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Debunking Some Persistent Myths About Rasputin, the Notorious Russian Bogeyman

by Paul Combs 7 months ago in Historical
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He actually was not the devil

Grigori Rasputin (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

I wrote an article last week about Vladimir Putin’s quest to become a new Russian Tsar. In researching the period of the Russian Empire, I repeatedly came across a man who is at least as famous as the Tsars, and perhaps more famous than any except Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. That man is Grigori Rasputin, the mad monk who exerted a stunning amount of influence over the last Tsar and Tsarina, Nicholas II and Alexandra.

Rasputin’s impact on every facet of court life just prior to the Russian Revolution cannot be overstated. He was a political, military, religious, medical, and mystical advisor to the royal family; this was particularly true of Alexandra, who firmly believed Rasputin was the only man alive who could keep her hemophiliac son Alexei from dying. Rasputin was an enigma: a heavy drinker and petty thief in his youth, he experienced a dubious religious conversion that led him to become a wandering mystic. This eventually led him to the Court of the Romanovs.

Both during his life and in the century since his murder at the hands of nobles alarmed by his influence over the Tsar and Tsarina outlandish myths have grown up around Rasputin. In death he has become even more ominous a figure than he was in life, but so much of what we think we know about him is simply not true. Let’s debunk four crazy myths about Rasputin.

1. He was a monk. I realize that I called him the “mad monk” at the start of this article (as many called him even during his lifetime), but in reality Rasputin was never officially ordained either a monk or a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church. He did live like a monk much of the time, especially following his conversion when he went on numerous pilgrimages, but just as easily threw off the vows of poverty and chastity monks are bound by when it suited him.

2. He had an affair with Empress Alexandra. This myth was one almost certainly concocted by his political enemies, jealous at the heights he had risen to with the royal family. It is a crazy one for numerous reasons, not the least being the fact that Nicholas and Alexandra actually loved each other, not a common trait for royal couples at any point in history. Alexandra was also a granddaughter of England’s Queen Victoria and held all of the morals and ethics of the Victorian Age. Finally, for his part Rasputin would not have been stupid enough to even consider such a relationship with the Tsarina had she showed an interest in one. He knew that had he engaged in an illicit affair, word would certainly have reached Nicholas and more than just losing his favored position, Rasputin’s death would have been swift and painful.

3. He healed Tsarevich Alexei’s hemophilia. Long before he made his way to the royal court, Rasputin’s reputation as a faith healer was widespread; this is what brought him to the Tsarina’s attention in the first place. Like almost all faith healers throughout history however (and I’m saying “almost” simply because unexplainable things do happen), Rasputin’s “cures” were a mixture of coincidence, common sense, and sheer luck. In the case of Alexei, some medical historians believe it was his counsel to stop giving the boy aspirin, which today is a known blood thinner, that helped stop the first bleeding episode he treated. It is unlikely he had any clue that the aspirin was worsening the situation; he was probably just replacing medication with prayer. This time, and on a few other occasions, it worked, and Alexandra became certain only he could keep the heir to the throne alive.

4. Rasputin was nearly impossible to kill. Given that so many near-mythical characteristics were attributed to Rasputin during his life, it’s no surprise that the same would be said about his death. Multiple reports claim that on December 30, 1916, after being given enough poison to kill a small army, he miraculously “resurrected” and attacked his assailant, at which point he was shot repeatedly and then, when even that wouldn’t kill him, he was thrown into the freezing Neva River where he finally drowned. The official autopsy is much more mundane, if no less bloody. It found that Rasputin had been shot three times, including once in the forehead, and that he was already dead when his body was thrown into the Neva.

There are many more myths about Rasputin, some so outlandish they don’t even deserve a response. These four have remained the most persistent over the past century and thus are in most need of correction. The next time you hear them, you can battle them with facts.

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About the author

Paul Combs

I’m a writer, podcaster, and bookseller whose ultimate goal (besides being a roadie for the E Street Band) is to make reading, writing, and books in general as popular in Texas as high school football. It may take a while.

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