The Empress Alexandra found the jubilee celebrations a strain. She dragged herself with difficulty to all the public functions, but often left early with obvious signs of distress. At the magnificent ball given by the Moscow nobility she felt so ill that she could scarcely keep her feet. When the Emperor came to her rescue, it was just in time to lead her away and prevent her from fainting in public. During the gala performance at the Marinsky Theatre she appeared pale and sombre. Sitting in the adjacent box, Meriel Buchanan, the British Ambassador's daughter, observed how the fan she was holding trembled in her hands, and how her laboured breathing:
made the diamonds which covered the bodice of her gown rise and fall, flashing and trembling with a thousand uneasy sparks of light. Presently, it seemed that this emotion or distress mastered her completely, and with a few whispered words to the Emperor she rose and withdrew to the back of the box, to be no more seen that evening. A little wave of resentment rippled over the theatre.24
The fact was that the Empress had not appeared in public on more than a dozen occasions during the previous decade. Since the birth of her haemophiliac son, the Tsarevich Alexis, in 1904, she had secluded herself at the Alexander Palace at Tsarskoe Selo and other imperial residences away from the capital. It had been hoped that she would use the opportunity of the tercentenary to improve her public image. Having turned her back on society, she had come to be seen as cold and arrogant, while her dependence on the 'holy man' Rasputin had long been a matter of political concern because of his growing domination of the court. Yet shortly before the jubilee the illness of her son had taken a turn for the worse, and this was constantly on her mind during the celebrations. To make matters worse, Tatyana, her second daughter, had fallen ill with typhoid after drinking the infected water of the capital.
Alexandra did her best to conceal her inner anguish from the public. But she lacked the heart to go out and win their sympathy.
Alexandra was a stranger to Russia when she became its Empress. Since the eighteenth century, it had become the custom for Romanov rulers to marry foreign princesses. By the end of the nineteenth, inter-marriage had made the Romanovs an integral part of the family of European crowned heads. Their opponents liked to call them the 'Gottorp-Holstein' dynasty, which in genealogical terms was not far from the truth. Most statesmen shared the view that the balance of power in Europe would be secured by these dynastic ties. So there was reason to welcome the engagement in April 1894 of the Tsarevich Nicholas to Princess Alexandra, or Alix for short, daughter of the Grand Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt and Princess Alice of England. It was expected that the Princess would have plenty of time to prepare herself for the role of Empress. But Alexander III died only six months later, and the 22-year-old woman suddenly found herself on the Russian throne.
Although in later years she was to be cursed by her subjects as 'the German woman', Alexandra was in fact in many ways the quintessential English woman. After the death of her mother, in 1878, she had been brought up in England by her grandmother, Queen Victoria, whose strict morals, attitudes and tastes, not to speak of her tenacity of purpose, she had assimilated. Alexandra spoke and wrote with Nicholas in English. Russian she spoke poorly, with a heavy English accent, only to servants, officials and the clergy. Her housekeeping at the Alexander Palace was austerely Victorian. Factory-produced furniture was ordered from Maples, the English middle-class department store, in preference to the fine imperial furniture which much better suited the classic Empire style of the Alexander Palace. Her four daughters shared a bedroom, sleeping on narrow camp-beds; the Empress herself was known to change the sheets. Cold baths were taken every day. It was in many ways the modest ambition of Nicholas and Alexandra to lead the lifestyle of the English middle class. They spoke the cosy domestic language of the Victorian bourgeoisie: 'Hubby' and 'Wifey' were their nicknames for each other.25 But the Empress was wrong to assume, as she did from her knowledge of the English court, that such a lifestyle, which in England was a result of the monarch's steady retreat from the domain of executive power, might be enjoyed by a Russian autocrat.
From the beginning, Alexandra gave the impression of resenting the public role which her position obliged her to play. She appeared only rarely at court and social functions and, being naturally shy, adopted a pose of reserve in her first appearances, which made her seem awkward and unsympathetic. She gained a reputation for coldness and hauteur, two very un-Russian vices. 'No one liked the Tsarina,' wrote the literary hostess Zinaida Gippius. 'Her sharp face, beautiful, but ill-tempered and depressed, with thin, tightly pressed lips, did not please; her German, angular height did not please.' Learning of her granddaughter's unpopularity, Queen Victoria wrote to her with some advice:
There is no harder craft than our craft of ruling. I have ruled for more than fifty years in my own country, which I have known since childhood, and, nevertheless, every day I think about what I need to do to retain and strengthen the love of my subjects. How much harder is your situation. You find yourself in a foreign country, a country which you do not know at all, where the customs, the way of thinking and the people themselves are completely alien to you, and nevertheless it is your first duty to win their love and respect.
Alexandra replied with an arrogance suggesting her reputation was deserved:
You are mistaken, my dear grandmama; Russia is not England. Here we do not need to earn the love of the people. The Russian people revere their Tsars as divine beings, from whom all charity and fortune derive. As far as St Petersburg society is concerned, that is something which one may wholly disregard. The opinions of those who make up this society and their mocking have no significance whatsoever.
The contents of this correspondence soon became known in St Petersburg circles, resulting in the complete breakdown of relations between the leaders of high society and the Empress. She steadily reduced her public appearances and limited her circle of friends to those from whom she could expect a slavish devotion. Here lay the roots of her paranoic insistence on dividing court and society into 'friends' and 'enemies', which was to bring the monarchy to the brink of catastrophe.26
The unpopularity of the Empress would not have mattered so much had she not taken it upon herself to play an active political role. From her letter to Queen Victoria it was clear that the mystical attractions of Byzantine despotism had taken early possession of her. Even more than her mild-mannered husband, Alexandra believed that Russia could still be ruled — and indeed had to be — as it had been ruled by the medieval tsars. She saw the country as the private fiefdom of the crown: Russia existed for the benefit of the dynasty rather than the other way round. Government ministers were the private servants of the Tsar, not public servants of the state. In her bossy way she set out to organize the state as if it was part of her personal household. She constantly urged her husband to be more forceful and to assert his autocratic will. 'Be more autocratic than Peter the Great', she would tell her husband, 'and sterner than Ivan the Terrible.' She wanted him to rule, like the medieval tsars, on the basis of his own religious convictions and without regard for the constraints of the law. 'You and Russia are one and the same,' she would tell him as she pushed him this way and that according to her own ambitions, vanities, fears and jealousies. It was the Tsarina and Rasputin who — at least so the public thought — became the real rulers of tsarist Russia during the final catastrophic years. Alexandra liked to compare herself with Catherine the Great. But in fact her role was much more reminiscent of Marie Antoinette, the last queen of ancien-regime France, whose portrait hung over her writing desk in the Alexander Palace.27
Alexandra made it her mission to give the Romanov dynasty a healthy son and heir. But she gave birth to four daughters in succession. In desperation she turned to Dr Philippe, a practitioner of 'astral medicine', who had been introduced to the imperial family in 1901 during their visit to France. He convinced her she was pregnant with a son, and she duly expanded until a medical examination revealed that it was no more than a sympathetic pregnancy. Philippe was a charlatan (he had been fined three times in France for posing as a regular practitioner) and left Russia in disgrace. But the episode had revealed the Empress's susceptibility to bogus forms of mysticism. One could have predicted this from the emotional nature of her conversion to Orthodoxy. After the cold and spartan spiritual world of north German Protestantism, she was ravished by the solemn rituals, the chanted prayers and the soulful singing of the Russian Church. With all the fervour of the newly converted, she came to believe in the power of prayer and of divine miracles. And when, in 1904, she finally gave birth to a son, she was convinced it had been due to the intercession of St Seraphim, a pious old man of the Russian countryside, who in 1903 had been somewhat irregularly canonized on the Tsar's insistence.
The Tsarevich Alexis grew up into a playful little boy. But it was soon discovered that he suffered from haemophilia, at that time incurable and in most cases fatal. The disease was hereditary in the House of Hesse (one of Alexandra's uncles, one of her brothers and three of her nephews died from it) and there was no doubt that the Empress had transmitted it. Had the Romanovs been more prudent they might have stopped Nicholas from marrying her; but then haemophilia was so common in the royal houses of Europe that it had become something of an occupational hazard. Alexandra looked upon the illness as a punishment from God and, to atone for her sin, devoted herself to religion and the duties of motherhood. Had the nature of her son's illness not been kept a secret, she might have won as a mother that measure of sympathy from the public which she so utterly failed to attract from it as an Empress. Alexandra constantly watched over the boy lest he should fall and bring on the deadly internal bleeding from which the victims of haemophilia can suffer. There was no way he could lead the life of a normal child, since the slightest accident could start the bleeding. A sailor by the name of Derevenko was appointed to go with him wherever he went and to carry him when, as was often the case, he could not walk. Alexandra consulted numerous doctors, but a cure was beyond their science. She became convinced that only a miracle could save her son, and strove to make herself worthy of God's favour by donating money to churches, performing good works and spending endless hours in prayer. 'Every time the Tsarina saw him with red cheeks, or heard his merry laugh, or watched his frolics,' recalled Pierre Gilliard, the Tsarevich's tutor, 'her heart would fill with an immense hope, and she would say: "God has heard me. He has pitied my sorrow at last." Then the disease would suddenly swoop down on the boy, stretch him once more on his bed of pain and take him to the gates of death.'28
It was her desperate need to find a miracle cure that brought Rasputin into her life and into the life of Russia. Grigorii Rasputin was born into a relatively wealthy peasant family in the village of Pokrovskoe in western Siberia. Until recently it was thought that he had been born in the early 1860s; but it is now known that he was younger than people assumed — he was in fact born in 1869. Little more is known about Rasputin's early years. A commission set up by the Provisional Government in 1917 interviewed a number of his fellow villagers, who remembered him as a dirty and unruly boy. Later he became known as a drunkard, a lecher and a horse thief, which was almost certainly how he acquired his surname, from the word rasputnyi, meaning 'dissolute'.* At some point he repented and joined a group of pilgrims on their way to the nearby monastery of Verkhoturye, where he stayed for three months before returning to Pokrovskoe, a much changed man. He had renounced alcohol and meat, learned to read and write a little, and become religious and reclusive. The main cause of his conversion seems to have been the 'holy man' or starets Makarii, a monk at the Verkhoturye Monastery, whose spiritual powers, like those of the starets Zosima in Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov, had attracted disciples from all over the region. Makarii had been received by the Tsar and the Tsarina, who were always on the lookout for Men of God among the simple folk, and it was Makarii's example that Rasputin later claimed had inspired him. There is no question of Rasputin ever having been Makarii's disciple: he had never received the formal education needed to become a monk, and indeed seemed quite incapable of it. When the post of the Tsar's confessor fell vacant in 1910, Alexandra insisted on Rasputin being trained for ordination so that he could take up the job. But it soon became clear that he was unable to read anything but the most basic parts of the Scriptures. The capacity for learning by heart, which was essential for the priesthood, proved quite beyond him (Rasputin's memory was in fact so poor that often he even forgot the names of his friends; so he gave them nicknames, such as 'Beauty' or 'Governor', which were easier to recall). In any case, it was not exactly the Orthodox faith that Rasputin brought with him from the wilds of Siberia to St Petersburg. His strange hybrid of mysticism and eroticism had more similarities with the practices of the Khlysty, an outlawed sect he would certainly have encountered at Verkhoturye, even if the frequent accusations that he was himself a member of the sect were never proved conclusively. The Khlysty believed that sin was the first step towards redemption. At their nocturnal meetings they danced naked to achieve a state of frenzy and engaged in flagellation and group sex. Indeed there was a lot in common between the views of the Khlysty and the semi-pagan beliefs of the Russian peasantry, which Rasputin's mysticism reflected. The Russian peasant believed that the sinner could be as intimate with God as the pious man; and perhaps even more intimate.29
* It was common for fellow villagers to address one another by nicknames describing their characteristics: 'Clever', 'Calf, 'Wolf, 'Heart', and so on.
At the age of twenty-eight, or so Rasputin later claimed, he saw an apparition of the Holy Mother and went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There is no record of this pilgrimage, and it is more likely that he merely joined the trail of peasant wanderers, wise men and prophets, who for centuries had walked the length and breadth of Russia living off the alms of the villagers. He developed an aura of spiritual authority and a gift for preaching which soon attracted the attention of some of Russia's leading clergymen. In 1903 he appeared for the first time in St Petersburg sponsored by the Archimandrite Theophan, Alexandra's confessor, Bishop Hermogen of Saratov, and the celebrated Father John of Kronstadt, who was also a close friend of the royal family. The Orthodox Church was looking for holy men, like Rasputin, who came from the common people, to revive its waning influence among the urban masses and increase its prestige at Nicholas's court.
It was also a time when the court and social circles of St Petersburg were steeped in alternative forms of religion. In the salons of the aristocracy and the drawing-rooms of the middle classes there was a ferment of curiosity about all forms of spiritualism and theosophy, the occult and the supernatural. Seances and ouija boards were all the rage. In part, this reflected a hedonistic quest for new forms of belief and experience. But it was also part of a more general and profound sense of moral disequilibrium, which was echoed in the works of writers such as Blok and Belyi and was symptomatic of European culture during the decade before 1914. Various holy men and spiritualists had established themselves in the palaces of Russia's great and good long before Rasputin came on to the scene. Their success cleared the way for him. He was presented at parties and soirees as a man of God, a sinner and repentant, who had been graced with extraordinary powers of clairvoyance and healing. His disgusting physical appearance merely added piquancy to his moral charms.
Dressed in a peasant blouse and baggy trousers, his greasy black hair hung down to his shoulders, his beard was encrusted with old bits of food, and his hands and body were never washed. He carried a strong body odour, which many people compared to that of a goat. But it was his eyes that caught his audience's attention. Their penetrating brilliance and hypnotic power made a lasting impression. Some people even claimed that Rasputin was able to make his pupils expand and contract at will.30
It was as a healer for their son that Rasputin was first introduced to the Tsar and the Tsarina in November 1905. From the beginning, he seemed to possess some mysterious power by which he could check the internal bleeding. He prophesied that Alexis would not die, and that the disease would disappear when he reached the age of thirteen. Alexandra persuaded herself that God had sent Rasputin in answer to her prayers, and his visits to the palace grew more frequent as she came increasingly to rely upon him. It confirmed the prejudices of both Alexandra and Nicholas that a simple Russian peasant who was close to God should be able to do what was beyond all the doctors.
In the many books on this subject there is no final word on the secret of Rasputin's gift of healing. It is widely testified that his presence had a remarkably soothing effect on both children and animals, and this might well have helped to stop Alexis's bleeding. It is also known that he had been trained in the art of hypnotism, which may have the power to effect a physical change such as the contraction of the blood vessels. Rasputin himself once confessed to his secretary, Aron Simanovich, that he sometimes used Tibetan drugs or whatever else came to hand, and that sometimes he merely pretended to use remedies or mumbled nonsensical words while he prayed. This is reminiscent of faith healing and it may be that Rasputin's most remarkable feat can be credited to such methods. In October 1912 the Tsarevich suffered a particularly bad bout of bleeding after accompanying his mother on a carriage ride near Spala, the imperial hunting estate in eastern Poland. The doctors were unable to do anything to prevent a large and painful tumour from forming in his groin, and they told the imperial family to prepare for his imminent death. It was generally thought that only a miracle, such as the spontaneous reabsorption of the tumour, could save the boy. The situation was considered so grave that medical bulletins on the condition of the patient were published for the first time in the national press, though no mention was made of the nature of his illness. Prayer services were held in churches across the land and Alexis was given the last sacraments, as he lay racked with pain. In desperation, Alexandra sent a telegram to Rasputin, who was at his home in Pokrovskoe. According to the testimony of his daughter, he said some prayers and then went to the local telegram office, where he wired the Empress: 'God has seen your tears and heard your prayers. Do not grieve. The little one will not die.' Within hours, the patient had undergone a sudden recovery: the bleeding had stopped, his temperature had fallen and the flabbergasted doctors confirmed that the danger had passed. Those who are sceptical of the power of prayer to heal through the medium of a telegraph cable may want to put this down to remarkable coincidence. But Alexandra was convinced otherwise, and after the 'Spala miracle' Rasputin's position at her court became unassailable."31
Rasputin's status at court brought him immense power and prestige. He became a maitre de requites, accepting bribes, gifts and sexual favours from those who came to him in the hope that he would use his influence on their behalf During the First World War, when his political influence was at its zenith, he developed a lucrative system of placements in the government, the Church and the Civil Service, all of which he boasted were under his control. For the hundreds of lesser mortals who queued outside his apartment every day — women begging for military exemption for their sons and husbands, people looking for somewhere to live — he would simply take a scrap of paper, put a cross on the letter head, and in his semi-literate scrawl write to some official: 'My dear and valued friend. Do this for me, Grigorii.' One such note was brought to the head of the court secretariat by a pretty young girl whom Rasputin clearly liked. 'Fix it up for her. She is all right. Grigorii.' When the official asked her what she wanted, the girl replied that she wanted to become a prima donna in the Imperial Opera.32
It has often been assumed that because he accepted bribes Rasputin was motivated by financial gain. This is not quite true. He took no pleasure in the accumulation of money, which he spent or gave away as quickly as he earned it. What excited him was power. Rasputin was the supreme egotist. He always had to be the centre of attention. He loved to boast of his connections at the court. 'I can do anything,' he often said, and from this the exaggerated rumours spread of his political omnipotence. The gifts he received from his wealthy patrons were important to him not because they were valuable but because they confirmed his personal influence. 'Look, this carpet is worth 400 roubles,' he once boasted to a friend, 'a Grand Duchess sent it to me for blessing her marriage. And do you see, I've got a golden cross? The Tsar gave it to me.' Above all, Rasputin liked the status which his position gave him and also the power it gave him, no more than a peasant, over men and women of a higher social class. He delighted in being rude to the well-born ladies who sat at his feet. He would dip his dirty finger into a dish of jam and turn to one and say, 'Humble yourself, lick it clean!' The first time he was received by Varvara Uexkull, the wealthy socialite, he attacked her for her expensive taste in art: 'What's this, little mother, pictures on the wall like a real museum? I'll bet you could feed five villages of starving people with what's hanging on a single wall.' When Uexkull introduced him to her guests, he stared intently at each woman, took her hands, and asked questions such as: 'Are you married?', 'Where is your husband?', 'Why did you come alone?', 'Had you been here together, I could have looked you over, seen how you eat and live.' He calculated that such insolence made him even more attractive to the guilt-ridden aristocrats who patronized him. Rich but dissatisfied society ladies were particularly attracted to this charismatic peasant. Many of them got a curious sexual excitement from being humiliated by him. Indeed the pleasure he gained from such sexual conquests probably had as much to do with the psychological domination of his victims as it did with the gratification of his physical desires. He told women that they could gain salvation through the annihilation of their pride, which entailed giving themselves up to him. One woman confessed that the first time she made love to him her orgasm was so violent that she fainted. Perhaps his potency as a lover also had a physical explanation. Rasputin's assassin and alleged homosexual lover, Felix Yusupov, claimed that his prowess was explained by a large wart strategically situated on his penis, which was of exceptional size. On the other hand, there is evidence to suggest that Rasputin was in fact impotent and that while he lay naked with many women, he had sex with very few of them. In short, he was a great lecher but not a great lover. When Rasputin was medically examined after being stabbed in a failed murder attempt in 1914, his genitals were found to be so small and shrivelled that the doctor wondered whether he was capable of the sexual act at all. Rasputin himself had once boasted to the monk Iliodor that he could lie with women without feeling passion because his 'penis did not function'.33
As Rasputin's power grew so did the legends of his crimes and misdemeanours. There were damaging stories of his sexual advances, some of them unwanted, including rape. Even the Tsar's sister, Olga Alexandrovna, was rumoured to have found herself the victim of his wandering hands. There were the drunken orgies, the days spent in bath-houses with prostitutes, and the nights spent carousing in resraurants and brothels. The most famous scandal took place at the Yar, a well-known gipsy restaurant, in March 1915. Rasputin had gone there with two journalists and three prostitutes. He became drunk, tried to grab the gypsy girls, and began to boast loudly of his sexual exploits with the Empress. 'See this belt?' he bellowed. 'It's her majesty's own work, I can make her do anything. Yes, I Grishka Rasputin. I could make the old girl dance like this if I wished' — and he made a gesture of the sexual act. By now, everyone was looking at Rasputin and several people asked if he really was the famous holy man. Rasputin dropped his pants and waved his penis at the spectators. The British agent, Bruce Lockhart, who was in the restaurant downstairs, heard 'wild shrieks of women, broken glass and banging doors'. The waiters rushed about, the police were called, but no one dared evict the holy man. Telephone calls to increasingly high officials finally reached the Chief of the Corps of Gendarmes, who ordered Rasputin's arrest. He was led away and imprisoned for the night. But the next morning orders came down from the Tsar for his release.34
What made these rumours so damaging politically was the widespread belief, which Rasputin himself encouraged, that he was the Tsarina's lover. There were even rumours of the Empress and Rasputin engaging in wild orgies with the Tsar and Anna Vyrubova, her lady-in-waiting, who was said to be a lesbian. Similar pornographic tales about Marie Antoinette and the 'impotent Louis' circulated on the eve of the French Revolution. There was no evidence for any of these rumours. True, there was the infamous letter from the Empress to Rasputin, leaked to the press in 1912, in which she had written: 'I kiss your hands and lay my head upon your blessed shoulders. I feel so joyful then. Then all I want is to sleep, sleep for ever on your shoulder, in your embrace.'35 But, given virtually everything else we know of the Empress, it would be a travesty to read this as a love letter. She was a loyal and devoted wife and mother who had turned to Rasputin in spiritual distress. In any case, she was probably too narrow-minded to take a lover.
Nevertheless, it was the fact that the rumours existed, rather than their truth, which caused such alarm to the Tsar's supporters. They tried to convince him of Rasputin's evil influence and to get him expelled from the court. But, although Nicholas knew of his misdemeanours, he would not remove Rasputin so long as the Empress continued to believe that he, and only he, could help their dying son. Rasputin's calming effect on the Empress was too much appreciated by her henpecked husband, who once let slip in an unguarded moment: 'Better one Rasputin than ten fits of hysterics every day.' The Archimandrite Theophan, who had helped to bring Rasputin to St Petersburg, found himself expelled from the capital in 1910 after he tried to acquaint the Empress with the scandalous nature of her Holy Man's behaviour. The monk Iliodor and Bishop Hermogen were imprisoned in remote monasteries in 1911, after confronting Rasputin with a long chronicle of his misdeeds and calling on him to repent. It was Iliodor, in revenge, who then leaked to the press the Empress's letters to Rasputin. The Tsar stopped the press printing any more stories about Rasputin, in spite of the pledge he had given in the wake of the 1905 Revolution to abolish preliminary censorship. This effectively silenced the Church, coming as it did with the appointment of Vladimir Sabler, a close ally of Rasputin's, as Procurator-General of the Holy Synod.36
Politicians were no more successful in their efforts to bring Rasputin down. They presented evidence of his sins to the Tsar, but Nicholas again refused to act. Why was he so tolerant of Rasputin? The answer surely lies in his belief that Rasputin was a simple man, a peasant, from 'the people', and that God had sent him to save the Romanov dynasty. Rasputin confirmed his prejudices and flattered his fantasies of a popular autocracy. He was a symbol of the Tsar's belief in the Byzantine trinity — God, Tsar, and People — which he thought would help him to recast the regime in the mould of seventeenth-century Muscovy. 'He is just a good, religious, simple-minded Russian,' Nicholas once said to one of his courtiers. 'When I am in trouble or plagued by doubts, I like to have a talk with him and invariably feel at peace with myself afterwards.' Rasputin consciously played on this fantasy by addressing his royal patrons in the folksy terms batiushka-Tsar and matiushka-Tsarina ('Father-Tsar' and 'Mother-Tsarina') instead of 'Your Imperial Majesty'. Nicholas believed that only simple people — people who were untainted by their connections with the political factions of St Petersburg — were capable of telling him the truth and of giving him disinterested advice. For nearly twenty years he received direct reports from Anatoly Klopov, a clerk in the Ministry of Finance. Rasputin fitted into the same category. As the embodiment of Nicholas's ideal of the loyal Russian people, he could do no wrong. Nicholas discounted the rumours about him on the grounds that anyone shown such favour at court, especially a simple peasant like Rasputin, was bound to attract jealous criticisms. Moreover, he clearly considered Rasputin a family matter and looked upon such criticisms as an infringement of his private patrimony. When the Prime Minister, Stolypin, for example, gave him a dossier of secret police reports on Rasputin's indiscretions, the Tsar made it clear that he regarded this unsolicited warning as a grave breach of etiquette: 'I know, Petr Arkadevich, that you are sincerely devoted to me. Perhaps everything you say is true. But I ask you never again to speak to me about Rasputin. There is in any case nothing I can do.' The President of the Duma got no further when he presented an even more damaging dossier based on the materials of Iliodor and the Holy Synod. Nicholas, though clearly disturbed by the evidence, told Rodzianko: 'Rasputin is a simple peasant who can relieve the sufferings of my son by a strange power. The Tsarina's reliance upon him is a matter for the family, and I will allow no one to meddle in my affairs.'37 It seems that the Tsar, in his obstinate adherence to the principles of autocracy, considered any questioning of his judgement an act of disloyalty.
And so the Rasputin affair went unresolved. More and more it poisoned the monarchy's relations with society and its traditional pillars of support in the court, the bureaucracy, the Church and the army. The episode has often been compared to the Diamond Necklace Affair, a similar scandal that irreparably damaged the reputation of Marie Antoinette on the eve of the French Revolution, and that is about the sum of it. By the time of Rasputin's eventual murder, in December 1916, the Romanov dynasty was on the verge of collapse.