I’m entirely swept up in Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie. From his perspective as the parent of a child with hemophilia, he is able to fathom the soul of the empress Alexandra.
I didn’t know beans about hemophilia before, and I didn’t think I wanted to. I thought that if you got a little cut you might bleed to death. That’s not it at all. Surface cuts are easily bandaged. It’s the inernal bleeding, causing massive swelling, expecially in the joints, that causes excruciating pain for the child for days and even weeks.
Alexandra had sat with her child for eleven days while he cried out in agony and begged her to make the pain stop. Think about that. Eleven days. Then a telegram from Rasputin arrives saying “The little one will not die,” and the tsarevich goes into a deep sleep and awakes the next morning without pain.
Rasputin had stopped the bleeding before by speaking to the tsarevich, because he had told him bedtime stories for years, and he clearly had very strong hypnotic powers.
Massie points out that there is a dentist in Phildelphia who performs tooth extractions for hemophiliacs without excessive bleeding using hypnosis, and the guy figured this out by reading about Rasputin.
But how could Rasputin effect a cure with a telegram?
Well, Massey points out, if Alexandra, the mother, gained hope through the telegram, the child might easily gain some psychological reassurance from the change in her manner. We’ll never know. Some ascribe Rasputin’s successes to dumb luck, but they are too many to dismiss.
He also showed up at a hospital and appeared to save the life of the empress’ only friend, Anna Vyrubova, after a catastrophic train wreck.
It’s no wonder Alexandra believed him to be a man of God. But he was actually an utter and complete degenerate with voracious appetites for sex and booze. So people, one by one, approached the tsar or the tsarina to tell them about Rasputin. That he had orgies, that he tried to rape a nun, and countless other true accusations.
The Metropolitan of St. Petersburg, something like the Archbishop of Canterbury, for example, talks to the tsar and tsarina about, not rumors, but reports confirmed many times over. He gets sacked and sent to a monastery in the Crimea.
The police keep detailed reports of Rasputin’s doings, which are read, for a fee, by the public, so everybody knows he meets every Wednesday with the chief German agent in Russia during WWI.
Finally the chief of police tells the tsar that Rasputin has exposed himself in a downtown restaurant and bragged that he was doing the empress. Everyone thinks Rasputin has gone too far, but no. The police chief is sacked.
Alexandra, who knows for certain that Rasputin is a man of God, knows these reports are lies and makes Nicholas reject every cabinet minister who doesn’t please Rasputin. This means anyone decent or competent minister gets sacked — a lot like the Bush administration.
Rasputin actually wangles the appointment of a Minister of the Interior who gives him four cars that are faster than all the cop cars, so he can avoid surveillance in his midnight romps.
And the secretary of this same Minister of the Interior gets caught blackmailing a bank, all this when Russia is suffering catastrophic losses at the front and people are starving, not from lack of food, but from lack of transport.
Soldiers are deserting from the army for the simple reason that they are running out of ammunition. Others are sent to the front without weapons and told to wait and grab a rifle from someone killed or wounded.
If a minister didn’t like “Our Friend,” as Alexandra called him, he was sacked and a tsarist hack was put in his place. And Nicholas, though he cuts a sad, heroic figure, was a nitwit who sometimes showed a tiny amount of independent spirit but ultimately complied with Alexandra’s demands, all of which came from Rasputin.
His own mother, the dowager empress Marie, tells him he has to get rid of Rasputin, but he’s too dense.
Nicholas even cancels a Russian offensive that might have been decisive purely on the orders of Rasputin, transmitted in the horribly boring letters of Alexandra.
Then Rasputin writes a letter to the imperial couple saying that he knows he is going to be killed and if he’s killed by a regular anarchist assassin, fine, they’ll be ok. If, however, he is killed by relatives of the tsar, as in fact he was, then they and all their family will be dead within two years, which they were. Makes ya wonder, don’t it? What is God up to?
Having met, through Massey’s scholarship, the grand duchesses Olga, Marie, Tatiana and Anastasia, and the tsarevich Alexis, I am greatly saddened by their slaughter. They were charming, happy children. They never did anything to deserve it.
But as for Nicholas and Alexandra, I think it’s a lot like the Archduke Maximillian who was executed in Mexico. You have to remember the Prime Directive and let evolution take its course.
A funny footnote: The revolutionaries always thought that both the empress Alexandra and Anna Vyrubova were Rasputin’s mistresses and fully aware of his well publicized debaucheries. Anna had a little house near the Alexander Palace and was often the go-between between the empress and the “Holy Man.”
During her trial Anna Vyrubova asked for a medical examination to exonerate her from this charge, and she got it. She was proved to be a virgin. A medieval exoneration in an age of secular revolution.