Grigori Rasputin, also known as the Mad Monk, remains one of the 20th century’s most enigmatic and fascinating figures: it’s hardly surprising a song was written about him. Boney M’s Rasputin was released in 1978 and topped charts in Germany, Austria and Australia, and ending up as no. 2 in the UK. In spring 2021, it re-entered the UK charts at no. 18 in the form of a remix with Majestic. But what do Boney M get wrong and right in their lyrics? Was Rasputin really the ‘lover of the Russia queen’? Did he ‘heal her son’?
There lived a certain man in Russia long ago
He was big and strong, in his eyes a flaming glow
Most people looked at him with terror and with fear
But to Moscow chicks he was such a lovely dear
He could preach the Bible like a preacher
Full of ecstasy and fire
But he also was the kind of teacher
Women would desire
Rasputin was certainly striking: at 1.93m (6″3) tall, he was much taller than the average Russian, and accounts frequently reference his piercing stare and almost hypnotic eyes. He was known to be charismatic, and despite his humble origins and poor personal hygiene, he managed to gain quite a following amongst aristocratic Russian women.
Mysticism was increasingly popular as an idea, and Rasputin’s reputation as a healer made him noticed by the Tsarina, who was desperate to find a cure for her son, the Tsarevich Alexei, who was a haemophiliac.
Ra ra Rasputin
Lover of the Russian queen
There is absolutely no evidence beyond popular gossip that Rasputin had any kind of sexual relationship with the Tsarina, Alexandra. The royal couple were, by all accounts, devoted to each other, and Alexandra’s fanaticism surrounding Rasputin stemmed from his calming influence, supposed healing powers and presentation as a holy man. Alexandra’s bloodline was the one with the haemophiliac gene, and she professed immense guilt for unwittingly passing the condition to her son.
He ruled the Russian land and never mind the Czar
But the kazachok he danced really wunderbar
In all affairs of state he was the man to please
But he was real great when he had a girl to squeeze
For the queen he was no wheeler dealer
Though she’d heard the things he’d done
She believed he was a holy healer
Who would heal her son
Rasputin’s influence grew rapidly as the Russian royal family depended more and more on his help. No one quite understands how Rasputin worked his ‘magic’, but he did seem to have a positive influence during Alexei’s episodes. Various hypotheses have been put forward, including that he hypnotised Alexei, simply allowed him to rest and heal rather than trying to ‘cure’ him, or that his presence calmed Alexandra and the reduction of stress in the situation also helped stop the bleeding.
At this point, the royal family were desperate to keep Alexei’s condition a secret from the wider world, making Rasputin’s rise at court all the more inexplicable. Despite his promiscuity and the controversy he caused, Rasputin only seemed to become more of a fixture within the Romanov court: in Alexandra’s eyes, he could do no wrong. Rumours swirled in the press that he had had inappropriate sexual relations with two of the Tsar’s princesses and several of his followers.
The more the press and public criticised Rasputin, the more the royal family defended him. In letters, the Tsarina described him as a ‘saint’ and the Tsar claimed he knew the ‘tittle-tattle’ to all be false.
But when his drinking and lusting
And his hunger for power
Became known to more and more people
The demands to do something
About this outrageous man
Became louder and louder
In 1914, Russia entered the First World War, and just over a year later, the Tsar took personal command of his troops, leaving the relative safety of St Petersburg for Russia’s western front. Without the Tsar at court, Rasputin’s power grew further, with many accusing him of effectively running government, putting his supporters in important roles and using his influence for financial gain.
Slanderous cartoons and leaflets were distributed alleging Rasputin and Alexandra were conspiring with Kaiser Wilhelm against Russia, and drawings of the Tsar and Tsarina in Rasputin’s tight grip were circulated.
“This man’s just got to go”, declared his enemies
But the ladies begged, “Don’t you try to do it, please”
No doubt this Rasputin had lots of hidden charms
Though he was a brute, they just fell into his arms
Then one night some men of higher standing
Set a trap, they’re not to blame
“Come to visit us”, they kept demanding
And he really came
Noble families at court began to see Rasputin’s influence as a growing threat, and in 1916, a small group of nobles decided something must be done to stop Rasputin from supposedly driving Russia further into the ground. With the Tsar and Tsarina firmly under his spell, refusing to believe that he could do any wrong.
They put some poison into his wine
He drank it all and said, “I feel fine”
They didn’t quit, they wanted his head
And so they shot him ’til he was dead
Oh, those Russians
Prince Yusupov invited Rasputin to his home, the Moika Palace on the bank of the Neva river. The only account of Rasputin’s death comes from the Prince himself, who said that they first fed Rasputin cakes and Madeira wine laced with Madeira wine, both of which had no apparent effect on him.
Yusupov then went upstairs and returned with a revolver, shooting Rasputin in the chest. This still didn’t kill him: he attacked Yusupov and tried to get away. He was shot at least once more before his body was dropped into the frozen River Neva in the early hours of 30 December 1916. The more gory versions of the story say that ice was found under his fingernails as though he was trying to claw his way out.
Later claims from Rasputin’s daughter cast doubt on Yusupov’s version of events – it since seems likely that Yusupov wanted to paint himself as a hero, vanquishing an almost superhuman evil in the form of Rasputin. Yusupov was banished to the Crimea almost immediately by the Tsar.
The legends surrounding Rasputin lived on long after his death. For contemporaries, he represented all that was corrupt and wrong with Russian autocracy – his brutal death perhaps serving as a premonition of what could and would be done when the Romanovs refused to listen to public opinion and read the mood of the people.