Tsar Nicholas II was the last Tsar of Russia. He ruled from 1894 until his abdication in 1917 – and with his abdication came the end of a line of rulers of Russia, the Romanovs, that went back more than three centuries. Here, Matthew Hazelwood considers Nicholas II and why his reign failed, so leading to the downfall of the Romanov Dynasty.

A 1915 painting of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia by Boris Kustodiev.

A 1915 painting of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia by Boris Kustodiev.

Socialism with a Bloody Face 

On the night of the 16th-17th of July 1918 in Yekaterinburg [1], Russia, Nicholas II and Alexandra, the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, were executed, along with their five children, the head Footman, the head cook, the head physician, and the Czarina’s lady-in-waiting. [2]A week later, Leon Trotsky wrote in his diary:

My next visit to Moscow took place after the fall of Yekaterinburg. Talking to Sverdlov I asked in passing, "Oh yes and where is the Tsar?" "It's all over," he answered. "He has been shot." "And where is his family?" "And the family with him." "All of them?" I asked, apparently with a touch of surprise. "All of them," replied Yakov Sverdlov. "What about it?" He was waiting to see my reaction. I made no reply. "And who made the decision?" I asked. "We decided it here. Ilyich [Lenin] believed that we shouldn't leave the Whites a live banner to rally around, especially under the present difficult circumstances."[3]


The Chief Executioner, Yakov Yurovsky, had no such pause. “I shot Nicholas on the spot.” He said, “The Empress barely had time to cross herself before she was shot. She died instantly. Elsewhere in the room there was bloody carnage as the guards lost control and shot wildly. The bullets ricocheted from the walls to the floor and around the rooms like Hailstones.” This carelessness left six of the eleven victims wounded but alive.  “Alexis {the Tsar’s only son} fell off the chair, shot in the leg, still alive. Kharitonov {the head cook} sat down and died.” “When one of the girls was stabbed, the bayonet would not go through the corset.” The ordeal lasted over twenty minutes. [4]

The true reason for the execution, though, was the Czar himself. Everyone else was an incidental party guilty only by association. Who, then, was this man whose blood ushered in the symbolic end of Czarism and the victory of Bolshevism? Was His Imperial Majesty an innocent victim killed in the name of communism, or a bumbling, reactionary tyrant who got what was coming, or both?


A Philistine Sophisticate 

Nicholas II was first and foremost a loving man. He wrote letters addressing his wife as “my own beloved” and “my dear wifey”. [5]She in turn called him “Sunshine” and “My very own treasure”.[6]He spoke Russian, German, French, and English, and once told his son’s tutor that as a young man, “{my} favorite subject was history”. [7]Their relationship was, by all accounts, successful, even if Alexandra’s English reserve and stoic pride caused her to be hated by the populous and snubbed by Russian aristocrats.[8]As an adult, he became a passionate amateur photographer; but despite these virtues, he was the wrong man to head the Russian Empire. [9]

And his faults leap to the scholar’s eye. “He was handsome and blue-eyed” wrote Simon Sebag Montefiore, “but diminutive and hardly majestic, and his looks and his immaculate manners concealed an astonishing arrogance, contempt for the educated political classes, vicious anti-Semitism, and an unshakable belief in his right to rule as a sacred autocrat. He was jealous of his ministers, and he possessed the unfortunate ability to make himself utterly distrusted by his own government.”[10]

But even he had modest moments. When his father, Tsar Alexander, unexpectedly died at the age of forty-nine, Nicholas, then a youth of twenty-six years, became Tsar. The world as he knew it had come to an end. Nicholas was reported to have said to his brother-in-law, Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, “Sandro {the Grand Duke’s nickname}, what am I going to do? What is going to happen to me, to you, to Alex, to mother, to Russia? I am not ready to be Tsar. I never wanted to become one.” Nicholas’ younger sister, Grand Duchess Olga, agreed while absolving her brother of any blame: “Nicky was in despair. He kept saying that he did not know what would become of us all. That he was wholly unfit to reign. And yet, Nicky’s unfitness was by no means his fault. He should have been taught statesmanship, and he was not.” [11]

But the universe had other plans. Nicholas was the rightful heir to the throne, and nothing could change that.  His wife even gave him the marching orders: “Be more autocratic than Peter the Great and sterner than Ivan the Terrible.”[12]No matter how hard Nicholas tried, he could never quite learn the decisiveness of Peter nor the cruelty of Ivan.  It was a mistake from which he and his loved ones could never recover from.


Nicholas as leader 

His first massive blunder was when he chose to wage war against Japan. Nicholas II wanted control of the South China Sea and to increase his country’s global power. He didn’t expect the conflict to last long, since the Japanese were “yellow men, not entirely civilized”. What he didn’t realize was Japan had possession of an impressive military, and they roundly defeated Russia’s pacific fleet. Russia was forced to sue for peace. 

The loyalty of the people was lost after Sunday, January 9, 1905, otherwise known as Bloody Sunday. A group of peaceful demonstrators marched through St. Petersburg, in the hope of appealing to the Czar himself. Nicholas, however, wasn’t made for diplomacy. He left the city, ordering the military to disband the crowd should they come close to the Winter Palace. The ensuing massacre left an estimated 800 dead.[13]To the Tsar’s credit, though, he wrote in his diary “A distressing day. The troops have been forced to fire in several parts of the city, and there are many killed and wounded. Lord, how powerful and sad this is.”[14]But this was little consolation. 

Then 1914 came along, and Nicholas decided, against the wishes of many a Minister, that Russia would fight against the Triple Alliance in the First World War. Count Sergei Witte advised against war “because the army is the mainstay of the regime and may well be needed to preserve order at home.” Pyotr Durnovo, no friend of the Revolution, predicted that war would cause “Russia {to be} flung into hopeless anarchy; the issue of which cannot be foreseen.” Even the notorious Rasputin, a favorite of the Queen, said that “{war} will be the end of all of you”. 

As the bodies piled up, the soldiers’ morale was soon depleted beyond repair. This above anything else is what ruined him. It became clear to everyone from the most illiterate peasant to the richest aristocrat that changes had to be made. But Nicholas remained resistant to change. A violent revolution in February 1917 made the decision for him. He signed the throne away to his brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich, but Michael refused. Some wanted Nicholas’ son to become Tsar, but Alexis was a hemophiliac, and Nicholas declared that “I can’t bear to be parted from him.”[15]

The Duma, or Parliament, first created a Worker’s Council, which pledged its support if Marxist policies were enacted, and a temporary Provisional Government was created which would guide Russia through the war abroad, and away from chaos at home. One important change was the repealing of former laws against speech and assembly. But despite becoming the “freest country in the world”, workers called for far more changes. They wanted to control the factories and have eight-hour days. Strikes were rampant. 

Around June 1917, the Provisional Government initiated a few offensives against Germany, but the Russians were forced to retreat after two days of advancing. The First Machine Gun Regiment was called for back-up, but most of these soldiers were Pro-Bolshevik, and threatened to take over the government. A month later, workers joined the soldiers and sailors for an armed uprising. But the Bolshevik leaders were not ready to make a move, and the government quickly cracked down. Many were arrested. 

Around this time, the former minister of Justice Aleksandr Kerensky, a self-proclaimed socialist, became prime minister. Though the only socialist in power, he had the death penalty restored, and the restrictions on public gatherings increased. But instability continued as Kerensky pushed policies advocated for by the head of the army, General Kornilov, which amounted to martial law, but then Kerensky turned against Kornilov, and advocated that the Soviets fight against Kornilov’s army. Instead the Soviet convinced Kornilov’s soldiers to put down their weapons. 

This hurt Kerensky’s reputation infinitely, and his countrymen became more radicalized, to the point where more and more Bolsheviks were elected to the Soviets. Hearing of the planned insurrection, the meeting of the Soviet Congress was rescheduled from October 20thto the 25th. As for Kerensky, his last and final mistake was to try to move most of the Petrograd Garrison to the northern front. The Bolsheviks formed the Military Revolutionary Committee to prevent this. And at last, on October 25th, 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power, and by then the fate of the Czar was sealed.[16]


Final Thoughts 

We have seen Nicholas the man, and Nicholas the leader. Where does that leave us? What judgements, if any, do we make? When it comes to human affairs, the historian must remember that there are no easy answers. A certain level of skepticism is necessary, because history is inevitably political, and politics is often far from objective. A Hitler warrants universal condemnation, but most people aren’t Hitler. 

As mentioned above, Nicholas had positive qualities. A better question, perhaps, is what could have been done differently? Should he have listened to X or should he have done Y? We can’t rule that out, but this fails to give us a larger perspective. The real battle the last Tsar was fighting wasn’t with the liberals or the Bolsheviks; it was against a much stronger, much scarier enemy, and that enemy was modernity. 

To yield to modernity meant to negate certain values that had been propagated for centuries. A society where most people were lowly laborers, educated aristocrats quietly laughed at the foibles of the world, theologians studied intensely, and the monarch’s word was law. The world is as it is because God willed it so. To a mere peasant, the world may seem unfair, but that’s because he doesn’t have God’s knowledge. The Universe is necessarily as it is. No changes are permitted to be made unless we want to be cast in eternal hell-fire. Nicholas was trying his hardest to keep his world from collapsing on top of him.  

Nevertheless, it was a war he was destined to lose. An extraordinary amount of energy was going to be let loose one way or the other, as in Britain in 1688, North America in 1775, and France in 1789 respectively. What was necessary was the creation of a freer, more just, and more technologically advanced society in Russia. And though one could argue that Russia is still behind other Western countries in areas such as freedom of speech, press, and assembly, Russia is much better off than it was a century ago. 

If Nicholas had been forward-thinking, in a word, wiser, it’s likely that Russia’s transition from an agrarian to an industrial economy would’ve been much smoother, and the excesses of Marxism-Leninism wouldn’t have been realized. His regressive outlook and uncertain jesters, unfortunately, did nothing more than exacerbate the situation. He had several chances to make changes for the better, and he did not take them. In fact, he consistently made the wrong decision until, ultimately, his options ran out and the Bolsheviks got to him. 

The story of civilization, though, is not a morality play. There are no good guys or bad guys. It’s a tale more profound and dramatic than anything Shakespeare ever wrote. This article can only give you a snapshot into Russia’s unique place in that great whole which nobody can completely understand.  If we cannot love the long-dead emperor of Russia, we can at least recognize the Romanov’s execution as one of the darker moments of the twentieth century. 


What do you think of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia? Let us know below.

[1] Massie, Robert K. (2012). The Romanovs: The Final Chapter. Random House.pp. 3–24

[2] William H. Honan (12 August 1992), A Playwright Applies His Craft To Czar Nicholas II’s Last Days, New York Times, Retrieved 26thNovember 2018 

[3]King, G. (1999). The Last Empress, Replica Books, p. 358. 

[4]Sebestyen, Victor. (2017) Lenin. London: Penguin Random House LLC. 401-410

[5]Letters from Tsar Nicholas to Tsaritsa Alexander-January 1916. Retrieved from www.alexanderpalace.org

[6](2018, April 26). ‘Cover you with kisses, my Angel’: #Romanovs100 Intimate love letters. Retrieved from https://www.rt.com

[7](2006, May 17). Tsar Nicholas and his Family. Retrieved from www.pravmir.com

[8]Anderson, M. (director). (1996).  Last of the Czars. {motion picture}. USA: Discovery Channel.

[9]Anderson, M. (director). (1996).  Last of the Czars. {motion picture}. USA: Discovery Channel.

[10]Montefiore, Simon Sebag. (2018, Oct.12). The Devastating True Story of the Romanov Family’s Execution. Retrieved from https://www.townandcountrymag.com

[11]Anderson, M. (director). (1996).  Last of the Czars. {motion picture}. USA: Discovery Channel

[12](2015, May 21). Quotes on Nicholas II Romanov. Wordpress.com. Retrieved from https://alldocumentsherekanan.wordpress.com/2015/05/21/quotes-on-nicholas-ii-romanov/


[13]Sebestyen, Victor. (2017) Lenin. London: Penguin Random House LLC. Pg. 159-170 & 234-239

[14]Anderson, M. (director). (1996).  Last of the Czars. {motion picture}. USA: Discovery Channel.

[15]Sebestyen, Victor. (2017) Lenin. London: Penguin Random House LLC.Pg. 159-170 & 234-239

[16]Figes, Orlando. (2017, October 25th). From Czar to U.S.S.R.: Russia’s Chaotic Year of Revolution. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com

In this brilliant article with a twist at the end, Helen Saker-Parsons tells us the story of the various assassination attempts on 19th century Russian ruler Tsar Alexander II. And his compelling and complicated love life – or lives…


Historically, it is a bear that symbolizes the Russian Imperial Court. But for Alexander II, Tsar of Russia from 1855 to 1881, there are more suitable creature comparisons. His was a reign marked by assassination attempts and sexual assignations. He appeared to have the many lives of a cat but was also referred to as a rat – a love rat. For though it was customary for imperial rulers to take mistresses, Alexander II appeared to move beyond what was acceptable, even for a Tsar.

But has history misjudged his sexual misdemeanors? Or could it be argued that it was his awareness that as a cat his lives were not infinite which pushed him towards his love-rat behavior?

Tsar Alexander II, circa 1865.

Tsar Alexander II, circa 1865.

Attacks on a ruler

Alexander II oversaw a period of upheaval and change in imperialist Russia. Nick-named ‘the liberator,’ it is the emancipation of the serfs for which he is most renowned. But how the country adapted to change was to leave the Tsar vulnerable, with enemies amongst both the radical reformers and conservative factions. Alexander survived several attempts on his life, firstly from lone assassins and then by the Nihilist group, Narodnaya Volya [People’s Will]. His first near-miss he later referred to “as the event of April 4 1866.” On this date the elbow of Dimitry Karakozov was reportedly nudged as he aimed his revolver at the Tsar leaving the Summer Garden in St Petersburg. When the Tsar questioned the captured wannabe assassin as to what he wanted, the latter apparently replied: “nothing.” During the 1867 World Fair, Polish immigrant Antoni Berezowski attacked Alexander’s carriage but his pistol misfired and hit a horse instead. On April 20 1879, Alexander was out walking when he spotted an armed man, 33 year old former school teacher, Alexander Soloviev, approaching. The Tsar fled, running in a zigzag pattern so that all five of  Soloviev’s bullets missed him.

The People’s Will was founded in 1879 with the principal policy of killing the Tsar. In November their initial attempt to bomb his train route at three points failed. The train diverted from the first point; the dynamite failed to ignite at the second as it did at the third – when a tunnel dug to the track from a rented apartment passed through sandy soil and flooded. On the evening of February 5, 1880, one of their members, employed as a stoker at the Winter Palace, set off a charge in the guard’s rest room aimed to coincide with the Tsar and his family gathering to eat in the dining room above. Eleven people were killed and a further thirty wounded but the Tsar and his family were not amongst the casualties, having fortuitously delayed their meal. Poor time-keeping saved Alexander on The People’s Will’s third attempt when one of their terrorists turned up too late to blow up a bridge over the Catherine Canal which the Tsar was set to cross. The fourth attempt was abandoned when the Tsar changed his travel plans thus avoiding the road that had been mined. For their fifth effort The People’s Will returned to tunneling and rented an apartment from which to burrow and bomb one of Alexander’s frequent haunts. But the terrorist group failed to represent everybody’s will and one of their neighbors denounced them.

Alexander II had survived eight times and a cat is known to have nine lives. That eventually an attempt on his life should be successful seemed an accepted fact both by Alexander and his contemporaries. The British Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, had remarked in 1874 that the Tsar always looked sad questioning “Whether it is satiety, or the loneliness of despotism, or fear of a violent death, I know not” and Peter Kropotkin describes the events of March 13, 1881 ‘the tragedy developed with the unavoidable fatality of one of Shakespeare’s dramas.’ On this Sunday, Alexander was travelling his usual route when a bomb was thrown under his carriage. He alighted to inspect the damage and console the wounded Cossacks who accompanied him. A second, as it happened suicidal, terrorist, Ignatei Grinevitski, seized the opportunity to throw another bomb; this time with more success. The Tsar’s legs were blown off by the blast and chunks of his flesh, combined with that of others caught in the blast, littered the lying snow. The dying emperor was taken by sleigh to the Winter Palace. His mutilated body was met by members of his family. His grandson, who later became Tsar Nicholas II and was to meet a violent demise himself, described that “there were big red spots on the carpet - when they had carried my grandfather up the stairs, blood from the terrible wounds he had suffered from the explosion poured out.” Alexander’s body was taken to his quarters, passed the secret passageway, which led down to another series of rooms. It was the presence of these and his mistress and children housed there which gained him the reputation of a rat.


A history of lovers

Alexander II had many admirers, not least Queen Victoria, whom he first met in 1839, when both were barely out of their teens. She wrote in her diary: ‘I really am quite in love with the Grand Duke; he is a dear, delightful young man.’ During his month-long visit to England the two went on horse rides in Windsor, attended balls at Buckingham Palace and even spent half an hour alone behind closed curtains in the royal box at the theatre. But Alexander’s father, Tsar Nicholas I, feared a marriage would result in his son having to give up the Russian throne to become British Prince Consort. He ordered him to Germany where a more suitable suitor awaited; writing: ‘Back to Darnstadt. Don’t be a milksop.’ The parting was not without emotion and Alexander left Victoria his prized dog, Kazbek, as a leaving present. They were not to meet again until 1874 by which time Victoria was dismayed by his changed appearance and openly critical of his indiscretions.

Alexander II’s subsequent marriage to the German Princess – who became known as Maria Alexandrovna following their wedding in St Petersburg in April 1841 – was initially a happy one and she bore him eight children. Alexander’s virility was proven and there were rumors of other offspring; including twin girls born to the British Ambassador’s wife. But it was also the death of his children that reminded him of the fragility of life. His firstborn by Maria, a daughter Alexandra, died aged seven from tuberculosis and Alexander kept her nightgown beneath his pillow for the rest of his life. Their eldest son and heir, Nicholas, also died from consumption in 1865. Both tragedies contributed to Maria’s frail health, something that had already taken a severe down-turn after the birth of her final child in 1860. Diagnosed with tuberculosis and instructed to spend more time in warmer climates, her husband built a sanctuary for her in the Crimea. Her absences paved the way for his infidelities.

Amongst his lovers was an eighteen year old, Marie Dolgorukaia. But it was her sister Catherine who was to steal the Tsar’s heart. After the death of their father, Alexander II had taken on their guardianship and enrolled the girls in the Smolny Institute, in St Petersburg. It was on a visit here that the sisters grabbed his attention. Firstly Marie was employed as a Maid-of-Honor to his wife whilst performing more personal functions; but after less than a year the Tsar turned his eyes to her younger sister Catherine, almost thirty years his junior. Following a brief platonic period, their relationship turned sexual and intensely passionate. Catherine too was appointed as a Maid-of-Honor and assigned her own suite of rooms in the Palace, directly above the personal rooms of the Tsarina.


One love too far?

It was the flaunting of the affair and the damaging effect it had on the Tsarina’s heath that angered many, especially the couple’s children. But Alexander’s first assignation with Catherine, in July 1866, came only a few months after the initial attempt on his life. The awareness that there would be other assassination attempts must have prevailed. He had survived a second by the time Catherine bore their first child together. At a time when life seemed precious and short Alexander turned away from his often morose and religiously maniacal wife towards the intensely sexual mistress. Proof of their passion can be read in the thousands of sexually explicit letters exchanged between them, with almost everyone referring to the act of love-making or ‘bingerle’ [their pet-name for it]. The regularity of his rigor even led to the Tsar’s physicians placing him with a six-week sex-ban. During this period Catherine wrote ‘I confess that I cannot be without your fountain, which I love so… After my six weeks are over I count on renewing my injections.’

It was the permanent presence of the mistress in rooms above the wife that attracted particular criticism. It is alleged that Maria was often disturbed by the noises of Catherine’s children and even as she lay dying was purported to have uttered: “Why is there no one to check those unruly bastards?” But perhaps the most controversial and biggest bone of contention was Alexander’s rush into a morganatic marriage with Catherine forty days after his wife’s death in the summer of 1880. Although tradition dictated a year of mourning, the attempts on Alexander’s life had intensified. He was only too aware of his mortality. He wrote to his sister, Olga, on his decision: ‘I would never have married [Katia Dolgorukova] before a year of mourning if not for the dangerous time we live in and for the hazardous attempts I expose myself to daily which can actually and suddenly end my life.’

History highlights the weaknesses of Russia’s leaders, especially its monarchs who were born, not elected, to rule. Alexander II, like Henry VIII, was blinded by lust. But here was a man who acknowledged he was to be assassinated; who was aware that eventually an attempt would succeed and his many cat-lives would run out. Peter Kropotkin wrote he was: ‘a man of strong passions and weak will.’

And so on closer examination of his flaws it could be argued that the creature most closely characteristic of Tsar Alexander was neither cat nor rat - but that of a typical human being.


Helen Saker-Parsons is the author of a book about an Allied soldier who is captured and held prisoner in Italy during World War II. The book, A Captive Life, is available here: Amazon US | Amazon UK


You can also read more on Russian history in this article on our blog about Grigori Rasputin here.


Selected References

  • Pyotr Kropotkin, Mutual Aid

  • Edvard Radzinsky, Alexander II: The last great Tsar

Grigori Rasputin was an enigma of his age. He rose from obscurity to become a key friend of the Russian royal family. He was also said to have mystical powers. Here, we start to tell the story of a group who wanted to kill him – and Rasputin’s almost super-human powers to resist death.


The Moika Palace, resplendent in yellow hues, stretches like a supine lion beside the river in St. Petersburg. The residence of the Yusopov family from 1830 to 1917, it was the site of a gruesome murder that continues to mystify and intrigue today, for the details of the night read like a vividly-imagined crime story. No definitive and coherent narrative exists; indeed, the only eyewitness accounts are those of the assassins themselves, and these are, of course, biased. They do, however, provide a starting point from which strands of fiction and truth can be separated and ordered.

The beaming eyes of Rasputin in a photo taken in c. 1905.

The beaming eyes of Rasputin in a photo taken in c. 1905.

Grigori Rasputin’s stratospheric rise to power – akin, perhaps, to Thomas Cromwell’s – transformed him from an illiterate peasant to the trusted confidante of the Russian royal family. This association was divisive, at times scandalous, and ultimately destructive: his presence at court and sway over them – in particular the Tsaritsa – contributed to increasing resentment towards the royal Romanovs in the months preceding the February Revolution of 1917, and precipitated their downfall. An enigmatic figure, much of Rasputin’s life is obscured by conflicting accounts of his character and actions. He was portrayed by his followers as a ‘starets’ or mystical ‘elder’, who possessed supernatural powers to heal the heir to the throne. His critics, on the other hand, regarded him as a licentious and decadent charlatan with a propensity for excessive drinking. He was despised by many in the highest echelons of society, who believed that their bête noire was corroding the popularity of the Romanov dynasty. In the winter of 1916, this resentment became overwhelming.

Prince Felix Yusopov, heir to a vast fortune and husband to the Tsar’s niece, arrived at Rasputin’s house in the middle of the night of December 16 in order to escort him to the Moika Palace. The invitation had been extended at an earlier date: the prince had decided to entice Rasputin to his home by indicating that his beautiful wife, Irina, would be present. In fact, Irina was staying in the Crimea with his parents. Rasputin seemed to have taken particular care over his appearance that evening, donning a silk shirt embroidered with cornflowers, velvet breeches and polished boots. Even his unkempt, matted beard had been combed. Yusopov led Rasputin outside, where a car driven by Dr. Stanislaus de Lazovert was waiting to take them to the palace.

A basement in the east wing had been specially prepared for the occasion. There was a convivial atmosphere: the room was sumptuously furnished with a thick Persian carpet on the floor, and a fire crackled in the background. A gramophone in the adjoining study played ‘Yankee Doodle’, and tempting cakes were laid out on the table. To avoid suspicion, tea had been poured into cups to give the impression that a meal had taken place there recently. The mise-en-scène was set. Unbeknown to Rasputin, Yusopov and his fellow disaffected conspirators had laced the cakes with enough cyanide ‘to kill several men instantly.’ These collaborators, who included the Tsar’s cousin, Grand Duke Dmitry Pavlovich, and a forthright politician, Vladimir Purishkevich, were waiting elsewhere for the deed to be executed. When Rasputin enquired after Irina, he was informed that she would be joining them shortly. Yusopov then proceeded to offer him the sweet pastries and poisoned wine. At first, Rasputin declined, citing reasons of health: had he detected that treachery was afoot? Eventually, however, he relented and sampled a few of the delicacies. They had crossed the Rubicon: Yusopov’s work was complete.

Several hours later, the poisoned wine and pastries had had no effect on Rasputin. One can only imagine Yusopov’s disquiet as that inviolable gaze continued to bore into him with unnerving intensity. Rasputin’s face is almost simian in photographs, with a feral, hypnotic glint in his eyes suggesting a simmering madness. Yusopov recalled in his memoirs: “Under Rasputin's heavy gaze, I felt all my self-possession leaving me; an indescribable numbness came over me, [and] my head swam.” In desperation, Yusopov retreated upstairs to seek the counsel of the other men, who were shocked at Rasputin’s apparent immunity to the poison. It was agreed that Yusopov should go back armed with a revolver to put an end to the fiend, for who could survive being shot?

 But equally, Rasputin had just survived eating cakes laced with cyanide? Was Rasputin as immune to shooting as he was to poison? We’ll continue this story in our unique style next week!


By Julia Routledge


Read on! Part 2 of this article is available by clicking here!



  • Lost Splendour: The Amazing Memoirs of the Man Who Killed Rasputin – Felix Yusopov
  • My Mission to Russia, and Other Diplomatic Memories – Sir George Buchanan
  • How To Kill Rasputin: The Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin – Andrew Cook
AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones