Ladies in Bullet Proof Corsets
Tsar Nicholas II’s wife and daughters took the royal jewels to their deaths
I first became fascinated by the story of the last days and grisly end of Russia’s Romanov family at a young age, fueled by made-for-TV stories about the supposed survival and reappearance of young Anastasia (impostors, as it turns out). Over the years I had forgotten a lot of details - small things like names, dates, and the political factors that lead to the downfall of the empire have faded, leaving room to remember just one thing: that on the night the imperial family faced their assassins, the ladies of the family dressed in bullet-proof, diamond-studded undergarments, rendering them that much harder to kill.
“They shot the daughters but did not kill them. Then Yermakov resorted to a bayonet, but that did not work either. Finally they killed them by shooting them in the head. Only in the forest did I finally discover the reason why it had been so hard to kill the daughters and Alexandra Feodrovna....the daughters had on bodices almost entirely of diamonds and [other] precious stones.”
Of course, in the end it bought them only moments, but it brings to mind the legacy of their friend and advisor, possibly the hardest to kill SOB ever.
Rasputin, King of the Badasses
Grigori Rasputin, the Mad Monk of Russia (source)
Born around 1869 in what is now Siberia, Grigori Rasputin arrived in St. Petersburg in 1903 already surrounded by a reputation as a wild and strange, yet strangely holy man. Within a few years, his notoriety as a healer landed him a spot embedded with the Romanov imperial family, as an assistant and advisor to the Tsaritsa Alexandra and most importantly, as a caregiver to the young haemophiliac heir to the empire, Alexei.
By the time Rasputin became entangled in royal affairs, the country was already going quickly and not so quietly to Hell. Failed wars, brutally suppressed national uprisings, and a rapidly deteriorating economy stood in stark contrast to the posh and opulent lifestyle enjoyed by the Romanovs in their enormous palaces. Revolutions had been tearing at Russia for a decade.
Eccentric in appearance and behavior, rumors about Rasputin circulated wildly almost immediately, ranging from theories on his religious affiliation, his relations with prostitutes, sex cults, and flagellants, to his political influence on the imperial family and speculation about his relationship with the increasingly unpopular Tsaritsa.
WWI was a catastrophe for Russia. The fact that the Tsar appeared to be getting advice from a crazy mystic hanging around court did not help matters.
When the Tsar failed to do anything about it, they took matters into their own hands.
Myth and legend have encroached on the details of Rasputin’s last hours, but the essence of the story is that he was terrifyingly hard to kill.
On December 17, 1916, four conspirators lured Rasputin to the Mioka Palace on the pretence of being introduced to Prince Felix Yussupov’s pretty wife, Irena. Rasputin was left alone in a waiting room with snacks, tea, and wine, all of which had been poisoned with cyanide.
Two hours after drinking the supposedly deadly wine, Rasputin appeared fine. Desperate that he might not die before morning, thus making it harder to make off with the body, Prince Yussupov pulled out a gun and shot him in the back.
As the assassins prepared to remove his corpse, Rasputin came to and began to attack his attackers, making a break for it before he was shot again, this time in the head. Once again, they set about the business of concealing the body. Once again, Rasputin was not quite dead.
Completely freaking out at this point, they gave the body a thorough beating with a truncheon, and then, just to be sure, they dumped his body into the icy Neva River.
He could get up at any moment (image source)
Although the final cause of death is argued to this day, the official story goes that when the body was hauled out three days later, we was found to have drowned. Within months after his death, the Tsar abdicated his crown, and the family went into exile. On July 16, 1918 the entire Romanov family was killed. In very fancy underpants.
The heartbroken Tsaritsa Alexandra had Rasputin’s body buried on the grounds of the palace. In February of the next year, however, revolutionaries dug up and cremated the remains. Witnesses to the cremation reported that his body sat upright when touched by the flames.
Just to make things more interesting, recent theories posit that Rasputin was actually assassinated by British secret operatives, in an attempt to influence the outcome of WWI.
Even more interesting: In 2004, the newly opened Russian Museum of Erotica announced that it had in its collection the preserved (and reputedly enormous) penis of the man himself. [*cough* unlikely *cough cough*]
In 1978 the German pop group Boney M. produced the Disco hit, “Rasputin”, which as of now will be the first thing to pop into my head anytime cocktail party conversation turns to the Mad Monk.
Further Reading - Rasputin
Further Reading - Romanovs
More hard to kill badasses from today’s tweets:
Join us each Monday on Twitter and follow our #morbidmonday hashtag, for new odd and macabre themes each week: Atlas Obscura on Twitter