.
Later that year Rasputin again met with Nicholas and his wife Alexandra and was asked to pray for the health of their fragile son Alexis. Much of his influence on the royal family stemmed from their observing that on many occasions he had eased the pain and stopped the bleeding of their son, who suffered from haemophilia.
This relationship was cemented when Alexis developed a haemorrhage in his thigh and groin which became a large haematoma and caused acute pain and fever. Alexandra sent Rasputin a telegram asking him to pray for the child, which he did and he also wrote back telling Alexandra not to bother seeking advice from the doctors. Alexisí bleeding stopped within days and Alexandra believed Rasputin had performed a miracle.
He became an indispensable member of the royal entourage and was described as an hypnotically gifted monk who incidentally got away with some appalling behaviour. He lived with the royal family for 10 years and had a splendid apartment in the royal court and many women submitted to him. Further, he became involved in the political struggles between monarchists and anti - monarchists and other political forces rife in Russia at the time. Inevitably he was accused of being a malign influence and having undue political domination over the royal family.
He was also accused of being an active member of the Khlysty cult where sinning on a regular basis was encouraged. As a spiritually minded person Rasputin thought this way of life necessary so that he could continually repent and seek salvation from the spirit of God within himself rather than that of the Church. He sought to attain divine grace through sin.
Rasputin was against the alliance with France and Great Britain and deeply against Russiaís involvement in the First World War. He became the focus of accusations of unpatriotic behaviour and intrigue which together with his drunkenness, sexual promiscuity and willingness to accept bribes increased the hostility of many other powerful people against him. By 1916 even his body guards were being approached and asked to kill him.
Earlier attempts to kill Rasputin had not been successful. In 1914 a peasant women had stabbed him in the stomach outside his home but Rasputin recovered after emergency surgery had been carried out. It is not clear who organised the attack but it might have been a former priest who was religiously motivated or who had political ambitions.
However matters came to a head when a group of nobles led by Prince Felix Yusupov, the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich and some key politicians conceived a plan to kill Rasputin in Yusupovsí Moika Palace. There he was offered tea and cakes which had allegedly been laced with cyanide followed by wine which had also been poisoned.
As these measures had no effect Yusupov then shot Rasputin in the chest and kidneys and he was also shot in the head and his body then dumped in the Neva River. His body was eventually recovered. However a post mortem found no evidence that Rasputin had been poisoned nor was any water found in his lungs and only one bullet was found in his body. Other archives when seen in 1983 found the coroner to have concluded that that the bullet had come from a standard British revolver with the implication of an assassination plot by the British.
The royal family, especially the Tsarina, were devastated by the murder of their trusted adviser and this strengthened their belief in their divine right to rule but shortly afterwards the whole dynasty was swept away by the Russian Revolution.
When answering questions Louise replied to David Saggar that the Bolshevics destroyed Rasputinís body to stop it becoming a focus of unwelcome attention and to Ray Dyer, that Rasputin was about 40 years old when he died. To Colin Kyte she thought that in many senses criticism of the Monarchy had been deflected by some of the adverse comments heaped on Rasputin, although it is also possible that his influence on them had hastened their downfall.
David Richardson thanked Louise for her tremendous talk which had been full of detail and of interest to the Club
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