On this day in 1916, Russian mystic Grigori Rasputin was murdered by enemies of Tsar Nicholas II, ruler of the Russian Empire. Rasputin – spiritual advisor to the Tsar and his family – was hated by many in the royal court for his influence and alleged sexual prowess (which he apparently used to gain favour with Tsarina Alexandra, the Tsar’s wife). After surviving an earlier stabbing, the mystic was forced to eat cyanide-laced cake; this had no effect, so he was shot in the chest by Prince Felix Yusupov, leader of the conspirators. Some hours later, Yusupov returned to the scene of the crime and was attacked by Rasputin, who was evidently not quite dead. Rasputin chased the terrified prince towards the royal palace but was shot in the head by another conspirator, Vladimir Purishkevich.
Rasputin was a strange figure in Russian history. A self-made man with no religious affiliations (known as a strannik or pilgrim), Rasputin developed a cult following for his healing powers. His rise to prominence began soon after 1904 when he travelled to St. Petersburg and met with the royal family to “heal” the Tsar’s son, Alexei. As Russia entered WWI, Rasputin gained more influence over the Tsar and ran afoul of many in the government, who blamed the Tsar and everyone associated with him for the disasters suffered by Russia on the Eastern Front. After nearly-indestructible Rasputin was killed, many of the Romanovs – the dynasty that had ruled Russia for many years – were eliminated or forced to flee during the February Revolution of 1917, and the later Bolshevik seizure of power. Whatever the actual extent of Rasputin’s involvement in the Tsarist government, many political enemies used his negative reputation as a means to discredit the Romanovs and justify revolution.