1927 memoir by Prince Felix Youssoupoff detailing his involvement in the plot to kill Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, the peasant starets who manipulated the regime of Tsar Nicholas II. Youssoupoff, in his own accounting at least, was the prime actor in the plot on Rasputin's life. His memoir is a recollection of the events surrounding Grigori Yefimovich's death, as seen by one of the primary actors, as well as an attempt to justify what is, by most standards, a rather cold blooded act of murder.
Youssoupoff begins by acquainting the reader with the history and rumors surrounding Rasputin and the imperial throne. He mentions his apparently miraculous healing of the tsarevich Alexis, and the resulting devotion and faith placed in him by the Empress Alexandra. He places Rasputin's desire for power and debauchery in his origins as an outcast even among the peasant classes, and attempts to tie the thoughts and actions of Rasputin to the Bolsheviks. He even suggest that Rasputin might have been in the employ of the German government- supported financially in exchange for discrediting the throne by his association with it. Curiously, Youssoupoff drops these accusations of treason throughout most of the book, until shortly before Rasputin's murder, when he again introduces the idea that Rasputin was in the employ of outside powers, and attempts to associate him with a nameless Jewish conspiracy, no doubt intended to remind the suspicious reader of the perceived Jewish ties of various Socialist forces of the early 20th Century.
Having so set the stage, Youssoupoff jumps rather quickly to his own conviction that Rasputin must be done away with, coming to this feeling after having only met with the man on a single occasion. From this point on, he maintains, he meets with the corrupt peasant only in the hopes of finding a means to drive him away from his position within the tsar's court, or failing that to kill him. Youssoupoff acquanits himself with the circle of Rasputins followers, who he characterizes as generally female, and generally irrational. Jews and women and peasants, oh my! Need we remind you, dear reader, that Youssoupoff was a rather highly placed prince in the Russian court, and while hardly a Muscovite, displays much of the conventional wisdom of a pro-tsarist regarding the innocence of the tsar, and the unhealthy influence of 'undesirables' as the reason for the downfall of the Romanov monarchy?
Continuing to meet with Rasputin, Youssoupoff earns his trust and esteem, even as he is moving to involve other parties in the plot to eliminate this new 'friend'. Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, a Captain Sukhotin, a furloughed soldier of the Russian army, Vladimir Mitrofanovich Purishkevich, a member of the Duma who had denounced Rasputin publicly, and a Dr. Lazovert who had served in the army with Purishkevih rounded out the group of accomplices. Youssoupoff would invite Rasputin to his home for a house-warming, telling him that he could meet his wife, who had just returned from the Crimea (actually, she was still there with Youssoupoff's parents). The Doctor would acquire cyanide, which would be used to poison the starets. The Captain and Purishkevich would dump his body in the river, and they would be done with it.
Of course, we all know that things did not go as planned, and Youssoupoff plays them up fantastically. We hear of his remorse at having befriended and deceived Rasputin in order to effect his murder, and how this remorse is ultimately defeated by his recollection of the damage that Rasputin has done to the Romanov monarchy. Rasputin manages to resist the poison, but not the revolver shot to the chest. Appearing dead, he then rises again, grabbing hold of Youssoupoff and whispering his name over and over again. He manages to escape the house, only to be shot again by Purishkevich, drawing the attention of the police. His body was concealed, bundled into a car, and tossed into the river, only to be recovered days later.
Immediately, two things happened, by Youssoupoff's account. One is that their is jubilation and rejoicing in the streets on account of the death of the evil holy man. The second is that Youssoupoff and his friends are immediately tied to the death of Rasputin, mostly due to Purishkevich having blundered a run-in with a police officer during the evening of Rasputin's murder (He confessed the whole affair to the officer, and then asked him to keep the whole thing quiet 'for the sake of the tsar'. The officer initially agreed, and then got cold feet when questioned more closely about why there had been numerous gunshots on his watch on the night in question). Youssoupoff and co. were effectively placed under arrest, while groups of Rasputin's supporters threatened their lives, and the army, the trade unionists, the liberals, the tsarists, and the Orthodox Church swore to protect them.
The fate of the doctor, the captain and the Duma member are unclear from Youssoupoff's memoir. He seems to have lost interest in them shortly after the murder. Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich was sent to Persia to serve an army detachment there, and Youssoupoff was exiled to the family estate in Kursk (Note that Russian had at this time abolished the death penalty (with some exceptions), and that their status as members of the royal family gave them a certain amount of immunity to prosecution).
Youssoupoff ends his memoir with a stirring eulogy for Imperial Russian. In it, he hits a few classic tsarist themes, toots his own horn a little, and lays some blame for the demise of Great Russia. In the realm of classics, he asserts that Nicholas II was, throughout it all, a well-meaning ruler who had been isolated from his people by the workings of evil bureaucracy, ambitious and self-serving ministers, and the unholy ambitions of Rasputin. This was the sort of thing that the tsarist camp maintained all along- and what much of Russia believed up until Bloody Sunday, when the tsar's troops opened fire on a group of peaceful protestors bringing their Emperor a petition for better working and living conditions. He asserts throughout it all that his act was fundamentally one of patriotism- that, in this case killing the Tsarina's close confidant, and the tsarevich's tenuous link to life was an act of loyalty. He makes a decent case for himself, it must be said- there is no doubt that public perception of Rasputin went a long way towards damaging the tsar in the eyes of the public.
Lastly, he asserts that all the unpleasantness of the Revolutions (of the October and February varieties) might have been avoided if good men loyal to the crown had been willing to step into the vacuum left by Rasputin's death. Youssoupoff seems honestly convinced that in killing Rasputin, he had cut the root of corruption out of the garden of monarchy. The imperial system could have been preserved indefinitely, it seems, if only folks had stepped in and toppled what remained of the system of 'Rasputinism' by which Youssoupoff claims the evil peasant was running the show.
As a primary source, Youssoupoff provides some great information, but also demonstrates the need for caution when reading autobiographies. He repeats a number of prominent prejudices of the day (the fundamentally stupid peasant, the seditious Jew, the irrational woman) uncritically. His view of Russian politics of the day is decidedly skewed by his apparent faith in the tsar and his policies. Example: He asserts that one of the reasons for food shortages in Russia during WWI was that peasants had grown so rich from no longer buying vodka (prohibition having been declared at the start of the war), that they no longer need to sell their goods. In reality, prohibition left the government strapped for cash (the vodka tax provided up to 25% of the government's income), and peasants were refusing to sell their goods during the war because rampant inflation combined with ceilings on grain prices meant that selling was now a money-loosing proposition (instead, they turned their grain into vodka and sold it on the black market). All in all, Youssoupoff provides us with a great deal of insight on the views of the aristocracy during the last years of Romanov rule. He also offers a good deal of information concerning the plot to murder Rasputin, and the peculiar circumstances surrounding his death. As much a tale of aristocratic nobility and daring-do as a story about a certain corrupt holy man, Youssoupoff's memoirs provide an interesting insight into the last days of a declining monarchist state.