When the Tsar is away, the Monk will play

Russian WW1 propaganda poster. Top reads “Great European War.” Bottom is too small to read. Something about a great Russian hero fighting.

At the outbreak of the Great War, Russia had the world’s largest army at almost one and a half million soldiers. With reserves activated and fully mobilized, this number expanded to five million. At first, the Russians made large, quick gains by striking first into East Prussia (modern day Kaliningrad Oblast) and Galicia. By the end of 1914, Russia controlled almost all of this territory. The Russians would push the Austrians back and hand them a crushing defeat at Przemyśl. 1914 was a good year for the Russian military, but it wouldn’t last.

“Siege of Przemyśl.” August von Meissl. 1914. Watercolor and gouache on paper.

Russia, a year after the start of the war, had received huge losses (to the tune of over 500,000 casualties). Tsar Nicholas II, in an effort to boost morale took direct control of the armed forces. He left his wife, Alexandra to run the country in his stead. Maybe things would’ve run smoothly if she actually ran the empire, but instead a strange man named Rasputin (or as some of the nobility liked to call him: the Mad Monk) had an unhealthy amount of influence over the Tsaritsa.

One of the reasons Rasputin had sway over Alexandra was that her son, and only male heir, Alexei suffered from hemophilia which prevented his blood from clotting. At this point Rasputin had already built a reputation with the royal family, and was invited by Alexandra to have a look at the boy. While little Alexei showed no signs of improvement under the care of doctors, Rasputin used his magical and holy powers. The following day the child showed great improvement. In actuality, one of the things that Rasputin did was insist that doctors stop giving Alexei aspirin, which thinned the blood as a side effect.

Staring right into your soul. Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin.

Before World War I began, Rasputin advised Tsar Nicholas II not to get involved, claiming that he had a vision that a war would mean the end of the Romanovs as well as Imperial Russia. However, when the Tsar made the decision to go to the front, both Alexandra and Rasputin praised his choice (although Alexandra probably was influenced by Rasputin, and Rasputin knew he would have even more influence if Nicholas was not in Russia).

It seemed that everyone else in positions of political power wanted Nicholas to stay because they also knew that Rasputin would have even more sway. Because the last word rested with Alexandra, Rasputin was untouchable. Many members of the Duma were forced out or left, disgusted. Because Alexei’s illness was kept from the public, rumors that Rasputin was sleeping with the Tsaritsa had made their way to the general public and the monarchy was seen as a joke without credibility.

Many felt that Rasputin was hijacking the Russian monarchy and did much to destroy the legitimacy of the royal rule. With bickering between the crown and the Duma, both of their political power cracked under pressure from a failing war on foreign soil and popular protests at home. Members of the Russian nobility had assassinated Rasputin to end his influence, but perhaps because of him the government of Russia was weakened to the point that its end was inevitable.

Rasputin was killed just as easily as the next person, but wild rumors followed him in death just as they did in life.

Additional Reading:

Gilliard, Pierre, and F A. Holt. Thirteen Years at the Russian Court: (a Personal Record of the Last Years and Death of the Czar Nicholas Ii. and His Family). London: Hutchinson & Co, 1921. Print.

Pares, Bernard. The Fall of the Russian Monarchy: A Study of the Evidence. London: Cape, 1939. Print.

The Murder of Rasputin


I like the images and cartoons you chose, as well as the context of Rasputin in the the grand scheme of his involvement with the royal family and the effects of political influence.

A. Nelson

I agree that the images you chose for this are excellent, and I love the pronunciation cue for Przymsl! I hope everyone gets a chance to check out some of the resources on the Alexander Palace site – it is so rich! I can’t get all of the text on the bottom of the first poster, but the gist is: The Great Russian Knight (bogatyr)slays the German hydra. Look for a similar poster featuring Trotsky slaying the hydra of counter-revolution in the DHR 1917 module.


Thumbs up to this post. Rasputin is just one of those bizarre characters in the chapters of history. I don’t know how Tsar Nicholas never asked Rasputin how he had so much time to advise him on how to run the Russian Empire. Wasn’t he already a little busy being a monk and supposedly caring for his son?


This was a fun read. I enjoyed the pictures and the captions. Rasputin seems like one of those guys that just leave you scratching your head wondering how they did what they did.


I really liked the detail about Rasputin. Did you come across any sources that portrayed Rasputin in a better light? I know that there is a lot of material that has him being the bad guy in most of the stories, but i was just curious.