TRC characters: royal or rogue, emotions rule – Rasputin

11/03/2012 at 6:58 pm (History, Royalty, Russia) (, , , , )


Sexual and religious deviant? Healer. Illiterate. Practitioner of self-flagellation? Rough-mannered. Common thief?  Staretz – holy man? Libertine. Peasant. Rasputin. Adored by the Tsarina’s best friend, Anna Vyrubova. Hated by the Tsar’s nephew-in-law, Prince Felix Yusupov.  Loved by many aristocrats, mainly women. Feared by politicians. In the year of his murder, 1916, a fiery right-wing member of the Duma, Vladimir Purishkevich, friend of Yusupov, said of Rasputin:  “The Tsar’s ministers …… have been turned into marionettes, marionettes whose threads have been taken firmly in hand by Rasputin and the Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna — the evil genius of Russia and the Tsarina … who has remained a German on the Russian throne and alien to the country and its people.”

Yusupov was in the Duma for the speech and he soon persuaded Purishkevich that Rasputin had to be killed.  Not surprising that Yusupov was quick to rope in someone who might help him achieve his dubious objective. He had honed his already considerable networking skills when he was in the Bullingdon Club at Oxford University between 1909-1912. Yes, the same club as Messrs Cameron, Johnson and Osborne belonged to eighty years later. In fact, Yusupov was so effective that the Oxford University Russian Society he founded is still running today.

So while Rasputin did have the patronage of the Tsar and Tsarina, among others, he was up against a very determined, politically sophisticated and organised man in Yusupov, who also had enormous wealth at his disposal to use for any ends he desired.

But what was the secret of Rasputin’s appeal to the Tsar, Tsarina and other members of the Imperial Family?  And what drew the loathing of others? Reading between the lines during our research, TRC answers: the same thing in both cases, sheer emotion.  Theirs and his. We’d probably call his, “emotional intelligence,” these days.  He always seemed to say the right things to his devotees, however brusquely, or be available when most needed. But none of this cut any ice with those who detested him. It wouldn’t be far off the mark to say much of his enemies’ antipathy to him stemmed from personal and political jealousy. How dare this uncouth creature, this Siberian peasant inveigle his way into the Court, and flaunt himself as a friend and adviser of the Tsar and Tsarina? Friend or foe, the source of their attitude to him was emotion. Here’s Yusupov’s description of Rasputin’s eyes: “small, shifty, gray,” so “sunken under heavy eyebrows” that even close up it was sometimes difficult to see them. And Vyrubova’s description? “………extraordinary eyes, large, light, brilliant…..”  Yusupov and Vyrubova met Rasputin several times. So why the contradictory description of his eyes? The source of the discrepancy lies in the differing emotional perspectives from which they viewed Rasputin.  And while we have used this rather simple example to demonstrate our point, you don’t need to be Stephen Hawking to work out that people’s opinions about him would have been just as polarised when it came to more serious issues.

Rasputin’s death on 29 December, 1916 is one of the iconic murders of all time. At the hands of Yusupov, Purishkevich and…………? If you think you’ve seen or read it all before, you haven’t. Not until you’ve read the highly creative TRC. So read it. It’s delicious.

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Who is Anna Vyrubova?

28/05/2011 at 8:39 am (History, Royalty, Russia, The Ruthless Court) (, , , , , , , , )


Actress Alisa Brunovna Freindlikh as Anna Vyrubova in the film 'Agony'Anna Vyrubova, quite simply, was one of the most important women in the last days of the Romanov dynasty. It was her who introduced the eccentric, wild-living, self-proclaimed mystic Grigori Rasputin to the last Tsar of Russia and his family. Anna Vyrubova was Tsarina Alexandra’s lady-in-waiting and best friend. When Rasputin fell into Anna’s social circle and started impressing the ladies with his apparent faith-healing and prophetic abilities, Anna wasted no time in introducing him to the royal family, in the hope that he could alleviate the agony Tsarevich Alexei regularly went through due to his haemophilia.

Rasputin did indeed seem to relieve the young heir’s suffering whenever he was near—however he was also the source of much controversy, due to his partying ways, his love for the ladies and his closeness to the Tsarina. At the onset of the First World War in particular, outrageous rumours about the exact nature of Alexandra and Rasputin’s relationship flew around like birds. As Orlando Figes in A People’s Tragedy says, one such rumour involved Anna herself: ‘There were even rumours of the Empress and Rasputin engaging in wild orgies with the Tsar and [Anna], who was said to be a lesbian’.

In The Ruthless Court, Anna Vyrubova plays as important a part in Rasputin’s relationship with the Romanovs as she does in history, acting as an interlocutor between the two parties whenever the mad monk needs someone to plead his case for him—which is often, as his feud with ‘John Richmond’ (the alter ego of the supposedly dead Prince Albert Victor) over the Tsarina’s heart frequently takes visible and violent turns. And Anna is also inadvertently responsible for restoring Rasputin’s fame and reputation as a ‘true’ holy man just at a time when it looked like he was falling from favour.

Things get even more complicated when Anna develops romantic feelings for ‘John’ and he decides to use her by playing along, not only to keep tabs on Rasputin through her, but for other purposes as well…

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New Extract from The Ruthless Court

17/05/2011 at 8:44 am (History, Royalty, The Ruthless Court) (, , , , , , , , )


This second exclusive extract from The Ruthless Court reveals another episode in Rasputin and John Richmond/Prince Albert Victor’s bitter and eventful feud–and this time the Tsar and Tsarina are caught in the crossfire.

Encouraged by his father’s words, the Prince uses many devices to endear himself to the Tsarina, his Alix. He seeks out her opinion, sometimes on imaginary issues; he admires her children; he flatters her about her appearance. He finds this easy to do as he considers her to be still one of the most beautiful women he has ever seen. He gives her unusual and exotic gifts which satisfy some interest or personal preference she has expressed. But never any currently fashionable or widely owned object.

He believes that he’s achieving his goal as she more often than not meets him alone in her beloved Mauve Room, or in his mansion. On these occasions, they listen to music or perform it together; and read to each other. She is spellbound by the exotic concoctions which the Prince’s Tibetan and Georgian chefs cook. She is stimulated by their look, flavours and textures, and fully enjoys eating each mysterious but delicious dish.

One mid-afternoon in April 1909, the Prince and Alix are in her Mauve Room enjoying dancing to a gramophone recording of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances. They are playing the music at a low volume, but the Tsar, in the Pallisander Room to retrieve some of his papers, hears the music next door. He puts his head round the door. He finds the lively efforts of Alix and the Prince comical, and laughs. This puts off the two dancers, and the Prince suggests that the Tsar should take a turn with the Tsarina instead. After some hesitation, the Tsar and his wife skip around the room together in time to a brisk piece… In the middle of the dance, Rasputin is ushered into the room by a footman.

“Father Grigori,” Alix says in surprise, as she and the Tsar stop dancing, “I didn’t expect you today. Why have you come?”

“I had a vision about Alexei. It was reassuring, so I thought that I should reveal it to you immediately.  But as my message from God to you is all good it can wait a little longer. Let’s dance. I am very good at these folk dances,” Rasputin boasts, reaching out to the Tsarina.

From his smell and the sound of his voice it’s clear that he has been drinking a generous amount.

“Not now, Father Grigori.  The Tsarina has to attend to other matters,” the Tsar says firmly.

Without warning Rasputin leaps at the Prince and seizes him by the throat.

“This is your doing. You have turned my Sovereigns against me!” he shouts.

The Prince flings both his arms upwards and outwards inside Rasputin’s, breaking his stranglehold. Rasputin staggers backwards. He crashes into a planter next to the Tsarina’s mauve sofa. He wheels away, landing in one of the delicate, architect-designed chairs, smashing it to pieces. Somehow, in spite of his intoxication, he springs upwards from the floor with the agility of a Cossack dancer. One by one, he picks up several of the Tsarina’s cherished transparent decorative cups from the top of a piano and pelts John Richmond with them. Some crash into the wall and break as the Prince sways and ducks away from them.

But instead of taking further action against Rasputin, the Prince turns and runs. He does not head to the Pallisander Room, from which he usually enters the Mauve Room, as that will take him towards Rasputin. Instead he dashes in the other direction.  So to a sharp cry of “No!” from Alix, he, chased by Rasputin, pounds through the imperial bedroom, the Tsarina’s dressing room, the Ladies-in-Waiting room, knocking over a maid who is tidying-up, along a passage into the entrance hall and out of the entrance used only by the Tsar and his wife and children.

With his long black hair flapping behind him and his boots thudding into the still partially frozen ground of Alexander Park, Rasputin rushes after the Prince. Two officers of the Okhrana palace detachment follow them out of the palace entrance, but stop once the two men leave the immediate environs of the palace.

The Prince swiftly strides out of the Tchihatchevsky Gate. But he doesn’t turn right along Dvortsovaya Ulitsa towards his mansion, to Rasputin’s surprise. Instead, he crosses the street into Malaya Ulitsa. As it ends, he swerves to his left towards the Town Hall. People gathering for a function there scatter as he plows through their midst. Behind him, in the distance, he can hear the heavy thump of Rasputin’s boots, and his loud swearing at anyone who gets in his away. People turn or look up from their activities to stare at the two running men.  But by now the people of Tsarskoe are accustomed to the odd behaviour of the bearded holy man and so return to their business.

At the Practical School the Prince bolts to his right and, near the Moskovsky Gate, he veers right again into the Otdielny Park.

Rasputin begins to feel uneasy. John Richmond seems to be leading him to somewhere specific, for some planned purpose. But his pride will not let him turn back. As he comes into a clearing in woodland by the palace of the Grand Duke Boris Vladimirovich, he sees “John Richmond” bent over with his hands on his knees. The target presented to Rasputin is too inviting to be ignored. Without breaking his stride he kicks out at “John Richmond’s” bottom. At that moment the Prince steps to his right, swivels and sticks out a leg over which Rasputin tumbles to the ground. But again, the Prince does not take advantage of getting the better of his opponent. Rasputin repeats his athletic trick of bouncing upright from a prone position. He propels himself forward, lashing blows at the Prince, who shields only his face. Rasputin’s heavy punches and kicks rain in on his body. He feels one of his ribs crack. Don’t fall, don’t fall, he thinks.

After about two minutes the Prince hears shouts. Rasputin runs off. Lowering his arms from covering his face, the Prince sees the Grand Duke Boris, the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich and two footmen approaching him.

“Why, it’s Mr Richmond,” young Dmitri says. Both he and Boris, first cousins of the Tsar, have socialised many times with John Richmond at Alexander Palace, where Dmitri occasionally resides. He has done so since the assassination of his guardian, Grand Duke Serge Alexandrovich.

  The prince collapses to the ground moaning and holding his chest. At Boris’ order, the two footmen carry the Prince to the Grand Duke’s nearby palace.

 “Was that Rasputin beating him?” Dmitri asks as the footmen lay the Prince on a chaise-lounge in one of the palace’s drawing room.

“Yes. I wonder why,” his cousin replies, and addressing a footman says. “Alexander, go over to the Court Hospital and tell Dr Botkin that I need him to attend a medical emergency here.”

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In Russia, With Love: The Royal Wedding of the Last Tsar and Tsarina

29/04/2011 at 5:51 am (Current Affairs, Great Britain, History, Royalty, Russia) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


So the Big Day is finally here! The biggest Royal Wedding Great Britain—and arguably, the world—has seen since Charles and Diana. Prince William and Kate Middleton are to be married at Westminster Abbey, complete with its specially installed 97 metre red carpet, at 11:00 am UK time, with 1900 guests in attendance and in front of the biggest worldwide television audience in all of history. Those lucky enough to be invited to the ceremony range from foreign princes to familiar footballers, war heroes to slapstick entertainers. Also present in the House of Kings will be no less than two choirs, one orchestra and two fanfare teams to perform the wedding service’s music. The two processions, from Buckingham Palace to the Abbey and back again, take in such London landmarks as The Mall, Downing Street,Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.

The Royal Wedding reception, to which 650 guests are invited, is to be held at Buckingham Palace. The host, of course, could only be Her Majesty the Queen. Ellie Goulding, one of William and Kate’s favourite singers, will provide the musical entertainment—without the backing of two choirs, one orchestra and two fanfare teams, we imagine. Guests will dine on canapés as offered by circulating waiters.

But, of course, grand royal weddings have happened for eons. Here’s a verbal canapé about one of the most famous.

Nicholas and Alexandra, the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia, are a pivotal couple in The Ruthless Court. How did their own royal wedding, on 26th November 1894, compare with William’s and Kate’s? It was a more sombre and low key affair, as it was sadly just one week after the death of Nicholas’ father, Tsar Alexander III. However, as you can imagine, the new Tsar’s wedding to the German princess, known as Alix of Hesse before changing her name to Alexandra, was also attended by foreign princes and dignitaries (it is unclear if the 19th century Russian equivalents of Elton John, David Beckham and Mr. Bean were also in attendance).

The wedding took place at the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, which was as surrounded with onlookers and well-wishers as Westminster Abbey is right now. Nicholas donned a Hussar’s uniform for the occasion, whilst Alexandra wore the traditional dress of Romanov brides. The post-ceremony procession saw the happy couple drive to Anichkov Palace, cheered on by astounding crowds, as no doubt the procession back to Bucks Palace will be later on. Whilst William and Kate are to nobly take an austerity honeymoon in Cornwall’s Scilly Isles, the Emperor and Empress had no honeymoon at all.

We at The Ruthless Court wish William and Kate a very long and happy life together. As everyone knows, the Tsar and Tsarina stayed in love and loyal to one another throughout revolt, constitutional change, the birth and lives of their children, WWI and finally, the Russian Revolution, which was to lead to their untimely death. In The Ruthless Court, however, their marriage is even more thrilling, laden as it is with secrets, intrigue and visitors from the past!

Be sure to follow our live tweet of the Royal Wedding as it happens!

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Ra Ra Ra Ra Rasputin

23/03/2011 at 10:03 am (History, Royalty, Russia, The Ruthless Court, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )


Seriously though, why’d Boney M sing about a dead Russian guy anyway? Well, just look at him! Which 1970s disco group wouldn’t find so terrifying a sight to be the perfect muse? Mind you, the mad staring eyes are not the only reason why this vision has captured the imaginations of people everywhere since his early 20th century hey-day. He was known as the ‘Mad Monk’ for a reason. This extraordinary being claimed to be a holy man with mystical powers yet spent his days revelling in his apartment and the restaurants of Moscow, not to mention enjoying pleasures of the flesh.  He was in fact heavily suspected of being part of a religious sect that combined religious and sexual ecstasy. And it came as no surprise to his peers and many enemies that he was thrown out of at least one of his favourite Muscovite night spots.

But perhaps  the most remarkable thing was the way Rasputin gained entry into the inner circle of the early 20th century Romanovs, the last Imperial family of Russia, before and during WWI.  His greatest “sponsor”,  along with Tsarina Alexandra and Tsar Nicholas II,  was the Tsarina’s best friend Anna Vyrubova. She and they believed him to have special healing powers, which mysteriously eased the effects of the haemophilia of the royal couple’s son Tsarevich Alexei. Known as the royal disease because so many of Queen Victoria’s descendants all over Europe suffered from it, haemophilia is a disease that leads to the slightest injury causing excessive internal or external bleeding for prolonged periods of time. Whenever Alexei was suffering from one of these episodes and Rasputin was there to sit with him and pray over him, the boy somehow found some relief.

So grateful to Rasputin were the family, and the Tsarina in particular, she fast became one of the mystical man’s most devout disciples. When the Russians went all anti-German on her in the darkest depths of WWI, (for, like some other royals we know, she was originally German) one of the vicious rumours circulating was that she and Rasputin were ‘more than friends’. Or was it just a rumour?? We play with that in The Ruthless Court, by pitting Rasputin against a dead man in the battle for the Tsarina’s affections. Well, I say dead, but it’s actually Prince Albert Victor–Victoria’s grandson and second in line to the British throne—having assumed the alter ego of ‘John Richmond’. And for a “dead” man, the Prince more than holds his own against Rasputin in what develops into a bitter feud, as this exclusive excerpt from The Ruthless Court shows:

One morning as the Prince arrives, Rasputin, escorted by a new footman, is leaving by the same entrance. They stare angrily at each other, clearly recalling their first encounter in the Prince’s mansion years earlier. But neither man speaks. However, they both refuse to give way to the other. The Prince’s jealousy and resentment of Rasputin boil over. He stamps on his foot, and turning sideways rams his left elbow into his chest. Rasputin cries out and grabs him by the throat. Jim, the Tsarina’s huge attendant, is passing and pushes them apart. The Prince continues into the palace with Rasputin’s loud threats to have him “exiled” following him.

The next day Anna tells him that Rasputin had complained to the Tsarina about “the unprovoked, brutal violence” “John Richmond” inflicted on him. Anna tells the Prince that the Tsarina was sceptical about the story and tried to calm Rasputin. She smilingly evaded his demands for the Tsar to “banish” his attacker, from Tsarskoe at the least.

“Please tell the Tsarina that I am truly sorry about this unpleasant misunderstanding between Mr Rasputin and me. We got into a tangle as we both moved in the same direction to allow the other to pass through the entrance. In the confusion I accidentally trod on his foot and stumbled. As I flung up my arms to regain my balance one of them struck him in the chest. Entirely unintentional,” the Prince says in a very sincere tone of voice to Anna as he holds her hand.

But will Rasputin get the upper hand in the end? We all know that, in real life, Rasputin met a grizzly end, but once you enter The Ruthless Court, real life becomes….surreal….

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