Felix was the second of two sons born to Princess Zinaida Yussupova and her husband Count Elston-Sumarokoff. His brother, Nicholas, was five years older. By Imperial degree, Count Elston was permitted to assume the famous name of Yussupov on marriage to Zinaida. Otherwise, the family name would have gone extinct.
The Yussupovs were of ancient Tatar origin. In the late 16th century, during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, they joined Russia and converted to Orthodoxy. This enabled them to participate in the conquest of Siberia on the victorious side. They acquired vast amounts of land, rich with minerals and fur, which they rapidly exploited. These efforts soon made them among the wealthiest and most influential families in Russia. Yussupov estates dotted the Russian landscape from the Crimea to Moscow and St. Petersburg, and the splendor of their palaces rivalled even the Tsar's in scale and the sumptuousness of their decoration. In the capital the Yussupov's had three palaces, including a sprawling building on the Moika Canal, which was the family's primary residence in the capital.
Zinaida, Felix' mother, was a great beauty. Her son inherited her stunning looks, even as a toddler, with big, dark blue eyes, and delicate Byzantine features. She was proud of his beauty and quietly savored the favorable comments of family and friends on his appearance, which she knew came from her.
Family life was important to Felix' mother. She loved being a parent and spoiled her two boys badly, while her husband was, in contrast, distant and stand-offish around his sons. While many other aristocratic families tried to give their children 'normal' childhoods, limiting - as far as possible - their early exposure to the luxury and potential corruption of enormous wealth, Zinaida did not. Her boys were reared in plush and gorgeous surroundings, which were considered very chic and opulent - even by the standards of Imperial Russia. Zinaida was admired in society for her taste and elegance. Her palace interiors were laid out by the best decorators following her personal direction regarding overall style. The atmosphere of her apartments had more than a tinge of old Muscovy; bowls filled with enormous jewels for the simple pleasure of running one's fingers through added to the palatable sensuality of Zinaida's rooms.
This was not the best place to raise children. Even though she knew of the danger, Zinaida wanted her boys near her and found it hard to deny them anything they wanted. As a result they became poorly disciplined kids with bad attitudes. Only their father had the inclination to reign them in, but he was often absent and, as a result, they pretty much ran free in the palace. Servants, tutors, trainers, lackeys were at the boys beck and call. No one could say no to them, since they knew their mistress wouldn't back them up in a dispute with the boys. Felix and Nicholas quickly came to understand the power of their position and what privilege meant from a practical standpoint - they could do virtually anything they wanted, when they wanted to do it. This early lesson in life had a bad effect on their personalities. Nicholas was extremely conceited and haughty. He was initiated to loose living at a very early age, eventually being killed in a duel over a woman.
Felix enjoyed dressing up in his mother's clothes and going out to restaurants and clubs in St. Petersburg. As a teenager he looked stunning in women's attire and officers of the Imperial Guard made passes at him, but this kind of adventure was risky business and seemed bound to get him in trouble eventually. The danger excited and intrigued Felix and he was egged on in this behavior by his brother and his girl friend, Polia. Felix' face was fairly well known, he had a famous portrait of him done by Serov which was widely admired and reproduced in magazines, and his mother's clothes and famous jewels also widely recognized in society. It seemed certain that one day, sooner rather than later, someone would tell his parents what he was up to. There is a story, one that Felix loved to spread, that none other than grey-bearded Edward VII of England tried to make the acquaintance of a certain beautiful, mysterious woman, which was Felix in masquerade.
One night Felix was at a famous St. Petersburg club. He was corseted in one of his mothers finest evening gowns, adorned in her famous jewels and furs. During the evening a long stand of priceless pearls suddenly broke and the gems shot out, hitting the floor with a rattle and rolling about the room. Although after a frantic hunt by Felix and his friends most of the pearls were recovered, some were missed, left behind in dark corners of the room. Later, they were recovered by the proprietor of the club, who knew the identity of his careless guest. The next day the incident came to the attention of his parents when the missing pearls were returned. Felix was in deep trouble; everything came out about his cross-dressing expeditions. His father angrily put his foot down about this behavior. Henceforth, Felix was to be a made into a real 'man' and the feminine tendencies of his character were to be driven out by any means. Ex-military men where hired to accomplish the job. For a while things were pretty tough for Felix, but the new rules imposed by his father were gradually eroded and Felix returned to his old ways.
His education was continued abroad, in England, where Felix lived in a large London flat painted black with lavender carpeting. He became a center of fashionable society, enjoying a carefree life of parties, balls and theatre.
On return to Russia he fell in love with Irina, Ksenia (Nicholas' sister) and Alexander Romanov's lovely, only daughter. Everyone was surprised by this development and were baffled at why Irina would agree to marry a man of Felix' 'nature', which was assumed to have involved intimacy with men. There was considerable opposition to the marriage, Irina's father Alexander was horrified at the idea, but the couple won over their skeptics. Perhaps, many hoped, the marriage would encourage Felix to settle down and his interest in Irina 'proved' the stories about his sexual life were exaggerated or just rumors. Besides, he was a great catch from a financial standpoint. One day Felix would inherit the Yussupov family fortune and the couple could expect never to have to want for anything. The ultimate seal of approval on the match was the agreement of Zinaida and the Empress Aleksandra (they were, at the time, close friends) on the idea of marriage. Zinaida was probably relieved to find a wife for her adored son and made her case for the alliance to Aleksandra, who had been urging Felix to find a wife for some time. Both women were thrilled with the idea of a 'love' match between two sensitive souls. The Emperor and Irina's father gave their blessing.
Felix was a frequent visitor to Aleksandra's Mauve Boudoir and she considered him one of her proteges. He in return criticized her taste in interior decor, art and clothes behind her back. She gave him advice and attempted to develop his spiritual side. Felix, the master manipulator, lead Aleksandra to believe that he heeded her advice and appreciated her spiritual guidance. He was genuinely responsive to the influence of Elizabeth, Aleksandra's saintly sister, who also took him under her wing.
Felix and Irina had one daughter and lived in his parents palace on the Moika in the area he and his brother had occupied. They lived an charmed life until the outbreak of WWI, which put a damper on the whirl of high-society life in St. Petersburg
The story of Felix' involvement in the assassination of Rasputin is well known from Felix' own account of the murder. Over a period of time Felix ingratiated himself with Rasputin, who was constantly pursuing contacts among the Tsar's family and wealthy Russian society. Felix claims he allowed himself to me mesmerized by Rasputin on at least one occasion. There is considerable mystery about the relationship between Rasputin and Felix. Since Felix was the only one to live to tell the tale it is his account that has survived.
Although Felix claimed he participated in the murder of Rasputin - which happened in the basement of the Moika palace on a dark, cold mid-December night in 1916 - out of political considerations and to 'save' Russia, his real motives remain elusive. Felix had never shown any interest in politics or the country, so this claim of his is questionable. It seems that there may have been some scandal Rasputin intended to take to Aleksandra involving Felix. Perhaps it involved Nicholas' first cousin and ward, Dmitri Pavlovich Romanov. Nicholas and Aleksandra were concerned about Felix' bad influence on Dmitri, although they never explained what their concern was specifically. Felix intimates an intense relationship with Dmitri in his memoirs, without illuminating the full extent of their attachment. It seems obvious something was being concealed.
Dmitri and Felix teamed up with a sympathetic, conservative Duma deputy, Purishkevitch to murder Rasputin. Felix lured him to his palace with the promise of an introduction to his wife. Arriving at the door to Felix and Irina's apartments, Felix received Rasputin and then led him downstairs via a small, winding staircase which stopped at a dark basement chamber with a big stone pillar in the middle. What happened then is not clear. Felix claims they tried to poison Rasputin with rose cream cakes laced with cyanide and Madeira spiked with the same. Due to his 'superhuman' strength he was not knocked out by the poison, reviving on a bearskin rug, learing at Felix while slobbering "I will tell the Empress". The conspirators then grabbed a revolver and finished Rasputin off in the courtyard of the palace. Dragging the body to a remote canal they dumped it through a hole in the ice hoping it would drift away with the current.
Some experts doubt this story; not the fact they killed Rasputin, but the details seem overly melodramatic; intended to further the idea that Rasputin was a 'mad monk', with powerful dark powers. Felix and Dmitri were exiled by the Emperor for their deed. This probably saved Dmitri's life, since he was far from the center of the revolution and survived to become a champagne salesman in the USA. His son is now the mayor of a town in Florida. On the other hand, Felix was something of a hero after the revolution. This didn't last long. He and Irina fled to the Crimea with their families. Luckily Felix was able to return to St. Petersburg and grab some valuables from one of his palaces. He later sold two Rembrants, which are now in the National Gallery in Washington, D.C.. The money he received from the sale, plus a hefty settlement from MGM for libel in the 1930's (Felix found his depiction in the movie "Rasputin and the Empress" libelous), kept Felix and Irina in reasonable comfort until their deaths in 1967 and 1970 respectively.
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