Happy 152nd birthday to (Ra-Ra-)Rasputin, born on this day in 1869. Immortalised as “Russia’s greatest love machine” by Boney M in 1978, Rasputin has been an enigma ever since he first appeared in St Petersburg and managed to find his way to the top of society and into the circles of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra of Russia. So I’ve been a bit weirdly fascinated with Rasputin ever since I did History GCSE (and fell in love with Boney M), so obviously he gets a post today.
Born in Western Siberia, Rasputin married and had children, but following time at a monastery in 1892, he travelled in search of Orthodox Christian devotion. Contrary to popular myth, he actually continued to see his family and still gave his wife financial support.
Charismatic, yet with poor personal hygiene, and spending most of his time in brothels or drinking, Rasputin earned himself a reputation for having mythical powers and being able to cure the Tsar and Tsarina’s son, Alexei, of his episodes of haemophilia. Historians now think it likely he offered a calming presence, potentially used hypnosis, or stopped doctors from giving Alexei aspirin, which has blood thinning properties. Whatever he did, he earned the trust of the Tsarina and became an influential adviser, causing great suspicion about their relationship and his control of the royal family.
Rasputin was murdered by a group of noblemen, led by Prince Felix Yusupov (married to Tsar Nicholas’ niece), on December 30th 1916. Again, there are many myths surrounding his death, popularised by Yusupov’s memoirs, published in 1928. Supposedly he ingested a ridiculous amount of poison, was shot and still didn’t die, so was thrown in the river and eventually drowned. In actual fact, he was killed by a single shot wound to the head. Fast forward to 1978 and Boney M: frontman Bobby Farrell tended to wear a long beard to perform “Rasputin” live. Boney M were actually the first major western act to play in the USSR, but they were banned from performing the song at their concerts in Red Square because of the sexual lyrics. In a weird twist of fate, Farrell died after performing in St Petersburg on the same date and town as Rasputin, 94 years before.