City View: The Yusupov Palace
Published: August 13, 2014 (Issue # 1824)
St. Petersburg’s Yusupov Palace is a gilded example of aristocratic St. Petersburg but it is best known these days for being where Grigory Rasputin, the Siberian monk who rose to prominence as a confidante of the Romanovs during the reign of the last Russia tsar Nicholas II, was murdered.
The royal family came under Rasputin’s spell when he began to minister to Alexei, Nicholas’s young son. Alexei suffered from hemophilia, a closely-guarded secret among the royal family, and Rasputin seemed at times miraculously able to control the child’s bleeding. The tsarina, Alexandra, soon came to believe that without Rasputin her son would die. At the same time Rasputin was accused of scandalous misdeeds, including rape, and of having too much political control over the royal family.
As a result, a number of people tired of Rasputin’s influence and conspired to murder him.
One of the leading conspirators was Prince Felix Yusupov, who belonged to one of Russia’s most recognized noble dynasties. The sole heir to a massive fortune, the young prince used to dress in women’s clothes and masquerade about the restaurants and clubs of St. Petersburg. One particular story about his cross-dressing exploits claims that King Edward VII of England tried to make his acquaintance while he was dressed as a woman. Despite his feminine behavior, he married a niece of Nicholas II.
On a cold December night in 1916, Yusupov, who hated Rasputin but faked a friendship with him, lured the healer to his palace on the Moika River under the pretext of meeting his wife, who Rasputin was curious to meet with. Irina was actually out of town at that time and instead there waiting for him was a group of Yusupov’s associates.
Felix Yusupov first offered Rasputin cakes and drinks laced with cyanide. However, Rasputin was unaffected by the poison, which was seen as another sign of Rasputin’s seemingly supernatural powers. Experts later said the sweet food most likely had a neutralizing effect on the cyanide. The conspirators then beat and eventually shot Rasputin several time, but this also did not kill the man. The desperate murderers then dumped the man into the icy water of the Neva River. Rasputin’s body was later found and autopsied; the results showing that the final cause of his death was from drowning.
The assassination happened in the part of the Yusupov Palace where the duke lived with his wife. Today those rooms are home to a historical exhibition that details the event, including wax figures of Rasputin, Yusupov and the four other conspirators, outlining the dramatic night.
In 1919, the remaining Yusupovs, Felix Yusupov, his wife, their daughter Irina and his parents, immigrated to Western Europe. In 1925, the palace, which had been owned by five generations by then (from 1830 to 1917), was given to the pedagogical intelligentsia of the city. Felix Yusupov would eventually die in Paris in 1967, nearly half a century after leaving Russia.
Today, the Yusupov Palace is a relic of the St. Petersburg nobility that has kept not only the grand apartments, picture gallery halls and a miniature home theater in pristine condition but also the luxurious dwellings of the family.