Memories Of The Russian Court

The Murder of Rasputin

Two days after the return of the Empress from her visit to Novgorod, in the earliest hours of December 17 (December 31, Western Calendar) was struck the first blow of the "bloodless" Russian Revolution, the assassination of Rasputin. On the afternoon of December 16 (December 30) I was sent by the Empress on an errand, entirely non-political, to Rasputin's lodgings. I went, as always, reluctantly, because I knew the evil construction which would be placed on my errand by any of the conspirators who happened to see me. Yet, as in duty bound, I went. I stayed the shortest possible time, but in that brief interval I heard Rasputin say that he expected to pay a late evening visit to the Yussupov Palace to meet Grand Duchess Irene, wife of Prince Felix Yussupov. Although I knew that Felix had often visited Rasputin it struck me as odd that he should go to their house for the first time at such an unseemly hour. But to my question Rasputin replied that Felix did not wish his parents to know of his visit. As I was leaving the place Rasputin said a strange thing to me. "What more do you want?" he asked in a low voice. "Already you have received all." All that his prayers could give me? Did he mean that?

That evening in the Empress's boudoir I mentioned this proposed midnight visit, and the Empress said in some surprise: "But there must be some mistake. Irene is in the Crimea, and neither of the older Yussupovs are in town." Once again she repeated thoughtfully: "There is surely a mistake," and then we began to talk of other things. The next morning soon after breakfast I was called on the telephone by one of the daughters of Rasputin, both of whom were being educated in St. Petersburg. In some anxiety the young girl told me that her father had gone out the night before in the Yussupov motor car and had not returned. I was startled, of course, and even a little frightened, but I did not then guess the real significance of her news. When I reached the palace I gave the message to the Empress, who listened with a grave face but with little comment. A few minutes later there came a telephone call from Protopopov in St. Petersburg. The police, he said, had reported to him that some time after the last midnight a patrolman standing near the entrance of the Yussupov Palace had been startled by the report of a pistol. Ringing the doorbell, he was met by a Duma member named Purishkevich who appeared to be in an advanced stage of intoxication. In answer to the policeman's inquiry as to whether there was trouble in the house the drunken Purishkevich said in a jocular tone that it was nothing, nothing at all, only they had just killed Rasputin. The policeman, probably a none too intelligent specimen, took it as a casual joke of one of the high-born. They were always joking about Rasputin. The man moved on, but somewhat later he decided that he ought to report the matter to headquarters, which he did, but even then his superiors appear to have been too incredulous to act at once.

Protopopov's message, however, so disquieted the Empress that she asked me to summon another of her trusted friends, Mme. Dehn, whose name I have mentioned before. Mme. Dehn came and we talked over the mystery together, but still without conviction that Purishkevich's reckless statement contained any real truth. Later in the day, however, came a telephone message from Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, asking to be allowed to take tea with the Empress that afternoon at five. The message was conveyed to the Empress, who, pale and reflective, answered formally that she did not care just then to receive his Highness. Dmitri took the reply in bad grace, insisting that he must see the Empress as he had something special to tell her. Again the Empress refused, this time even more curtly. Almost immediately afterwards, almost as if the two men were in the same room, there came a telephone message from Felix Yussupov asking if I would see him at tea, or later in the day if I so preferred. I answered that the Empress did not wish me to receive any visitors that day, whereupon Felix de. manded an audience with the Empress that he might give her a true account of what had occurred. Her Majesty's reply was: "If Felix has anything to say let him write to me." Several times before the day ended telephone messages came from Felix to me, but none of these would the Empress allow me to answer.

Felix finally wrote a letter to the Empress. I cannot quote this letter verbatim, but I remember exactly its contents. By the honor of his house Prince Felix Yussupov swore to his Sovereign Empress that the rumor of Rasputin is visit to his home was without any foundation whatever. He had indeed seen Rasputin in the interests of Irene's health, but he had never decoyed the man to his palace, as charged. There had been a party there, on the night in question, just a few friends, including Dmitri, to celebrate the opening of Felix's new apartments. All, he confessed, became drunk, and some foolish and reckless things were said and done. By chance, on leaving the house, one of the guests had shot a dog in the courtyard. That was absolutely all. This letter was not answered, but was turned over to the Minister of Justice.

Thoroughly aroused, the Empress now ordered Protopopov to make an investigation of the whole affair. She called into council also Minister of War Belaiev, a good man, afterwards murdered by the Bolsheviki. The police, at their commands, went to the deserted Yussupov palace, first searching for and finding the body of the dog which Felix said they had shot. But the bullet hole in the dog's head had let out little blood, and when the men entered the palace they found it a veritable shambles of blood and disorder. Evidences of a terrific struggle were found in the downstairs study of Prince Felix, on the stairs leading to an upper room, and in the room itself. Then, indeed, the whole power of the police was invoked, and somebody was found to testify that in the dead of night a motor car without any lights was seen leaving the Yussupov Palace and disappearing in the direction of the Neva. Winter nights in Russia are very dark, as everyone knows, and the car was soon swallowed up in the shadows. The river was next searched, and by a hole in the ice, not far from Krestovsky Island, the police found a man's galosh. By Protopopov's orders divers immediately searched the hole in the ice, and from it was soon dragged the frozen body of Rasputin. Arms and legs were tightly bound with cords, but the unfortu nate man had managed to work loose his right hand which was frozen in a last attempt to make the sign of the cross. The body was taken to the Chesma Hospital, where an autopsy was performed. Although there were bullet holes in the back and innumerable cuts and wounds all over the body, the lungs were full of water, proving that they had thrown him alive into the icy river, and that death had occurred by drowning.

As soon as the news became public all St. Petersburg burst into a wild orgy of rejoicing. The "beast" was slain, the "evil genius" had disappeared never to return. There was no limit to the wild hysteria of the hour. In the midst of these demonstrations came a telephone message from Protopopov asking the Empress's advice as to an immediate burial place for the murdered man. Ultimately the body would be sent to his Siberian village, but in the present circumstances the Minister of the Interior thought a postponement of this advisable. The Empress agreed, and she replied that a temporary interment might be arranged at Tsarskoe Selo. On December 29 (January 12) the coffin, accompanied by a kind-hearted sister of mercy, arrived at Tsarskoe. That same day the Emperor came home from the front, and in the presence of the Imperial Family and myself the briefest of services were held. On the dead man's breast had been laid an ikon from Novgorod, signed on the reverse by the Empress and her daughters as a last token of respect. The coffin was not even buried in consecrated ground, but in a corner of the palace park, and as it was being lowered a few prayers were said by Father Alexander, priest of the Imperial chapel. This is a true account of the burial of Rasputin, about which so many fantastic tales have been embroidered.

The horror and shock caused by this lynching, for it can be called by no other name, completely shattered the nerves of the family. The Emperor was affected less by the deed itself than by the fact that it was the work of members of his own family. "Before all Russia," he exclaimed, "I am filled with shame that the hands of my kinsmen are stained with the blood of a simple peasant." Before this he had often shown disgust at the excesses of the Grand Dukes and their followers, but now he expressed himself as being entirely through with them all.

But Yussupov and the others were by no means through with the Rasputin affair. Now that they had murdered and were applauded for the deed by all society, it seemed to them that they were in a position to claim full legal immunity. Grand Duke Alexander Mikhailovich, the Emperor's brother-in-law, went to Dobrovolsky, Minister of justice, and with a good deal of swagger told him that it was the will of the family-that is, of the Grand Dukes-that the whole matter should be quietly dropped. The next day, December 21 (January 5), Alexander Mikhailovich drove with his oldest son to Tsarskoe Selo and, without the slightest assumption of deference or respect, entered the Emperor's study, demanding, in the name of the family, that no further investigation of the manner of Rasputin's death be made. In a voice that could easily be heard in the corridor outside the Grand Duke shouted that should the Emperor refuse this demand the throne itself would fall. The Emperor's answer to this insolence was an order of banishment to their estates of Nicholas Mikhailovich, Felix, and Dmitri. At this the wrath of the Grand Dukes knew no bounds., A letter blazing with anger and impudence, signed by the whole family, was rushed to the Emperor, but his only comment was a single sentence written on the margin: "Nobody has a right to commit murder." Following this came a cringing letter from Dmitri who, like Felix, tried to lie himself out of all complicity in the crime. On his sacred honor, he declared he had nothing to do with it. If the Emperor would only consent to see him he promised to establish his innocence. But the Emperor would not consent to see Dmitri. Pale and stern he moved through the rooms or sat so darkly plunged in thought that none of us ventured to disturb or even to speak to him. Into this troubled atmosphere a letter was brought to the Emperor by the Minister of the Interior, who had a right to seize suspicious mail matter. It was a letter written by the Princess Yussupov to the Grand Duchess Xenia, sister of the Tsar and mother of Felix Yussupov's wife. It was a most indiscreet letter to be sent at such a time, for it was a clear admission of the guilt of all the plotters. Although as a mother (she wrote) she felt deeply her son's position, she congratulated the Grand Duchess Xenia on her husband's conduct in the affair.Sandro, she said, had saved the whole situation, evidently meaning that his demand for immunity for all concerned would have to be granted. She was only sorry that the principals had not been able to bring their enterprise to its desired end. However, there remained only the task of confining Her. Before the affair was finally concluded, she feared, they might send Nicholas Nickolaievich and Stana to their estates. How stupid to have sent away Nicholas Mikhailovich!

This was by no means the end of letters and telegrams seized by the police and brought to the palace. Many were written by relatives and close friends, people of the highest rank, and they all revealed a depth of callousness and treachery undreamed of before by the unhappy Sovereigns. When the Empress read these communications and realized that her nearest and dearest connections were in the ranks of her enemies, her head sank on her breast, her eyes grew dark with sorrow, and her whole countenance seemed to wither and grow old. A few days later the Grand Duchess Elizabeth sent her sister several sacred ikons from the shrine of Saratov. The Empress, without even looking at them, ordered them sent back to the convent of the Grand Duchess in Moscow.

I should add that from the day of the assassination of Rasputin my mail was full of anonymous letters threatening me with death. The Empress, perhaps more than any of us, instinctively aware of the endless ramifications of the Rasputin affair, commanded me in terms that admitted of no argument to leave my home and take up residence in the palace. Sad as I was to leave the peace of my little home, I had no alternative than to obey, and with my maid I moved into two rooms in the Grand Ducal wing of the palace, occupied also by maids of honor and reached by the fourth large entrance to the palace. From that day, by command of their Majesties, every movement of mine was closely guarded. The soldier Jouk was assigned to my service and without him I never left the palace even to visit my hospital. When in the February following my only brother was married I was not allowed to attend the wedding.

Little by little, in spite of fears, the palace took on a certain air of tranquillity. In the evenings we sat in the mauve boudoir of the Empress; and as of old, the Emperor read aloud. At Christmas their Majesties saw that the customary trees and gifts were sent to the hospitals and that the usual presents were distributed to the servants. The children too had their Christmas celebration, but over us all hung a cloud of sorrow and of disillusionment. Never had the Emperor and Empress of Russia, rulers of nearly two hundred million souls, seemed so lonely or so helpless. Deserted and betrayed by their relatives, calumniated by men who, in the eyes of the outside world, seemed to represent the Russian people, they had no one left except a few faithful friends, and the Emperor's chosen ministers every one of whom was under the ban of popular obloquy. Most of them were accused of being the appointees of Rasputin, but this at least I am in a position to deny.

Sturmer, Minister of the Interior, and afterwards Prime Minister, was, according to Witte, recommended to the Tsar after the assassination of Pleve. The well-known fact that Sturmer was head of the nobility in the Government of Tver, that he was possessed of enormous estates, and that he had held several important positions at Court, ought to be sufficient proof that he needed no help from Rasputin or any other man. Sturmer was an old man, not brilliant perhaps, but certainly a man of high principles. He was arrested by the Provisional Government, and in the fortress suffered such frightful hardships that he died within a day after the Government, unable to fasten on him the slightest guilt, released him from prison. The Social Revolutionary Sokolov, a just man, if wrong. headed, has declared publicly that had any Constitutional Assembly been held in Russia, the responsibility of Sturmer's death would have been laid upon Millukov personally.

As for Protopopov, he was appointed by the Emperor mainly on his record as a confidential agent of the Duma, and as a personal representative of Rodzianko, President of the Fourth Duma. After Protopopov's return from an important foreign mission on behalf of the Duma he was presented to the Emperor at G. H. Q., and in a letter to the Empress a few days later, he expressed himself as delighted with the man. The appointment was made in one of those moments of impulse characteristic of Nicholas II, yet it must have been the result of some reflection, as it was the Emperor's expressed desire at this time to name a Minister of the Interior who could work in harmony with the Duma. Protopopov, who, aside from his relations with Rodzianko, had for many years been a delegate from his own Zemstvo to the Union of Zemstvos, naturally appealed to the Emperor as an ideal popular candidate. No one could have been more astonished than he when, almost immediately after his appointment, Rodzianko and almost the entire majority party in the Duma joined in a clamor for Protopopov's removal. The only charge I ever heard against him was that his mind had suddenly failed. Protopopov, who was a man of high breeding, was nevertheless exceedingly nervous, and I always thought, somewhat weak willed. He was not the infirm old man he has generally been represented, being about sixty-four years of age with white hair and mustache and young, bright black eyes. That he had plenty of physical and moral courage was proved by his conduct after the Revolution. Walking to the door of the council chamber of the Duma he announced himself thus: "I am Protopopov. Arrest me if you like." He was arrested by orders of Rodzianko, but was released later, only to meet death by the bullets of the Bolsheviki. That Protopopov was on friendly terms with Rasputin is true, but that Rasputin had anything to do with his appointment, or with his retention in office after the attack by the Duma, is simply absurd.

Maklakov, Minister of the Interior before Protopopov, was a former governor of Chernigov. The Emperor met him in the course of a journey to the famous fete of Poltava, a jubilee of the wars of Peter the Great. The acquaintance was made in the leisure of a boat trip, and the Emperor, in another of his fits of impulsiveness, decided that he had found an ideal Minister of the Interior. Their friendship deepened with time, and the Emperor found great satisfaction in his new minister's reports, which he declared reflected his own point of view. Nothing against the administration of Maklakov was ever even whispered until late in 1914, when Nicholas Nickolaievich, as supreme commander of the Russian forces in the field, suddenly demanded his demission. Grand Duke Nicholas, it must be said, continually interfered with the affairs of the interior government, with which as military chief he had nothing whatever to do, but in the early days of the War the Emperor seemed to think it the part of wisdom to suffer this irregularity. Reluctantly he yielded to the request for Maklakov's demission, saying to him with genuine regret: "They demand it, and at such a time I cannot stand against them."

In the place of Maklakov was named Tcherbatkov, a friend and protege of Nicholas Nickolaievich, a man whose former office had been head of the remount department of the State. Doubtless he knew a great deal about horses, but of the interior affairs of State he knew so little that even the influence of Grand Duke Nicholas was powerless to retain him in office longer than two months.

Tcherbatkov was followed by Khvostov who, pre. vious to his appointment, was an entire stranger to Rasputin. Khvostov had made a record as governor of Nizhni Novgorod, and afterwards as a vigorous anti-German orator in the Duma. He was also supposed to be a devoted friend of the Imperial Family. Soon after his appointment Khvostov began sedulously to cultivate the friendship of Rasputin, and it is a matter of police record that this Minister of the Interior frequently played on Rasputin's unfortunate weakness for drink. Possibly he thought that by getting the poor man intoxicated he could worm from him the many Court secrets he was supposed to possess. Failing in this Khvostov began, with the help of Chief of Police Belezky, a plot against Rasputin which nearly succeeded in the latter's assassination. This being discovered the dernission of Khvostov became imperative.

Sukhomlinov, who when I knew him was an old man of seventy-five, was a former military governor of Kiev, and before his appointment as Minister of War, had been a great favorite of the Emperor. That he showed brilliant ability in the mobilization of the Russian Army in 1914 was admitted by the Allied Governments, and in fact no intrigue against him developed until some time after the beginning of the War. His principal enemies were Grand Duke Nicholas, General Polivanov, and the notorious Gutchkov. In my opinion their propaganda against him was instigated solely with the object of impairing the prestige of the Emperor. The crimes laid at the door of Sukhomlinov were almost countless. He was accused of withholding ammunition from the armies, of harboring German spies in his house, and in general of being completely incapable of performing his duties of office. Of him the English historian Wilton says that time alone will prove whether the odium of the Russian war scandals rested on Sukhomlinov or on Grand Duke Nicholas. At all events it was poor old Sukhomlinov who was arrested, tried before a tribunal of the Provisional Government, and sentenced to life imprisonment. His young wife, who was arrested with him, occupied a cell next to mine in the Fortress of Peter and Paul, and without regard to the charges brought against her, I had reason constantly to admire the courage and self-possession with which she bore the hardships of prison life. So great was her dignity and self-command that she became universally respected by the soldiers, and I am confident that this alone saved us both from far worse indignities than those which we were called upon to bear. In prison Mme. Sukhomlinov managed to keep herself constantly occupied. She wrote and read whenever writing materials and books were procurable, and her clever fingers fashioned out of scraps of the miserable prison bread really beautiful sprays of flowers. For coloring matter she used the paint from a moldering blue stripe on the walls of her cell, and scraps of red paper in which tea was wrapped. After months of imprisonment, bravely endured, Mme. Sukhomlinova was brought to trial before a court of the Provisional Government. Her examination was of the most searching character, but at its dose she left the courtroom fully acquitted, to the applause of the numerous spectators. Taking advantage of an amnesty pronounced some time later Mme. Sukhomlinova got her aged husband released from prison and saw him safely to Finland. It is rather an anticlimax to the story that after so many trials borne together the marriage of the Sukhomlinovs was dissolved, Mme. Sukhomlinova marrying a young Georgian officer with whom she later perished under the Bolshevist terror.

One more person of whom I can speak with knowledge was, although not a minister, falsely alleged to be an appointee of Rasputin. This was the Metropolitan Pitirim, a man of impeccable honesty and very liberal views regarding Church administration. The Emperor met him in late 1914 on one of his visits to the Caucasus, Pitirim then being Exarch of Georgia. Not only the Emperor but his entire suite were en. chanted by the charming manners, the piety, and learning of the Exarch, and when, a little later, the Empress met the Emperor at Veronesh, he told her that he had Pitirim in mind for Metropolitan of St. Petersburg. Almost immediately after his appointment the propagandists began to connect his elevation with the Rasputin influence, but the truth is that the two men were never at any time on terms of more than formal acquaintanceship. As for their Majesties, they liked and respected Pitirim but he never was an intimate member of their household. Practically all their conversations which I overheard concerned the state of the Church in Georgia, which Pitirim insisted was lower than in other parts of the Empire. The Church of Georgia, Pitirim alleged, received too little support from the State, although it deserved as -much if not more than others, because Georgian Christianity is the oldest in all Russia. According to tradition this Church was established by the Holy Virgin herself who, after a shipwreck off Mount Athos, visited Georgia, converted its chiefs and established the first Christian temple. Pitirim was essentially a churchman, yet he always advocated a certain separation of Church and State. That is, he desired the establishment of a parish system whereby the support of the Church should be the responsibility of the people rather than of the Imperial Government. Unworldly to the last degree, he nevertheless came in for his full share of slander and abuse. After my arrest by the Provisional Government my mother visited Kerensky in my behalf, and was astounded when he brutally told her that one of the charges against me was that all my diamonds were gifts from Pitirim, the inference being that we were on unduly intimate terms. Another high personage to whom I wish to pay the tribute of just appreciation is Count Fredericks, chief minister of the Court. This honorable gentleman had spent almost his entire life in the service of the Imperial Family, having first been attached to the person of Alexander III. Nicholas II and his f amily he served with ability, discretion, and rare devotion. In virtue of his office he had to deal personally with the affairs of the Grand Dukes, their complicated financial transactions, their morganatic marriages, and other con. fidential affairs. Everyone, except those of the Grand Dukes who with reason had earned his contempt, loved this charming man whom their Majesties usually spoke of as "our old man." Count Fredericks, in his turn, always called them "mes enfants." His house was to me for many years a second home, his daughters, the elder Mme. Voyeikov, and the younger one, Emma, being among my dearest friends. Emma, who suffered a painful curvature of the spine, had the compensation of a rarely beautiful singing voice with which she often charmed the Emperor and Empress. Count Fredericks was arrested by the Provisional Government, but owing to his great age, was afterwards released.

The charge has often been brought against Nicholas II that he surrounded himself with inferior men. The fact of the case is that in the beginning of his reign he chose as his chief advisers men of ability and integrity who had been friends of his father, Alexander III. Later he chose men who in his opinion were the best ones available, and it must be admitted that there were few men of first-class ability among whom he could choose. The events of the War and the Revolution prove this, for neither of these two terrible emergencies produced in Russia a single man of conspicuous merit. Not one real leader appeared then nor in the years which have since elapsed. Truly has a distinguished American writer pointed out that never could Bolshevism and its insane philosophy have taken such strong roots in Russia, had not the soil been previously so well prepared. Every Russian who really loved his country must admit the truth of this statement. Too many exiled Russians, however, still cling to the delusion that some outside influence was the cause of their country's downfall. Let them acknowledge the truth that it was Russians themselves, especially Russians of the privileged classes, who principally are responsible for the catastrophe. For years before the Revolution the national spirit was in a state of decline. Few men or women cherished ideals of duty for duty's sake. Patriotism was practically extinct. Family life was weakened, and in the last days, the morale of the whole people was lower than in almost any other country of the civilized world.

May the blood of the thousands of innocents who have perished in War and Revolution wipe out the sins of the old hard-hearted and decadent Russia. May the millions still living, in exile and under Communist oppression, learn that only by repentance and by toleration of others' weaknesses can there be any possibility of a restoration of national life. Not by any outside help but by our own efforts, by loyal Russians coming together, not as political groups but as compatriots, can great Russia rise again out of her shame and desolation and become once more a nation among the nations of the earth.

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Tsar Nicholas II

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