Like so many of Europe’s inter-married royal families, the Russian Romanovs had a history of hemophilia. The imperial heir to the throne, the Tsarevich Alexei, suffered from this disease which caused endless hemorrhaging when the blood failed to clot. In 1915, Tsar Nicholas went to the front to take command of Russia’s armies, leaving the Tsarina at home to fret over her son. In her despair, the Tsarina Alexandra turned to a mystic Siberian monk and con-man named Grigori Rasputin, who claimed to be a faith healer that could save her son.
Somehow or another, when Rasputin came he seemed to halt the young Tsarevich’s bleeding. The Tsarina, who had become increasingly distraught, now felt strongly attached to Rasputin, an in the absence of her husband she consulted the monk more and more for help running the government. Rasputin’s influence was poisonous and widely detested throughout Russian society. Rasputin constantly influenced Alexandra to clamp down on any governmental reform that would loosen Russia’s autocracy, and under his influence the Russian Duma went through a revolving-door of Prime Ministers. Liberals blamed Rasputin for letting the Tsar keep up his disastrous policies, and monarchists worried that he would destroy the royal family. What shocked Russians the most was the rumors that spread widely naming Rasputin and the Tsarina as illicit lovers.
Determined that Rasputin must die, a group of nobles invited him to Prince Yusopov’s palace on the night of December 30, 1916. Yusopov was the Tsar’s nieces’ husband, and while he made conversation with Rasputin he slipped cyanide into the mystic’s wine. Amazingly, it seemed to have no effect. Yusopov, unbelieving, took a revolver and shot Rasputin in the chest. When a doctor came, the monk woke up and hobbled up the stairs, leaving through a window into a courtyard. The nobles pursued and one of them, a right-wing politician named Vladimir Purishkevich, put a bullet through his spine.
The killers dumped the body into Petrograd’s icy river, but they covered their tracks poorly. The police soon discovered the body (allegedly, Rasputin was only died after drowning and freezing in the river), and the Tsar knew who to blame. The Empress ordered an investigation and arrested Yusopov and his accomplices. They went to house arrest or exile believing they had done enough to save the Russian royal family – little could they foresee that Russia would be consumed by revolution two months later.