|Darling Rasputin: |
telegrams that reveal Tsarina's love affair with the Mad Monk
|By Nigel Reynolds, Arts Correspondent |
(Telegraph [UK] March 14, 2000) - The discovery of a 500-page secret file on Rasputin, compiled by the Bolsheviks soon after his murder in 1916 but missing ever since, has cast new light on the myths, sexual conquests and power at the Romanov court of the licentious "prophet".
Coupled with long-lost photographs, the documents make it appear more likely than ever that Rasputin, a semi-literate peasant, did have an affair with Tsarina Alexandra, the wife of Tsar Nicholas II. The file contains intimate telegrams in which she calls Rasputin "darling".
One telegram from her to him dated Dec 7, 1914, says: "Today I shall be back in eight days. I sacrifice my husband and my heart to you. Pray and bless. Love and kisses - darling." Another, two years later, sent only a fortnight before Rasputin's murder by a nobleman angry at his influence at court, reads: "You have not written anything. I have missed you terribly. Come soon. Pray for Nicholas [her husband]. Kisses - darling."
The papers also name many of the "Mad Monk's" mistresses and provide fresh details of his political influence over the Tsar - including influencing senior appointments and how he persuaded the Tsar to delay mobilising the army against Germany for 24 hours. The huge file contains the testimonies of dozens of friends, who were interrogated about his role at court by the Bolsheviks, anxious to discredit the imperial family after the revolution in 1917.
Lost for more than 80 years, it will be made public in London on Thursday by Mstislav Rostropovich, the Russian emigré cellist and conductor. He acquired the papers, apparently by chance, at auction five years ago. His file forms the backbone of Rasputin: The Last Word, a new biography by the Russian historian and playwright Edward Radzinsky, also published on Thursday.
The biography includes two photographs, never seen before, of Rasputin's body after it was retrieved from the Neva at St Petersburg, into which he had been thrown, bound, while still alive. Radzinsky says he retrieved the pictures from a long-forgotten police archive. With his arms outstretched, Radzinsky says the pictures indicate that Rasputin was desperately trying to untie his bonds. The biographer uses this evidence to construct a new theory about Rasputin's murder.
It demonstrates, he says, that the stories spread by the Bolsheviks that Rasputin had almost supernatural powers were just a myth to discredit him and the Romanovs who were in his thrall. Radzinsky also claims that testimonies from the file show that Rasputin's principal assassin, a scion of Russia's richest family, the Yusopovs, may have deliberately fluffed the murder because he was a bisexual and had fallen in love with the monk.
The biography also presents the first known authentic photograph - also from police files - of Rasputin and the Tsarina with her children. Rumours of a sexual relationship between the two were rife in pre-revolutionary Russia, but always denied by her close friends. But Radzinsky says he believes that he has come as close as possible to proving that Queen Victoria's ill-fated granddaughter was in love with and had a sexual affair with the lascivious "mystic".
Born Grigory Efemovich in Siberia at around 1869 - he acquired the name Rasputin, meaning "debauched one", later - the monk remains one of the most malign but enigmatic figures in modern history. He joined a cult that believed spirituality could be attained only through sexual exhaustion.
He arrived at the Russian court in 1908 and was immediately taken up by the imperial family because he appeared to have healing powers that eased the haemophiliac attacks of their son, the Tsaravich Nikolai. His sexual philandering has always been widely known but Radzinsky claims that long-lost testimonies - many of them handwritten by those questioned - from interviews conducted by the post-revolution Commission of Inquiry for the Investigation of Illegal Acts by Ministers and Other Responsible Persons of the Tsarist Regime now disclose their names and confirm Rasputin's reputation.
The file also contains previously unknown reports by agents hired by the Tsarist ministry of the interior to spy on Rasputin. One report reads: "Rasputin . . . would accost women with vile suggestions." Another agent observed him hiring three prostitutes in one day.
The commission published a report based on the interrogations but for many years afterwards it was said that it was distorted to blacken Rasputin - one of the interrogators himself even resigned, complaining of bias - as part of a propaganda campaign against the imperial court. More recently, pro-monarchists in Russia have attempted to rehabilitate Rasputin to restore credibility in the court.
"The discovery of the testimonies show that Rasputin was as terrible as he appeared at the time," said Ion Trewin, the editorial director of Weidenfeld and Nicolson, the publishers of the biography. "I'm afraid that they will bring little comfort to the new pro-monarchist movement. The Empress's telegrams don't prove that they slept together but they go as near as it will probably ever be possible to prove that they did. They are quite astonishing evidence of the attraction that she felt for him and go a long way to explaining his power over her."
The papers shed important light on Rasputin's murder, organised by Prince Felix Yusopov, on Dec 16, 1916. He and his two conspirators maintained later that they had first poisoned, then shot, then clubbed Rasputin before throwing his body under the ice in the Neva. Radzinsky claims that the murderers put around this story of the almost indestructible Rasputin to cover up their own ineptitude and to further the myth of the dangerous and supernatural "monk" holding Russia in his power.
The biographer says the testimonies of others now show that the poisoning attempt at the Yusopov Palace was not serious. Prince Felix was infatuated with Rasputin and "diluted" a glass of wine containing cyanide to the point where it was ineffectual. The prince then shot several times at Rasputin but he suffered only one minor wound to the body and it was left to one or two other conspirators to bring him down as he tried to escape.
The new testimonies give conflicting evidence on who these were. Some confirm the long-standing story that another nobleman, Vladimir Purishkevich, had shot Rasputin. Others suggest a new name - Grand Duke Dimitry Palovich, a marksman who, officially at least, was not present. But some witnesses claim to have seen him, and Radzinsky believes there was a cover-up because the Grand Duke was a successor if the Tsar was deposed.
The last mystery may be solved later this week. How did Rostropovich, a collector of Romanov memorabilia who was forced to leave the Soviet Union in the Seventies, discover the file? Mr Trewin said: "When he heard Edward was writing the book, Rostropovich offered him the file, saying, 'I have the great prize you have been looking for'."
"He said he had bought it at a Sotheby's auction somewhere on the Continent in 1995. We have tried to track this down but Sotheby's seems to have no record of it. We know it is genuine. Edward has cross-checked the handwriting and he used a Moscow telephone directory for 1914 to check the identities of the witnesses.
"It may be that Sotheby's didn't catalogue it properly or Rostropovich found it among some other papers he bought. We just don't know and we hope he will tell us on Thursday."