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How many times did Rasputin die?

Rasputin
Rasputin

Rasputin is one of those rare historical figures who lives on more as a myth than a man. The photos of him are genuinely eerie and there’s no denying his power as an adviser in Tsar Nicholas II’s court. He was associated with spirtual healing and the occult. However a calmer view of him reveals a man who was like many other powerful hangers on in many imperial courts over the centuries, however one thing that will always make him a fascinating topic is his almost supernatural stamina. When it comes to killing someone like Rasputin, it turns out it’s hard to keep a good man down (actually he was far from “good”).

You know how you read a story about how someone was NEARLY assassinated? What the article really means is the assassin missed and the target suffered no physical harm. That was not the case in June 1914 when Rasputin was on his way home and a woman jumped him in the street and stabbed him in the belly. He managed to thwart any further blows by beating her away with a stick. He bled profusely and underwent weeks of surgery, medical assistance and recuperation. It’s not often you hold your own guts and live to tell the tale, but Rasputin did.

18 months later and there was a second assassination. The story of Rasputin’s death has contradictory evidence and swirls with hearsay and exaggeration. Sticking to the main facts, it’s December 1916 and he is invited to the Yusupov palace in St Petersburg. This was not strange as many courtiers would secretly meet with Rasputin. However unbeknown to him, an entire cabal of assassins awaited him and the meeting was in a soundproofed room.

He arrived at what looked like the end of a dinner party and he was firstly offered poisoned cakes and drinks laced with cyanide. One version says he declined, another that he partook but appeared to suffer no ill effects. Either way Felix Yusupov grew bored of the conversation and walked behind Rasputin where he shot him at point blank range in the back twice. The later autopsy revealed both wounds caused colossal internal damage and bleeding and should have been fatal.

Rasputin fell to the ground and most of the conspirators left. Yusupov then went back to the dead Rasputin only to have him lunge at him, a vicious brawl occurred and Rasputin escaped up the stairs caked in his own blood. He was then shot twice more, stabbed a few times and clubbed to the ground just for good measure.

A policeman came by as he had heard the shots. Yusupov was honest about what he did but asked the policeman to keep quiet…about the murder of one of the most famous people in Russia and unsurprisingly the policeman paid no attention to this request and went looking for assistance.

The race was now on to get rid of Rasputin’s body, as it was pretty damning evidence. He was rolled up in a curtain, and early in the morning, Yusupov and his colleagues threw the corpse from a bridge into an ice-hole in the nearby Malaya Nevka River. However in their haste, they had forgotten to attach weights to Rasputin’s corpse to make it sink. His body was found 3 days later.

The autopsy reveals that one of the final shots to him had hit him in the head and even Rasputin’s bear-like stamina couldn’t deal with that so it is unfortunately part of the legend that despite all this abuse it was ultimately the river that drowned him. Rasputin was actually dead before he had been shoved into the car.

However the story doesn’t quite end there. About a year later Rasputin has a final chapter to his life..er death…you get the picture.

Rasputin was buried in the grounds of Alexander palace and there was meant to rest, a prestigious burial site and a testament to his close connections to the Romanovs. However 1917 of course saw a revolution in Russia and palaces were a prime target for such anger and destruction aimed at the old regime. Add to that Rasputin himself was seen as an embodiment of all the failings of the old imperial systems of Russia and it was unlikely that he was going to rest in peace for long.

When revolutionaries came to the Alexander palace they found Rasputin’s grave and tore him out from it. He hadn’t been in the ground for that long and as winters are long in Russia decomposition was minimal so the angry mob got a chance to gaze into the face of their enemy. It was decided to take him into the nearby forest and burn him.

A funeral pyre was made and the body was placed upon it and the whole macabre bonfire was set alight. But as the flames grew higher and higher a terrifying sight shocked the onlookers, Rasputin appeared to be getting up. He was alive and clearly the communist revolutionaries had angered him.  The mob turned into a terrified and hysterical crowd that fled the scene (wouldn’t you?).

The reason for this is not black magic but an important point of procedure for undertakers. If a person is to be cremated certain tendons always have to be cut, this is because as the body heats up, these tendons contract and can give the appearance of the body moving. You don’t want people to start hearing great aunt Beryl bumping around in a coffin apparently being burnt alive. The crowd oblivious to these facts assumed it was more of Rasputin’s black magic, the reality was a little more mundane.

So those are the many “deaths” of Grigori Rasputin.

© The History Vault, 2014.

About Jem Duducu

Jem Duducu
Jem Duducu is an historian and the founder of the hugely popular @HistoryGems . He is soon to publish his next history book.

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