Awesome Villain In History: Rasputin

Ah, yes, it has been far too long since we have done one of these. It’s Awesome People in History time!

This week, I’m doing something different. Previously, my Awesome People have all been heroes of some sort, people who made a positive difference in the world. But what’s an awesome hero without an awesome villain?

With that in mind, let me introduce you to an early 20th century Russian mystic by the name of Rasputin.

He's the one in the middle with a white shirt, beard, and Charles Mansion "Welcome to The Family" eyes.

You’ve probably already heard of the man (full name Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin), who became famous for gaining the trust and confidence of Russia’s last tsar after “miraculously healing” the ruler’s son.

Because that is the face of a man you trust your children with.

There is a reason the man has a haunting presence in our cultural memory, and it isn’t just that creepy, creepy face.

Let’s start with his childhood. Born in Siberia to a peasant family (meaning he would have had a tough childhood like Abe Lincoln, except IN SIBERIA!!!!), the first sign he might be something special came when he was still a very young boy. His older brother, Dmitri, fell through the ice into a frozen pond, and young Rasputin jumped in to save him. This put both boys in danger (remember: SIBERIA), but luckily a passerby was able to pull them out. Afterwards, Dmitri succumbed to the cold, got pneumonia, and died. Rasputin didn’t.

As the boy grew older, his villagers began to claim he had supernatural powers. In adulthood he took the mantle of a religious mystic, travelling to Greece and Jerusalem on pilgrimages before settling in Saint Petersburg.

Enter Tsar Nicholas II and his hemophiliac son, Alexei. A rare hereditary blood disorder, hemophilia prevents blood from clotting, meaning little Alexei could bleed to death from the littlest cut or bruise. Yet Rasputin somehow was able to heal the boy, meaning it wasn’t long before Tsar Nicholas II and his wife began calling this weird, creepy mystic to help more and more frequently. But what about when Rasputin wasn’t there, you ask? Well, in 1912 there is a report that he was able to heal Alexei by telegram.

But Rasputin was no good guy, and the tsar’s advisers knew it. He was surrounded by a cult of followers to whom he preached that in order to be saved by faith in Jesus, people must first commit sins. So, he had lots and lots of sex with his lady followers. He also took bribes, and was a heavy drinker. By Russian standards.

And Rasputin knew how to use the trust the Tsar and his wife gave him to gain power. World War I broke out, and Rasputin “prophesized” that the war would go badly for Russia unless the Tsar went to the front and took personal command of the army. So, the Tsar did, leaving his wife, the German-born Tsarina Alexandra, in charge of the country. As it turns out, the war didn’t go so well for Russia even with the Tsar in command, and Rasputin became so close to Alexandra that he was able to put his cronies in charge of the government.

This, as it turns out, was the undoing of the Russian monarchy. Critics of the regime, who could be arrested for criticizing the tsar, could openly criticize “That freaky bearded wacko with a cult who has the palace captive.” It could be said that Rasputin helped bring about the Russian Revolution.

As you may have guessed, there were plenty of people who wanted Rasputin dead. In 1914, he was attacked by a woman who cut out his entrails. AND HE SURVIVED.

Eventually, someone did succeed at killing him, but it wasn’t easy. According to Felix Yuspov, his killer, he invited Rasputin to a party on December 16, 1916. He tried poisoning Rasputin with cyanide-laced cake and wine, but to no avail. Then, Yuspov shot Rasputin in the back. This didn’t work; Rasputin turned on Yuspov and attacked. Yuspov’s friends fired on the mystic, beat on him with clubs, wrapped him in a carpet, and threw him in a river. When Rasputin’s body was found four days later, the autopsy found his cause of death was drowning in the river.

Yet even this wasn’t the end of the story. According to one legend, when Rasputin’s body was cremated, it suddenly sat upright in the fire. A fittingly frightening ending to a frightening person.

Information from this article on Wikipedia.