A wild-eyed mystic, Grigori Rasputin rose from the depths of Siberia to the pinnacle of power in Russia. His foes claimed he was a libertine fraud. His admirers were devoted to a holy man they believed could read minds and heal the sick. Saint or sinner, he overshadowed the Russian empire in the years before its demise.
The assassination of Rasputin has become the stuff of legend. As the infamous "Mad Monk" he has been condemned as the cause of the downfall of the Romanov dynasty. But who was the man behind the myth? And why did powerful members of Russia's elite decide to kill Rasputin in one of the most notorious murders in history?
The "mad monk"
Grigori Rasputin, the so-called Mad Monk, was a mystic layman. He had a deep faith and many believed in the power of his prayers. But many others saw him as a charlatan who had weaseled his way into the royal household.
Rasputin's followers believed he could see into their souls and heal their ailments. Even skeptics acknowledged that he was a man of extraordinary psychological perspicacity.
As his legend spread across Russia, those who were suspicious or jealous of his "powers" castigated him as a sex maniac, a huckster and even a heretic.
He was notorious partier. Rasputin loved woman - and many well known socialites in St Petersburg were drawn to him. But he was also a loving father, whose family remained devoted to him until the end.
Rasputin was fiercely loyal to the Romanovs. However, his link with the royals brought scandal to the palace.
More more information about Rasputin and the last years of the Romanov dynasty, I highly recommend this book by the historian Douglas Smith: Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs
The health of Alexei (left), heir to the Russian imperial throne, seemed to improve thanks to Rasputin. The Mad Monk became close to the Romanov family, even - scandalously - being allowed access to the royal nursery (center). Rasputin had a family of his own back in Siberia (with his three children, right) who he would regularly visit.
Rumors of Rasputin's influence over the royal family went from society gossip to national scandal. Newspapers and revolutionary groups used Rasputin to malign the Romanov dynasty. Nicholas and Alexandra were often shown as puppets of Rasputin (left), while there was salacious gossip about the close relationship between Rasputin and the tsarina (center). The Mad Monk was even thought of as the real tsar (right), with Nicholas portrayed as a weak figurehead and cuckold. As infamous as he became, many stories about Rasputin were made up or exaggerated.