The Life And Rumors Of Russia’s Mad Monk: Rasputin

Stories about the ‘Mad Monk” Grigori Rasputin suggest that he possessed some mystical healing powers and that he was able to sway to the royal family’s rule over Russia. Other accounts indicate that he was nothing more than a poor man who pulled a lucky straw, making his way to the capital and influential notoriety.

However, many of these stories are just that, stories. It’s fun to believe that there was once a mystical man in Russia, healing children and helping people, but the reality is that many ‘facts’ are speculation. Despite the rumors, Rasputin’s story is an interesting one that reminds us of how malleable history can be.

Rasputin’s Childhood Is More Rumor Than Fact

Rasputin's Childhood Is More Rumor Than Fact
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During his time, Rasputin was considered to be one of the most mystical men in all of Russia. Although a lot is written about his time with the royal family, according to historian Douglas Smith, Rasputin’s upbringing is “a black hole about which we know almost nothing.” Historians do agree on a few key details:

Grigori Rasputin came from humble beginnings, born on January 21, 1869, to a peasant family in a remote Siberian village in Russia, Pokrovskoye. His father was a farmer, and both of his parents were illiterate. So, Rasputin didn’t receive a formal education or learn how to read and write until he was an adult.

He Was Married With A Family

He Was Married With A Family
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Universal History Archive/ Universal Images Group via Getty Images

At the age of 18, Rasputin married a young peasant girl, Proskovya Fyodorovna Dubrovina. The couple had seven children together, but only three of them survived into adulthood. Unfortunately, premature deaths were common in Siberia during the time.

Like the majority of his childhood, not much is known about Rasputin’s family. One thing historians know is that one of his children, Maria, ended up as a dancer and lion tamer for a circus. The rest of his family remains a mystery.

He Left Siberia In 1897

He Left Siberia In 1897
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DeAgostini/Getty Images

In 1897, at the age of 28, he left his tiny village. There are a few different accounts as to why Rasputin decided to flee from his home all of a sudden. One source says that he had heard the call of God and therefore had to answer.

Another says that he was running away from possible punishment regarding horse theft. Either way, him leaving Siberia in 1897 set him on the unlikely path that made him one of the most notorious men in Imperial Russia.

Known As The “Mad Monk” But Wasn’t Actually A Monk

Known As The
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Laski Diffusion/Getty Images

Although Rasputin held nicknames such as the “Mad Monk,” “Black Monk,” and “Holy Devil,” he was not a monk. During his religious pilgrimage, Rasputin never took monastic vows that would render him a monk, even though he did give up tobacco, alcohol, and meat for a time.

It’s said that Rasputin had no interest in becoming a monk, due to unholy acts that he had witnessed during his time at Verkhoturye monastery. Even though he never took the vows, he returned home a changed man, singing and praying more passionately than in the past. He became known as a ‘staret’ (holy man) and gave spiritual guidance to people.

He Claimed To Go Six Months Without Changing His Underwear

He Claimed To Go Six Months Without Changing His Underwear
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Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images

One man once wrote that Rasputin smelled “like a goat.” He would go long periods without washing himself, even going as far as leaving food scraps in his beard until they rotted. Because of this, many people found it challenging to be in the holy man’s presence for an extended period of time.

It makes sense, considering Rasputin once bragged about not changing his underwear for six months. He also suffered from terrible breath, which could be due to the fact that his teeth had rotted so severely they had wound up black. Despite the filth, Rasputin gained a following.

Rasputin Held Services In His Fathers Basement

Rasputin Held Services In His Fathers Basement
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ullstein bild/Getty Images

By the early 1900s, Rasputin had obtained a small group of acolytes, mainly family members and other peasants from his Siberian village. These people would pray with him on Sundays and other holy days in a makeshift chapel in his father’s basement, as he was still living at home.

The services were subject to suspicion in the village, especially by the priest. It’s rumored the women would ceremonially wash Rasputin before each service, that the group would sing strange songs, and that he had joined Khlysty, an underground religious sect. However, according to historian Joseph Fuhrmann, “repeated investigations failed to establish that Rasputin was ever a member of the sect.”

He Made Powerful Friends

He Made Powerful Friends
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ullstein bild/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Rasputin finally took his services on the road when his following became too large. He set off on a journey to a monastery in Kyiv, more than 1,800 miles away from his Siberian village. When he finished a year of religious instruction there, he moved on to Kazan, where we began meeting influential bishops and aristocrats.

Within a year, he was on his way to the capital at St. Petersburg, with more than one prestigious letter of introduction. It was there that he would begin his relationship with the royal family, the Romanovs.

Rasputin Had Favored Women He Called “Little Ladies”

Rasputin Had Favored Women He Called
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Laski Diffusion/Getty Images

Despite his horrible hygiene and bad table manners, Rasputin was quite popular and developed a tremendous following with the upper-class women in Russia. Those deemed attractive enough were called his “little ladies,” a term of endearment if you were lucky enough to earn it.

The “little ladies” were given special attention and often were invited for private audiences with Rasputin in his study. It was even rumored that the couch in the study was used so often the back eventually gave way!

His Followers Came To Him For Fingernail Clippings

His Followers Were Called 'Rasputinki'
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Ann Ronan Pictures/Print Collector/Getty Images

While his wife was left in their small Siberian village, Rasputin stayed in an apartment in St. Petersburg. There, the streets outside of his residence would become flooded with his followers, the so-called ‘Rasputinki.’ Up to 400 people were known to gather before sunset, sometimes waiting as long as three days to catch a glimpse of the mystical man.

Rasputin’s followers came to him in search of miracle cures or keep-sakes, such as the Mad Monks fingernail clippings. It was surprising that the clippings were so highly valued because one restaurant manager’s testified that Rasputin’s hands were ‘grimy, with beaten, blackened nails.’

He Had A Sixth Sense

He Had A Sixth Sense
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Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Legend has it that Rasputin had a sixth sense. It’s been said that during one of his many visits to the palace, Rasputin was talking to Tsarina Alexandra about providence when he suddenly interrupted himself, shouting, “He’s in the blue room!”

The two ran to the blue billiard room. There, Rasputin quickly scooped up the young heir to the throne, Alexei, right before the massive chandelier fell exactly where he had been standing. Remarkably, it wasn’t his sixth sense that enslaved Tsarina Alexandra to his mysticism.

He Was Rumored To Have Healing Powers

He Was Rumored To Have Healing Powers
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Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

During his childhood, it was rumored that Rasputin had disturbed his parents and neighbors with his ‘healing touch.’ It’s been said that he once healed a horse simply by touching its body. This rumor followed Rasputin to St. Petersburg, where he found himself in the presence of the royal court.

While her son, Alexei, was lying on his death bed, Tsarina Alexandra asked Rasputin to pray for his recovery. Alexei survived, and the Tsarina became obsessed with the mystical powers of Rasputin. Historian Robert K. Massie calls Alexei’s recovery “one of the most mysterious episodes of the whole Rasputin legend.”

Historians Have A Few Ideas On How He Healed Alexei

Historians Have A Few Ideas On How He Healed Alexei
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World History Archive/UIG via Getty images

Historians suggest many possible ways Rasputin was able to ‘heal’ Alexei from his hemophilia, a condition that affects the blood’s ability to clot. Some speculate that the Mad Monk simply calmed the young boy down with hypnosis or aspirin, allowing the pain to minimize and his body to heal itself.

Others suggest that Rasputin’s calm presence and supreme confidence was enough to soothe the boy, allowing his body to heal on its own. Whatever the reason, the healing of Alexei gave Rasputin the unprecedented influence and power of the royal family.

Rasputin Had A “Divine Vision” Regarding WWI

Rasputin Had A
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Leemage/Corbis via Getty Images

Before the first world war, Rasputin told Tsar Nicholas II of a divine vision he had. In the vision, Russia faced utter destruction in World War I unless the Tsar accompanied the troops to the front line. Due to Rasputin’s influence over the royals, the Tsar believed in the vision, leaving the capital in pursuit of the war.

Unfortunately, the Tsar had little to no military experience, and his taking control of the front led to a tremendous loss on the side of the Russian Army. This stunt would be the starting embers of the Communist revolt against the Romanov dynasty and the assassination attempts against Rasputin.

He Exploited The War For Financial Gain

He Exploited The War For Financial Gain
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PA Images/Getty Images

Growing up a peasant, it’s no surprise that Rasputin jumped at the chance at making some real money. It is said that during World War I, he exploited the war for his own financial gain. The process wasn’t overly difficult, because he had the ears of both the Tsar and Tsarina.

Charging 2,000 roubles per request, Rasputin would whisper in the ears of the royals, saying that certain soldiers should be kept off the front line if Russia is to come out victorious. There’s no telling how much money he made during this time.

Rasputin Became One Of The Tsarina’s Closest Advisor

Rasputin Became One Of The Tsarina's Closest Advisor
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Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

When Russia entered World War I, Rasputin predicted that it would not bode well for the country. So, Tsar Nicolas took control of the Army, leaving Tsarina Alexandra to head domestic policy while he was gone. During this time, the Tsarina would dismiss ministers who were suspicious of Rasputin’s “visions,” always coming to the defense of the mystical man.

Even government officials began to warn her of Rasputin’s influence, but she would not listen. This gave everyone in the court the impression that Rasputin had become the Tsarina’s closest advisor.

It Was Rumored He Was Having An Affair With The Tsarina

It Was Rumored He Was Having An Affair With The Tsarina
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Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Although Rasputin was married, there was a lot of gossip surrounding his relationship with Tsarina Alexandra. Nothing can be proven, but due to the Tsarina’s modesty, it is doubtful that Rasputin and the royal lady had an affair. Despite the unlikelihood, Rasputin encouraged the rumors.

He would customarily brag about his standing with the royal couple in public, something that was deeply frowned upon. Of course, Tsarina Alexandra would not accept that Rasputin would be encouraging the rumors and behaving poorly in public, believing it to be an imposter who wanted to destroy his reputation.

Assassination Attempt #1

Assassination Attempt #1
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Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Before his eventual assassination, Rasputin was nearly assassinated in 1914. A woman stabbed him in the stomach, leaving him barely alive. He survived but was in constant pain for the rest of his life. Following the assassination attempt, Tsar Nicholas II had The Okhrana (secret police) provide around the clock surveillance and protection to Rasputin.

The Okhrana provided detailed notes on Rasputin, of which later became known as the “staircase notes.” These notes would then become invaluable resources for modern-day historians who are interested in piecing together Rasputin’s adulthood.

The Nobels And Elite Launched A Smear Campaign Against Rasputin

The Nobels And Elite Launched A Smear Campaign Against Rasputin
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Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

As Rasputin became closer to the center of Russian power, the public grew wary. A majority of nobles and elites within the court began to view Rasputin with envy. The nobles decided to capitalize on the stirring unease and undermine the Tsar’s rule, saying that Rasputin was a mad man who was controlling the government from behind the scenes.

They exaggerated many aspects of Rasputin’s reputation, including his many indulgences. These smear campaigns even went as far as to convince people that Rasputin’s name means “debauched one,” despite the fact that it translates to “where two rivers join.”

Assassination Attempt #2

Assassination Attempt #2
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Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

After several years of living in the spotlight, a group of Russian assassins, including the Tsar’s first cousin, Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, plotted to assassinate Rasputin. They were angered by the influence he held over the royal family. Prince Felix Yusupov and his fellow co-conspirators lured Rasputin to the palace on the night of December 30, 1916. There, they poisoned the holy man.

To their disbelief, the poison had no effect on the Mad Monk, prompting the Prince to shoot Rasputin. Surprisingly, Rasputin managed to escape the house, but he didn’t get far. He was shot twice more, beaten, and then dumped in the Neiva River.

Rasputin Predicted His Murder

Rasputin Predicted His Murder
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Dmitri Wasserman/Getty Images

In a letter to Tsarina Alexandra, Rasputin predicted he was going to be murdered by members of the nobility. He also prophesized that his murder would result in the fall of the Romanov dynasty, as well as mass bloodshed throughout the Russian empire.

A few months later, everything in the letter came true. Members of the nobility murdered Rasputin, and Russia was in the beginning stages of the Bolshevik Revolution. The revolution led to the eventual deaths of the entire royal family by Communist forces.