November 01, 2016


“Ra-ra- rasputin, lover of the Russian queen” went the refrain of a song by the group Boney M., Jamaican-born singers who were all the rage in my youth. This song reflected the popular allure of rumors about the depravity that gripped the final years of the House of Romanov, including that Tsaritsa Alexandra had been involved in illicit relations with a Siberian peasant, Grishka Rasputin, who was later killed by members of the Russian nobility. “Oh, those Russians!” as the song concludes.

The problem is that Alexandra was not Rasputin’s lover and did not participate in the wild orgies that her friend and lady-in-waiting, Anna Vyrubova, supposedly described in her diary. That “diary,” which was gleefully published and read in Soviet Russia in the 1920s, was most likely the work of two talented cynics, Alexei Nikolayevich Tolstoy (aka the “Comrade Count,” «красный граф» in Russian) and the renowned Pushkin scholar, Pavel Yeliseyevich Shchegolev.

Who was Rasputin? Why has his name become synonymous with the idea that the Russian monarchy was doomed? That is the real mystery.

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