An agent of the British Secret Intelligence Service assassinating a Russian Monk with purported psychic powers? It sounds like a plot point from Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century series. While the premise does have the flavor of fiction, it's actually part of a factual story about the death of "mad monk" Rasputin in the early years of the 20th Century.
Illustration by Mike Hirshon.
Grigori Rasputin was a monk well known for his sexual appetite, a very prominent sex organ, and professed faith-healing abilities. He found the favor of the the Russian political scene by accident when he saved the son of the Tsar Nicholas II's son from bleeding to death through complications from haemophilia. This brought him into the orbit of Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra, connections that Rasputin used to his full advantage.
The British Secret Intelligence Service vs. Rasputin
Mansfield Cumming, better known to co-workers as "C", started the British Secret Intelligence Service in 1909, working out of a small office and making use of a tiny budget. In order to make the most of this position, Cumming and the SIS used sex and money to gain information. Using these tactics, the British SIS carried out countless missions during World War I and dispatched thousands of agents across Europe and Russia.
During World War I, Germany positioned itself as a enemy of Great Britain. The British government felt that an end to hostilities between Germany and Russia would be detrimental to British forces, as a truce would allow Germany to focus military efforts on Great Britain. The Secret Intelligence Service believed that Rasputin was passing along advice to the Tsar that could tighten the friendship between Germany and Russia.
Codename: Dark Forces
In the winter of 1916, Cumming dispatched three agents to kill Rasputin while Nicholas II commanded Russian forces against Germany. Due to Rasputin's mysterious nature, the British Secret Intelligence Service gave him the codename "Dark Forces."
Cumming believed the wife of Nicholas II, Alexandra, would lean heavily on Rasputin for advice while her husband was away. "C" also feared Alexandra may hold a nostalgic view of homeland of Germany clouding her views as well. If Russia retreated, the brunt of the Germany army would be dispatched to battle Great Britain.
British agent Oswald Rayner, one of the trio sent by Cumming, conspired with his a college friend Felix Yusupov, a wealthy Russian citizen to kill Rasputin. Their plan revolved around luring Rasputin to Yusupov's home one night in December of 1916, where it would be intimated that Yusupov's wife would have sex with Rasputin.
The traditional story claims that in a single night Yusupov and other Russian citizens angry with Rasputin fed him cakes tainted with cyanide and shot him before drowning the monk in a nearby frozen river.
Solid arguments exist to discount the possibility that Rasputin ate cyanide poisoned appetizers on the night of his death. The bullet holes, however, are impossible to refute, thanks to several pictures taken of Rasputin's body showing an entrance wound in his forehead.
At least four bullets tore though Rasputin's body, but due to the accuracy and type of weapon used to create the forehead wound, Oswald Rayner likely delivered the kill shot. Bullet ballistics link the forehead wound to a Webley revolver, a handgun commonly issued to British agents akin to Rayner.
After the shooting, Yusupov and his fellow conspirators tossed Rasputin into a local river, and police discovered the frozen cadaver the next day.
A failed plot to assassinate Stalin
The British Secret Intelligence Service did not stop with Rasputin. Cummings ordered an agent to kill future Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin in 1918. Joseph Stalin desired to make peace with Germany, once again creating a problem for Great Britain. Cummings fired the agent for refusing the assignment.
Image of a deceased Rasputin is within the public domain. The first photo is of Alan Rickman portraying Rasputin in the 1996 HBO film Rasputin: Dark Servant of Destiny. The image of Rasputin with some of his followers is from Karl Bulla/PD. If you want to learn more about the wild ways of Grigori Rasputin, check out this podcast from Caustic Soda. Sources linked within the article.