So one of our readers asked us this question the other day: What did Rasputin actually want? What was his endgame?

I’ve been reading a bit about Rasputin and everything I’ve found covers the things that he did and how the aristocracy and the rest of Russia reacted to it. But I can’t seem to find anything on WHY he did it – did he have a scheme of some sorts to gain power and influence or did he just want to be famous and have as much sex as he possibly could? Or did he consider himself a holy man doing Gods work? Evil genius or just lucking out befriending powerful people?

ANSWER

Reports are very conflicted. The police staked him out on at least one occasion, but the Empress Alexandra didn’t want to hear of anything bad said about him. Nicholas seemed to go along with her wishes. After some accounts of ribaldry reached the palace, Rasputin begged the empress for forgiveness, saying that he was a sinful, imperfect man. The empress seemed to accept his apology.

Rasputin was originally sent for when the Empress, desperate to have her son Alexei healed from his illness, allowed the starets (mystical man of God) to treat her son.

Overjoyed by Rasputin’s apparent healing of the tsarverich, the weak little boy on whom the dynasty relied upon, Alexandra showered him with gifts. He began wearing a silk blouse, had a personal secretary, and was given a car. He also began making policy suggestions to Alexandra, who was filling in for Nicholas while he was away at the front, like some kind of ancient tsar-warrior leading his troops. In real life he could do little – he had only ever obtained the rank of colonel in the army.

So was Rasputin a true, yet flawed holy man or a mere charlatan? This would depend on who you ask. Most historians do not, of course, view him positively. Few would doubt that the tsarervich did seem to get better after Rasputin saw him. (Rasputin had said that the boy should not be disturbed by doctors. Coincidentally or not, we now know that sufferers of hemophilia, young Alexei’s condition, are sometimes best left alone).

According to Prince Felix Yusopov, a close relation to the tsar and possible the richest man in tsar Russia, Rasputin had once told him, boasting of his influence on the empress: “I’ll have you made a minister if you like” or words to that effect. However, Yusupov, who together with other nobles went on to murder Rasputin, was known for embellishing the truth, to put it mildly.

Rasputin is such a fascinating historical figure in part because his true motives will likely be forever inscrutable, and thus endlessly debated. Was he…

  • A true believer, motivated by sincere belief but undone by his human nature?
  • A shyster who manipulated his way into a position of power by exploiting the vulnerable royal family?
  • A deviant who simply desired a sexual relationship with the Czarina?
  • An insane person who just happened to be in the right place at the right time, such that his particular insanity was enabled by the circumstances?

Perhaps we’ll never truly know.

(Source: Nicholas and Alexandra, by Robert K. Massie)

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Last Update: September 1, 2016

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