Grigori Rasputin was born into a peasant family in Siberia, Russia, around 1869. After failing to become a monk, Rasputin became a wanderer and eventually entered the court of Czar Nicholas II because of his alleged healing powers. Known for his prophetic powers, he became a favorite of the Nicholas's wife, Alexandra Feodorovna, but his political influence was small. He became swept up in the events of the Russian Revolution, and met a brutal death at the hands of assassins in 1916.
Born to a Siberian peasant family around 1869, Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin received little schooling, and probably never learned to read or write. In his early years, some people of his village said he possessed supernatural powers, while others cite examples of extreme cruelty. For a time, it was believed his name "Rasputin" meant "licentious" in Russian. Historians now believe that "Rasputin" meant "where two rivers meet," a phrase that describes an area from where he was born in Siberia.
Rasputin entered the Verkhoture Monestery in Russia with the intention of becoming a monk, but left shortly thereafter, presumably to get married. At age 19, he wed Proskovia Fyodorovna, and they later had three children. In his early 20s, he traveled to Greece and the Middle East, and presumably made several pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
Friend of the Imperial Family
In 1906, Rasputin, known by many as the "mad monk," arrived in St. Petersburg with a reputation as a mystic and faith healer. Two years later, he was introduced to Russian Czar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra Feodorovna, who were seeking help for their sickly son, Alexis. Rasputin quickly gained their confidence by seemingly "curing" the boy of hemophilia. This action won him the passionate support of Alexandra.
Between 1906 and 1914, various politicians and journalists used Rasputin’s association with the imperial family to undermine the dynasty’s credibility and push for reform. Rasputin helped their efforts by claiming to be the Tzarina’s advisor. Accounts of his lascivious behavior emerged in the press and contempt grew among state officials. In truth, his influence at this time was limited to the health of Alexis.
As Russia entered World War I, Rasputin predicted that calamity would befall the country. Nicholas II took command of the Russian Army in 1915, and Alexandra took responsibility for domestic policy. Always Rasputin's defender, she dismissed ministers who were said to be suspicious of the "mad monk." Government officials tried to warn her of Rasputin's undue influence, but she continued to defend him, giving the impression that Rasputin was her closest advisor.
Contempt for Rasputin grew among political rivals of Czar Nicholas. On December 29, 1916, a group of conspirators, including the czar's first cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, and Prince Felix Yusupov, invited Rasputin to Yusoupov's palace, and fed him wine and cakes laced with cyanide. But the poison seemed to have no effect.
Baffled but not deterred, the conspirators repeatedly beat and finally shot Rasputin several times. He was wrapped in a carpet and thrown into the Neva River, only to be discovered three days later. An autopsy revealed that there was water in Rasputin's lungs at the time of his death, and it was concluded that he died by drowning.
Russia and the imperial family had gotten rid of Rasputin, but not his influence. Shortly before his death, Rasputin wrote to Nicholas that if he were killed by government officials, the entire imperial family would be killed by the Russian people. His prophecy came true 15 months later, when the czar, his wife and all of their children were killed by assassins amidst the Russian Revolution.