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Russian Exiles And Murdered Mystics: Malta’s Forgotten History With The Man Who Killed Rasputin

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Malta has been home to some the world’s most famous figures throughout its history, whether that’s the Queen, Lord Byron, or Toto Rina, but few would have known that Price Felix Yusupov, the man who murdered the enigmatic Grigori Rasputin, also found shelter on our shores.

A photo, taken at the Tigne Barracks, published by Oliver Gatt, may show Yusupov, darkened by shade, among a group of Russian refugees. Meanwhile, the second photo shows Yusupov’s signature on a photo of the HMS Marlborough, the ship which brought him to Malta.

 

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We’ve all heard of Rasputin, the notorious mystic who came from nowhere and who won the hearts of the Romanovs, the last Tsars of Russia. Here’s a Maltese link, bear with me. Rasputin was loved by the Tsar’s wife as he she believed he was the only person who could cure her only son Alexei, heir to the Russian throne. Alexei was hemophiliac and wasn’t expected to live very long. At court, Rasputin was hated for his ever-increasing influence on the Tsar and rumours were rife that he was having an affair with the Tsarina. Plots were being hatched to kill him. Prince Felix Yusupov was the wealthiest man in Imperial Russia. He was married to the Tsar’s only niece (by blood). On the night of 29 Dec 1916, Yusupov lured Rasputin to his palace basement where he was fed cakes laced with cyanide poison. Rasputin ate three of these cakes and drank wine also mixed with cyanide and did not seem to falter. In desperation, Yusupov fetched his pistol and shot the monk in the chest. Rasputin survived this and ran outside the palace where he was shot a second time, in the back. Laying in the snow Rasputin was shot a third time. The Tsars became furious and exiled Yusupov to a remote estate. Just a couple of months later, the Russian Revolution broke out and the Tsar and his family were arrested. Fleeing the revolution, the Yusupovs took with them their family jewels. Among these were the blue Sultan of Morocco Diamond; the fourth largest blue diamond in the world. We know that many Russians pawned or sold their jewels during their brief stay in Malta but the Sultan of Morocco diamond did not remain here for it is documented that in 1922 the famous gem was sold to Cartier. The group photo shows the Russian exiles in 1919 at Tigne Barracks. Today you can spot the exact location if you get to MedAsia Playa and look opposite, to the right of the Fort Cambridge. I tried to identify Felix Yusupov in the picture. Could the guy in dark clothing lurking in the shadows (marked with an arrow) be the murderer prince? The name ‘Exiles’, in Sliema, harks back to these days when Russian emigres (exiles) in Malta descended there and made it their bathing spot. #russia #romanovs #rasputin

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The story kicks off on a cold December evening in St Petersburg when five men killed Grigori Rasputin, the influential mystic who acquired immense control over Tsar Nicholas II and Imperial Russia.

Prince Felix Yusupov, leader of the murder plot, shot Rasputin in distress after the man first survived a poison attempt at Yusupovs’ Moika Palace.

After the Tsars abdicated the throne and lost their lives, Yusupov fled to Crimea along with his family.

After Malta, Yusupov travelled to Italy and then to Paris, before settling in London. Not much is known of his time here, but there’s more about Russian refugees.

Following the Russian revolution of 1917, many Russian refugees (including Princess Nathalie Poutiatine) came to Malta. Several of them ended being housing in at St.Ignatius Villa, which still stands today on Old College Street but is subject to developers’ interests.

According to rumour, the Russians often swam beneath the Sliema Tower. The area eventually came to be known as “ta l-Exiles”, as it still is today.

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