Thirteen Years at the Russian Court Thirteen Years at the Russian Court Thirteen Years at the Russian Court

Death of Rasputin - Pierre Gilliard - Thirteen Years at the Russian Court

DECEMBER, 1916

The political atmosphere became more and more heavy, and could feel the approach of the storm. Discontent had become so general that in spite of the censorship the Press began to speak about it. Party feeling ran ever higher, and there was only one point on which opinion was unanimous - the necessity of putting an end to the omnipotence of Rasputin.

Everyone regarded him as the evil counsellor of the Court and held him responsible for all the disasters from which the country was suffering. He was accused of every form of vice and debauchery and denounced as a vile and loathsome creature of fantastic habits, and capable of baseness and ignominy of every kind. To many he was an emanation of the devil himself, the anti-Christ whose dreaded coming was to be the signal for the worst calamities. The Tsar had resisted the influence of Rasputin for a long time. At the beginning he had tolerated him because he dare not weaken the Tsarina's faith in him - a faith which kept her alive. He did not like to send him away, for if Aleksey Nicolaievich had died, in the eyes of the mother he would have been the murderer of his own son. Yet he had maintained a cautious .reserve, and had only gradually been won over to the views of his wife. Many attempts had been made to enlighten him as to the true character of Rasputin and secure his dismissal. His confidence had been shaken, but the Tsar had never yet been convinced.

GILLIARD NOTE: It really seems that a perverse fate intervened to protect Rasputin. One day the Tsar was given a document in which the excesses of the staretz were set forth highly circumstantially. In reading it the Tsar observed that on the day and hour at which one of the acts mentioned in the document were alleged to have taken place Rasputin had actually been at Tsarskoe-Selo. Nothing more was required to convince the Tsar that the whole report was simply a tissue of lies.

On November 6th we left Tsarskoe-Selo, and after a short stay at Mohilev we left on the 9th for Kiev, where the Tsar was to visit the Dowager Empress. He stayed two days in the company of his mother and some of his relations, who did their best to show him how serious the situation was and persuade him to remedy it by energetic measures. The Tsar was greatly influenced by the advice which was given him. He had never seemed to me so worried before. He was usually very self-controlled, but on this occasion he showed himself nervous and irritable, and once or twice he spoke roughly to Aleksey Nicolaievich.

We returned to G.H.Q. on the 12th, and a few days later Sturmer fell, to the unconcealed relief of everyone. The Tsar entrusted the office of President of the Council to A. Trepov, who was known as an advocate of moderate and sane reforms. Hope revived. Unfortunately the intrigues continued. The Germans flattered themselves that these were only the prelude to grave troubles and redoubled their efforts, sowing the seeds of doubt and suspicion everywhere and trying to compromise the Court beyond repair in the eyes of the nation.

Trepov had asked the Tsar to dismiss the Minister of the Interior, Protopopov, whose utter inefficiency and the fact that he was a disciple of Rasputin had made him bitterly unpopular. The President of the Council f elt that he would never be able to do anything useful so long as that Minister remained at his post, for all the politicians of any standing proclaimed their helplessness and were refusing to accept responsibility.

The courageous initiative of patriots such as Sazonov, Arivoshin, Samarin, Ignatiev, and A. Trepov - to mention but a few was not supported as it might have been. If the intelligent masses of the nation had grouped themselves round them the growing peril could have been averted and in quite legal fashion. But these men did not receive the support they were entitled to expect. Criticism and the intrigues and rivalries of individuals and parties prevented that unity which one could have saved the situation.

If unity had been realised it would have represented a power such as would have paralysed the evil influence of Rasputin and his adherents. Unfortunately those who did realise it were the exception. The majority kept out of a disagreeable con flict, and by retiring from the field left it free to adventurers And the apostles of intrigue. They made no effort to lighten the burden of the men who realised the danger and had under taken to save the Tsar, in spite of himself, and to support the tottering regime until the end of the war.

The Tsar had originally acquiesced in Trepov's suggestion, but under the influence of the Tsarina he had changed his mind and remained irresolute, not knowing what to decide. He had been deceived so often that he did not know in whom he could have confidence. He felt himself alone and deserted by all. He had spent himself without reflection since he had assumed the Supreme Command, but the burden he had taken upon his was too heavy and beyond his strength. He realised the fact himself. Hence his weakness towards the Tsarina and the fact that he tended more and more to yield to her will. Yet many of the decisions he had taken in 1915 and his visit to the Duma in February, 1916, show that till then, at any rate, he could resist her when he was sure that it was for the good of the country. It was only in the autumn of 1916 that he succumbed to her influence, and then only because he was worn out by the strain of his double functions as Tsar and Commander-in-Chief, and in his increasing isolation he did not know what to do to escape a situation which was getting worse from day to day. If he had received better support at that time from the moderate parties, who can say that he would not have found the strength to continue his resistance!

The Tsarina herself sincerely believed - on the strength of Rasputin's word - that Protopopov was the man who could save Russia. He was kept in office, and Trepov, realising his impotence, lost no time in resigning his post.

We returned to Tsarskoe-Selo on December 8th. The situation was becoming more strained every day. Rasputin knew that the storm of hatred was gathering against him, and dare not leave the little flat he occupied in Petrograd. Exasperation with him had reached fever-heat, and the country was waiting for deliverance and fervently hoping that someone would remove the man who was considered the evil genius of Russia. But Rasputin was well guarded. He had the protection of the Imperial police, who watched over his house night and day. He had also the protection of the Revolutionary Socialists, who realised that he was working for them.

I do not think that Rasputin was an agent-in the usual sense of the word-in Germany's pay, but he was certainly a formidable weapon in the hands of the German General staff, which was vitally interested in the prolongation of the life of so valuable an ally and had surrounded him with spies who were also guards. The Germans had found him a splendid weapon for compromising the Court, and had made great use of him.

Many attempts had been made, even by the Tsarina's greatest friends at Court, to open her eyes to the true character of Rasputin. They had all collapsed against the blind faith she had in him. But in this tragic hour the Grand-Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna (the Grand-Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna had founded a small religious community, of which she was the Superior, at Moscow. She lived there retired from the world, devoting all her time to prayer and good works) wished to make one last effort to save her sister. She came from Moscow, intending to spend a few days at Tsarskoe-Selo with the relations she loved so dearly. She was nine years older than her sister, and felt an almost maternal tenderness for her. It was at her house, it will be remembered, that the young princess had stayed on her first visit to Russia. It was she who had helped Alexandra Feodorovna with wise advice and surrounded her with every attention when she started her reign. She had often tried to open her sister's eyes before, but in vain. Yet this time she hoped that God would give her the powers of persuasion which had hitherto failed her, and enable her to avert the terrible catastrophe she felt was imminent.

As soon as she arrived at Tsarskoe-Selo she spoke to the Tsarina, trying with all the love she bore her to convince her of her blindness, and pleading with her to listen to her warnings for the sake of her family and her country.

The Tsarina's confidence was not to be shaken. She realised the feelings which had impelled her sister to take this step, but she was terribly grieved to find her accepting the lying stories of those who desired to ruin the staretz, and she asked her never to mention the subject again. As the Grand-Duchess persisted, the Tsarina broke off the conversation. The interview was then objectless.

A few hours later the Grand-Duchess left for Moscow, death in her heart. The Tsarina and her daughters accompanied her to the station. The two sisters took leave of each other. The tender affection which had associated them since their childhood was still intact, but they realised that there was a broken something lying between them.(I had all these details from the lips of Mile. Schneider, reader to the Tsarina, who had once been in the household of the Grand-Duchess Elizabeth, who had always remained very fond of her)

They were never to see each other again.

On December 18th we left for Mohilev again. The situation there had taken a turn for the worse. The news of the capture of Bucharest had just come in to depress everyone's spirits. It seemed to justify the most gloomy forebodings. Rumania appeared to be lost.

We were all oppressed and uneasy, a prey to that vague anxiety which men experience at the approach of some danger or catastrophe. The muttering of the gathering storm could be heard.

Suddenly the news of Rasputin's death fell like a thunderbolt. It was December 31st, and the same day we left for Tsarskoe-Selo.

GILLIARD NOTE: The circumstances of Rasputin's death are to be found in the newspapers of the time. I will briefly recapitulate them here. His death was the result of a plot in which some of the participants were the Grand-Duke Dimitri Pavlovich, first cousin of the Tsar, Prince Yussoupov, whose wife was the niece of Nicholas II, M. Purichkevich, a monarchist deputy in the Duma, and Dr. Lazarevsky, who accompanied him. The Grand-Duke wished to show by his presence that it was not a case of an act of rebellion against the Tsar, but merely the execution of a miscreant whom the nation had judged and found guilty of abusing the confidence of his sovereign.

Rasputin was killed on the night of December 30th. Prince Yussoupov had gone to fetch him in his car very late in the evening, and brought him to his house. They first tried to poison him, but as the poison was slow in taking effect, Prince Yussoupov and the deputy killed him with revolvers. His corpse was thrown into the Neva and was picked up two days later.

I shall never forget what I felt when I saw the Tsarina again. Her agonised features betrayed, in spite of all her efforts, how terribly she was suffering. Her grief was inconsolable. Her idol had been shattered. He who alone could save her son had been slain, Now that he had gone, any misfortune, any catastrophe, was possible. The period of waiting began - that dreadful waiting for the disaster which there was no escaping...

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