Today – December 30 – in the year 1916 in Saint Petersburg, Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, known as ‘The Mad Monk’ was assassinated. (It was December 17 in Russia which was still using the Old Style – Julien – calendar, which was two weeks behind the new – Gregorian – calendar used in the West.) The […]


Today – December 30 – in the year 1916 in Saint Petersburg, Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, known as ‘The Mad Monk’ was assassinated. (It was December 17 in Russia which was still using the Old Style – Julien – calendar, which was two weeks behind the new – Gregorian – calendar used in the West.)

The story of Rasputin’s murder that we’ve come to know and believe was that he was assassinated by Prince Felix Yusupov husband of Tsar Nicholas 2’s niece, and that he had done so with the assistance of another prince, the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, cousin of the Tsar.

Prince Felix Yusupov

That story continued that Rasputin just would not die. His killers had fed him poisoned cakes and wine which did not affect him, next they’d shot him, and believing him dead, they had thrown his body into the frozen Neva, yet he was still alive, and had finally drowned.

Not so!

With the breaking up of the Soviet Union and researchers, historians and biographers being given access to the long-forbidden Soviet archives, the truth of Rasputin’s death has been revealed.

Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, born in Siberia in 1869, had died aged 47, shot dead by an Englishman stationed in Russia with the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) later to have become MI6.

His name: Lieutenant Oswald Rayner. Born in 1888 in Staffordshire, he was 28 years old on the day he killed Rasputin. He had fired a bullet from a Webley revolver right between Rasputin’s eyes – and killed him.

Oswald Rayner

Rayner was a friend of Felix Yusupov, the two having met as students at Oxford: Rayner was studying languages, and at the outbreak of WW1, fluent in Russian, he was recruited by SIS and stationed in Russia. Russia, our – the British and her dominions and colonies, and the French and her colonies, and North America – ally, in fighting the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Rayner had later become a journalist, working as The Daily Telegraph’s correspondent in Finland. He died in 1961 in England after he had translated Prince Yusupov’s memoirs from French to English.

The assassination had been carried out in Prince Yusupov’s palace bordering the Moika River in Saint Petersburg.

Present were not only the prince and Rayner but so too another SIS officer, Captain Stephen Alley, who was born in Moscow in 1876 as his father, an engineer, was at the time of his birth, working on the building of railways in Tsarist Russia.


Alley, in his unpublished memoirs which researches have had access to, he claimed that SIS had recalled him to England in 1918 because he had refused to assassinate Stalin. If I may say, Stalin was not prominent in 1918! He lived until 1969.

Rayner and Alley’s boss was Englishman, Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Hoare, born in 1880, then head of SIS in Saint Petersburg.

A third SIS man was also involved with Rasputin’s assassination. He was Englishman Captain John Scale, born in 1881, and he was part of the organisation of the murder. Promoted later to lieutenant-colonel, he died in England in 1949.

As for Sir Samuel Hoare, he had become Foreign Secretary in 1935, and next, First Lord of the Admiralty, and as British Ambassador to Spain during WW2, he had to deal with the very delicate situation of the pro-Hitler Duke and Duchess of Windsor waiting in Spain to leave for the Bahamas.  Hoare would be raised to the peerage as Lord Templewood. He died in 1959. (At a dinner party given by the Duke of Windsor, then already King Edward V111, Sir Samuel Hoare, as First Lord of the Admiralty, was placed to sit to Wallace Simpson’s right, she then still only the King’s lover, and he would later remember her ‘sparkling jewels’ and her ‘sparkling talk’. He considered her very attractive and intelligent, very American with little or no knowledge of English life.

Sir Samuel Hoare, Lord Templewood

But why, if there were Russians present in and at Prince Yusupov’s palace, was it an Englishman who shot him dead?

The reason: the Russians were a bungling lot who just could not do it.

In the first place, the poison they had fed Rasputin was either old and no longer lethal, or they had been fooled by the man who had given it to them and it was not poison at all but a powder.

And secondly, in a panic when Rasputin did not keel over, poisoned to death, they threw themselves on him and began beating him, but being stronger than all of them together, he succeeded in running from the palace and out across a snow-covered courtyard, when they fired at him, but too scared to run after him, they fired at him from a closed window – and they missed.

It was then, that the Englishman came running from the palace, drew his army-issue Webley pistol and fired at close range into Rasputin’s forehead. And down went Rasputin, dead.

Prince Felix Yusupov, afterwards, when living in exile in Paris, claiming all the glory for Rasputin’s assassination, was at that moment being sick in the bathroom. He had felt faint all through the attack, and finally, he had collapsed vomiting.

The Prince lies buried in the Russian cemetery (le cimetière russe) in the town of Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, 19 miles (31 kms) south of Paris. Having been exiled to the Crimea by Tsar Nicholas for his role in the death of Rasputin, he had fled Russia at the start of the 1917 Revolution and had settled in Paris with his beautiful wife Princess Irina – she was apparently the most beautiful woman in all of Russia – and here he died in 1967, aged 80. Irina lies buried with him.

If you want to see his grave, you take the RER C fast train in central Paris and which heads for Dourdan station.  You descend at the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois station. The ride will take about 20 minutes. When you exit at Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois you will find yourself on a square where several buses will pull up. You need to take Bus Number 104. Tell the driver you want to go to the Russian cemetery. If you can speak French, it is ‘le cimetière russe’.  That is all you have to say and the driver will understand. In fact, the driver (and the other passengers) will recognise you as a foreigner and a visitor to the cemetery, and all will assist you by pointing out the stop where you would have to descend.

If you want to read a thorough report of Rasputin’s assassination, I highly recommend Andrew Cook’s book To Kill RASPUTIN, published in 2006. It is great read – so very very interesting.

Andew Cook’s book, To Kill Rasputin.

Here follow two pictures: (1) The entrance of the Russian Cemetery, (2) Prince Felix Yusupov’s grave in the cemetery.

Russian Cemetery entrance (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

The grave of Felix and Irina Yusupov (cc Marilyn Z. Tomlins)

Marilyn Z. Tomlins