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Authors: Andrew Cook

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To Kill Rasputin: The Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin (Revealing History)

BOOK: To Kill Rasputin: The Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin (Revealing History)
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Andrew Cook worked for many years as a foreign affairs and defence specialist, and the contacts he made enabled him to navigate and gain access to classified intelligence services archives. He is only the fifth historian to be given special permission under the 1992 ‘Waldegrave Initiative’ by the Cabinet Office to examine closed MI5 documents that will never be released. He was the historical consultant for the recent BBC
documentary on Rasputin, but the key discoveries came after the screening and appear for the first time in
To Kill Rasputin.
He is author of critically acclaimed
Prince Eddy: The King Britain Never Had, Ace of Spies: The True Story of Sidney Reilly
M: MI5’s First Spymaster
. He is a regular contributor on espionage history to
The Guardian
The Times
History Today
. He lives in Bedfordshire.


Cover illustration:
Rasputin, 1916. Courtesy of the Museum of Political History, St Petersburg.


First published in 2006

The History Press

The Mill, Brimscombe Port

Stroud, Gloucestershire,
5 2

This ebook edition first published in 2011

All rights reserved

© Andrew Cook, 2010, 2011

The right of Andrew Cook, to be identified as the Author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights, and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

978 0 7524 7248 5

978 0 7524 7247 8

Original typesetting by The History Press



Note on Dates


Principal Characters

  1   Manhunt

  2   Finger of Suspicion

  3   Body of Evidence

  4   The Spies Who Came into the Cold

  5   Dark Forces

  6   On the Brink

  7   War Games

  8   Cards on the Table

  9   A Room in the Basement

10   Once Upon a Time

11   End of the Road

12   Aftermath


Abbreviations Used in Notes and Bibliography




I would like to thank the following people for their invaluable help:

In particular I am indebted to Betty Aikenhead and Muriel Harding-Newman (the daughters of John Scale); Edward Harding-Newman (John Scale’s grandson); Sandra Noble (Stephen Alley’s granddaughter); Michael Alley (Stephen Alley’s second cousin); Dr John Alley (from the American branch of the Alley family); Charles Alley (from the South African branch of the Alley family); Gordon Rayner (Oswald Rayner’s nephew); Caroline Rayner (Oswald Rayner’s daughter); Myra Whelch (Oswald Rayner’s first cousin once removed); Michael Winwood (Oswald Rayner’s first cousin twice removed); Dmitri Kennaway (stepson of Joyce Frankel, Oswald Rayner’s sister); Laurence Huot-Soloviev (great-granddaughter of Grigori Rasputin); 3rd Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor (grandson of David Lloyd George); Mark Lane (grandson of William Compton); Svetlana Hodakovskaya (Senior Scientist, Museum of Political History, St Petersburg); Professor Derrick Pounder (Senior Home Office Forensic Pathologist and Head of Forensic Medicine, University of Dundee); Professor Vladimir V. Zharov (Senior Forensic Pathologist, Ministry of Health of the Russian Federation, Moscow) and to HM Government. As a result of an approach to the Cabinet Office, the Government agreed to provide me with a briefing on the British Intelligence Mission in Petrograd for the purpose of this book.

John Francis and John Power of Francis & Francis Investigations have played a key role in tracing the surviving relatives and associates of the British officers involved in the plot and indeed many other key individuals whose parents, grandparents and great-grandparents played a part in the story.

I am also grateful to Bill Adams; Professor Christopher Andrew (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge); Dr Michael Attias; Jordan Auslander; Dmitri Belanovski; Vanessa Bell (Assistant Archivist, News International Ltd); Gill Bennett (Chief Historian, Foreign & Commonwealth Office); Robin Darwall-Smith (University College Archivist, Oxford); Howard Davies (The National Archives); Corinne Fawcett (University of Nottingham Archives); Susheel Gill; Stephen Griffith; Dr Nicholas Hiley (University of Kent); Rachel Hosker (Archivist, University of Glasgow); Professor A.V. Hoffbrand (Royal Free Hospital, London); Igor Kozyrin (Military Medical Archive, St Petersburg); Professor Christine Lee (Royal Free Hospital, London); Alexi Litvin (State Archive of the Russian Federation, GARF, Moscow); Natasha Nikolaeva; David Penn FSA (Keeper of the Department of Exhibits & Firearms, Imperial War Museum, London); Sarah Prescott (Archives Assistant, King’s College, London); Kevin Proffitt (Senior Archivist, American Jewish Archives); Clare Rider (Inner Temple Archives); Michael Rosetti (Archives of the New York State Supreme Court);Graham Salt; Laura Scannel (Bar Council Archive); Simon Sebag Montefiore; Professor Robert Service (St Antony’s College, Oxford); Oleg Shishkin; Galina Sveshnikova (Yusupov Palace, St Petersburg); Mari Takayanagi (Archivist, House of Lords Record Office) and John Wells (Department of Manuscripts, Cambridge University Library).

Furthermore, I would like to thank Bill Locke at Lion Television (Executive Producer of the BBC Timewatch film
Who Killed Rasputin?
) whose unstinting support and encouragement enabled me to take this project forward. I am also indebted to John Farren (Editor of the BBC Timewatch series) for commissioning this story and thus enabling the new evidence surrounding Rasputin’s murder to be presented to a wider public. Thanks must also go to all those involved in the production of
Who Killed Rasputin?
, in particular to Michael Wadding, Lisa Charles and Richard Cullen, for their part in making it such a powerful and thought-provoking film.

A special thank you also goes to Margaret Ashby; Sophie Bradshaw; Alison Cook; Julia Dvinskaya; Elaine Enstone; Monica Finch; Carolyn Jardine; Denise Khan; Ingrid Lock; Patrick Ooi; Janie New; Hannah Renier; Beryl Rook; Bob Sheth; Andy Watts; Caroline Zahen; and to RP Translate who facilitated the translation of source material into English. Finally, my thanks go to my publisher Jonathan Reeve for his support throughout this project.


The New Style (Gregorian) calendar, which had been in use in continental Europe and in Britain since 1582, did not replace the Old Style (Julian) calendar in Russia until 1918, when thirteen days were omitted. In this book, dates are given in Old Style in respect of events before 1918 and in New Style for events afterwards. However, British diplomats and officials in Russia used New Style before the change. When two systems are running concurrently in respect to documentary sources, confusion can gain the upper hand. In order to assist the reader, dual dates have therefore been used in certain parts of this book.


When the idea of writing a revised second edition of my biography of ‘Ace of Spies’ Sidney Reilly was first suggested to me by my publisher Jonathan Reeve, I saw it as an ideal opportunity to follow up several unresolved lines of enquiry that were still outstanding at the time the first edition went to press in 2002.

One of these concerned John Scale, the man who had recruited Reilly to the Secret Intelligence Service, and whose hidden hand had guided his first mission in Russia in April 1918. I knew that Scale had died in 1949, but had so far been unable to trace his family. I was convinced that he was the key not only to Sidney Reilly’s Russian mission but to a host of other espionage conundrums that followed the Russian Revolution.

Eventually, in early 2003, after much painstaking research, his daughter Muriel Harding-Newman was located in Scotland. Meeting her persuaded me that the murder of Grigori Rasputin in 1916 was not quite as straightforward as it at first seemed. The traditional account, as told in the 1927 book
by his self-confessed assassin Prince Felix Yusupov, reads like an over-dramatised gothic horror story. Rasputin is first poisoned, then shot and finally drowned in the River Neva by five disaffected aristocrats, led by Yusupov. The conspirators’ motives are, according to this account, driven by concern about Rasputin’s influence over Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra. Although this account has been questioned over the years by historians, credible alternative theories had thus far been thin on the ground.

However, according to Muriel Harding-Newman, her father had been instrumental in the murder plot. She also had in her possession an Aladdin’s Cave of intelligence material that had belonged to him, including a list of all British intelligence officers who were stationed in Petrograd at the time of Rasputin’s death. Once back at home I took the time to read again my copy of Yusupov’s book. Over the next few months I managed to trace the families of a number of other British intelligence officers on Scale’s list and read the diplomatic and intelligence reports that were being exchanged between London and Petrograd in 1916. These made stark reading, and reminded me just how close Britain came to defeat at this, the darkest hour of the war, haunted by the spectre that Russia was about to conclude a separate peace with Germany and withdraw from the conflict. Time and again the name of Rasputin cropped up in the reports.

In Russia, archive records indicated that three investigations into his death had been inconclusive due to the fact that they had never been completed and, as a consequence, no one had ever been charged or faced cross-examination in a court of law. Two investigations at the time of his death were run concurrently by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice. These had been halted when it became evident that members of the Tsar’s own family were involved in the plot. After the fall of the monarchy in March 1917, the new Provisional Government set up an ‘Extraordinary Commission of Inquiry for the Investigation of Illegal Acts by Ministers and Other Responsible Persons’. Among the many issues it sought to investigate were Rasputin’s influence and the circumstances surrounding his death. This was to be the responsibility of the Commission’s Thirteenth Section. The enquiry was still ongoing when the Bolsheviks seized power and closed down the Commission.

BOOK: To Kill Rasputin: The Life and Death of Grigori Rasputin (Revealing History)
5.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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