Grigori Rasputin is a man about whom countless myths and tall tales abound. But in many cases where this Russian mystic and self-professed holy man is concerned, stories that sound like fiction often prove to be fact. With this in mind, here are 10 intriguing facts about the man who became close to the family of the last Russian Tsar – most infamously his wife, the Tsarina – and contributed to its downfall.
1. He was born a peasant
Rasputin may be best-known for his dealings with the Russian royal family, the Romanovs, but he came from humble beginnings. He was born in a remote Siberian village to illiterate peasant parents, with his father a farmer.
2. His early years are something of a black hole
Much of what we think we know about the life of the enigmatic Rasputin is mere speculation and rumour. This is particularly true of his childhood and early adult years, a period about which almost nothing is known.
3. He had a wife and seven children
Grigori Rasputin may have later gained a reputation for being a sex-crazed womaniser, but he started out his adult years as a family man after he married a peasant girl named Praskovya Dubrovina at the age of 18, the couple went on to have seven children – though only three survived into adulthood.
4. He spent several months living at a monastery
In 1897, after 10 years of marriage, Rasputin went on a pilgrimage to the Saint Nicholas Monastery at Verkhoturye, some 300 miles from his home village. There, it appears he had some kind of religious awakening and returned a changed man.
For the next decade he travelled around the country – and possibly even further afield – as a self-styled holy man, preaching and claiming to have powers that included being able to heal the sick. His reputation eventually spread to the then capital, Saint Petersburg, where he was introduced to the Tsar and his wife.
5. It is unlikely he had mystical healing powers
After Rasputin appeared to stop the bleeding of the Russian Tsar’s haemophilic son, Alexei, one night, the Tsarina apparently became convinced of his healing powers – a belief that would see Rasputin gain increasing influence with the Romanov family.
It certainly seems as though Rasputin curbed a number of Alexei’s bleeding fits. But historians have suggested various possible explanations for this, including that Rasputin may have merely succeeded in calming the young prince down – possibly through hypnosis – or that he may have advised against Alexei being administered aspirin, a blood thinner.
It’s safe to say that none of these explanations include mystical healing powers, however.
6. He had terrible table manners
Rasputin is reputed to have licked spoons before using them to serve other people and to have regularly had pieces of food in his beard – which would sometimes rot. In fact, he was widely known for having terrible personal hygiene in general.
7. He described himself as a “Christ in miniature”
According to biographer Frances Welch, when accused of a drunken public incident in which he allegedly exposed his penis and bragged about having had sex with the Tsarina, Rasputin defended himself to the Tsar by saying:
Despite my terrible sins, I am a Christ in miniature.
8. He survived at least one assassination attempt…
On 12 July 1914, Rasputin was stabbed in the stomach outside his home by a peasant woman named Chionya Guseva. The 33-year-old was a follower of Iliodor, a former priest and supporter turned enemy of Rasputin – though she claimed to have acted alone.
Rasputin survived the attack but reportedly remained in pain until his death one-and-a-half years later.
9. …but succumbed to another
It is not known exactly what happened at the palace of Prince Felix Yusupov on the night of 29 December 1916. But it ended with Grigori Rasputin’s death.
According to Yusupov himself, he, along with other nobles who believed that Rasputin’s sway over the Tsar and Tsarina posed a threat to the monarchy, lured the mystic to the palace. They then proceeded to try and poison him with cyanide-laced cakes and drinks.
When Rasputin failed to die, however, Yusupov says the conspirators then shot him – though it seems it took more than one shot to kill the 47-year-old.
10. His body has three gunshot wounds
According to accounts by Yusupov and co-conspirator, the right-wing politician Vladimir Purishkevich, both men shot Rasputin. But neither mention inflicting a gunshot wound to the self-styled holy man’s head. Yet, that’s exactly what his body’s got: three gunshot wounds of various sizes, including one in the forehead.