The Death of the Mad Monk
Felix had crossed paths with Rasputin on several occasions, none of which he seemed to enjoy. He referred to Rasputin a “that beggar” and “that dirty man”, and spoke disparagingly of him to several friends and correspondents. He was, however, careful to exercise caution in who he shared this opinion with, as he knew that Rasputin was regarded with an almost religious awe by the Czarina and her family. Rasputin was rumored to have healed Aleksy, the Czar’s hemophiliac son, by a simple laying on of hands when the child had suffered a terrible bleeding episode. After that, Rasputin could do no wrong in the eyes of the Royal Family, and to speak ill of him was to risk the wrath of the Czar.
Felix Yussupov claimed his murder of Rasputin was done out of political considerations and loyalty to Russia, but his real motives are elusive. Certainly, Felix had never shown any interest previous to this in politics or his country, and murder seems rather an extreme way to express this newly formed interest. His claim in questionable especially when seen in light of of the numerous mentions of a ‘scandal’ involving Felix that Rasputin was threatening to take to the Czarina. This scandal apparently involved Czar Nicholas’ young first cousin and ward, Dmitri Pavlovich Romanov. Nicholas and Czarina Aleksandra were concerned about Felix’s ‘bad influence’ on Dmitri, although they never expressed in writing what their specific concerns were.
Felix himself intimates an intense relationship with Dmitri in his memoir, without illuminating the full extent of their attachment. It seems obvious something was being concealed, and Felix mentioned to several friends that he was worried “Rasputin means to malign me to the Czar”.
Felix’s involvement in the death of Rasputin is well known from his own accounts of the murder – albeit in several different versions. In brief, Felix, the young ward Dmitri and a sympathetic Royal guard all conspired to lure Rasputin to Felix’s palatial home on the Moika. Arriving at the door to the apartments of Felix and his wife Irina, Rasputin was escorted downstairs into the family’s private chambers. What happened next is not clear.
Felix claimed they tried to poison Rasputin with rose cream cakes and Madeira laced with cyanide. Due to his reported ‘superhuman strength’, Rasputin was not knocked unconscious by the poison, but rather revived on a bear skin rug, where he ‘leered’ at Felix and screamed “I shall tell the Empress”. The panicked conspirators then grabbed a revolver and shot Rasputin in the courtyard of the palace. Dragging his body to a remote canal, they dumped it through a hole in the ice, and prayed it would drift away on the current.
Some experts are skeptical that the events took place in the melodramatic manner recounted. The details seem inflated to create the idea that Rasputin was a ‘mad monk’, a man imbued with powerful, dark, evil powers which he was exercising over the Royal family.
Most recently, a story has arisen that asserts Yussupov wasn’t actually even the one who murdered Rasputin. A headlining story in the Telegraph UK Newspaper asserts that it was Oswald Rayner, a member of the British Secret Intelligence Bureau who was working at the Russian court in St Petersburg, who fired the shot that finished Rasputin off.
A French Bulldog Fancier in Exile
Whatever the truth of the circumstances leading to the death of Rasputin, Felix and Dmitri were sentenced by the Czar to exile for their part in it, a punishment that possibly saved the life of Dmitri, since it placed him far from the revolution that killed most of the Russian Royal family.
With the murder of Rasputin, Prince Felix became a minor hero to the Russian populace. Fame, however, didn’t last long with the coming of the revolution. When popular opinion turned, and the Czar and his family were put to death, Felix and his wife fled to the Crimea with their families. Ever resourceful, Felix managed to retrieve a few valuables from one of his palaces before his final flight to exile. Felix later sold two Rembrandts to help fund his new life. The paintings now hang in the National Gallery in Washington, DC.
Felix eventually settled into a life of exile in Paris, where he and wife Irina established “Irfe” – a haute couture and perfume line. A model for the house of Irfe describes Felix as “dressed like a Khan” in middle Eastern splendour, his “French Bull at his side”. She also mentioned Felix never hesitated to try on a dress himself, in order to show the models “how it should best be worn”.
Felix continued to own and love French Bulldogs, as he himself mentioned in his memoir, “Lost Splendour” –
“I have always been an admirer of style, and no pet could be as stylish and smart as a French Bulldog”.
While in Paris, Felix and his wife Irina became friends with the exiled Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Like many expatriate friends of the Windsors, Felix owned several Pugs, but he never lost his particular fondness for French Bulldogs – and for the name Gugusse, a moniker he gave to four of his Frenchies. There is speculation that Felix and Irina, like many fashionable people in their circle, dabbled in breeding French Bulldogs, but no concrete proof of this exists outside of this brief line in a letter Irina wrote to a friend:
We have thought that the puppies would be most splendid if we did breed our French Bull girl, for she is a wonderful example of her kind. If we do, I should be happy to send one of the puppies to you.
In his memoir, Felix said that he hoped to “never be without (a French Bulldog)”, a goal he seems to have achieved.
Christopher Dobson writes of the death of Felix in his book “Prince Felix Yusupov – The man who murdered Rasputin“:
“He died …. on 27 September 1967 at the age of 80. He had been in great pain for a long time but he never complained.
Eventually he fell into a coma and his family and household, including Gugusse IV, gathered around his bedside. “
Prince Felix Yussupov is buried in the Russian expatriate cemetery in Ste. Genevieve-les-Blois, near Paris.
King, Greg, The Man Who Killed Rasputin; Carol Publishing Group, 1995
Dobson, Christopher, Felix Yusupov – the Man Who Killed Rasputin; ,
Valkenier, Elizabeth, Valentin Serov – Portraits of Russia’s Silver Age; Northwestern University Press, 2001
Yusupov, Felix, Lost Splendour – The Amazing Memoirs of the Man Who Killed Rasputin; Helen Marx Books, 2007
Secrets of an Exiled Prince, Moscow Times, April 11-17, 2008
British spy ‘fired the shot that finished off Rasputin’, Telegraph UK, September 19 2004
Alexander Palace Time Machine and the Alexander Palace Forum (photo credits in particular)