Over the past century, legend and lore have made the name “Rasputin” synonymous with the fall of Russian imperialism. While urban myth still shrouds much of the truth about the relationship between Tsar Nicholas II and his trusted friend, the life of Grigori Rasputin’s daughter Maria is fascinating in its own right.
While Rasputin is rumored to have fathered illegitimate offspring, he did have children with his wife, Praskovia. Frances Welch’s Rasputin: A Short Life notes that of Praskovia’s seven pregnancies, three children survived to adulthood: Dmitri (born in 1895), Matryona (born in 1898), and Varya (born in 1900). Matryona reportedly changed her name to Maria when she moved to St. Petersburg to be with her father in 1913.
Rasputin with his daughter and followers in St. Petersburg, around 1914. Image via Wikimedia // Public Domain
Despite surviving numerous assassination attempts, Rasputin was lured into a trap in December 1916. While the exact events are unclear, it's believed he was poisoned, shot, and thrown into the Neva River, where his frozen corpse was eventually found.
Many people came forward pretending to be one of the Romanovs following the family’s 1918 assassination, but many also claimed to be one of Rasputin’s heirs. Vladimir Smirnov, a collector and co-founder of Russia’s first private museum dedicated to Rasputin, described the phenomenon to Russia Behind the Headlines this way: “More than a hundred Marias, Anastastias and Alekseis survived the execution in the cellar of the Ipatiev House. Now it’s the turn of Rasputin’s descendants.”
In the months that followed Rasputin’s death, the Romanov dynasty collapsed, and there is conflicting information about the fates of Rasputin’s oldest and youngest children. The Los Angeles Times reports that after Rasputin died, Maria and Varya were sheltered by the imperial family, but ultimately fled to Siberia. By some reports, Varya died of typhus in 1925, and Dmitri died of dysentery in 1933. Most accounts agree that both of Maria’s siblings passed away at a fairly young age. However, Maria went on to live an extraordinary life.
She returned to St. Petersburg, where she married a White Russian officer, Boris Soloviev. Nicholas and Alexandra: The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty quotes a passage from Maria’s diary in which she believed her deceased father compelled her to marry Soloviev: “Daddy spoke to us again … Why do they all say the same thing? ‘Love Boris—you must love Boris.’ … I don’t like him at all.”
The couple had two children together—named Tatiana and Maria, for the Grand Duchesses—before Boris died of tuberculosis in 1926. To support her family, Maria became a cabaret dancer.
Maria Rasputin being interviewed by a journalist in 1930. Image via Bibliothèque nationale de France via Wikimedia // Public Domain
In the 1930s, she joined the Ringling Bros. Circus as a lion tamer and immigrated to the United States. In a 1977 Associated Press article, Maria explained that she learned to tame wild animals because: “why not? I have been in a cage with Bolsheviks.”
The book Women of the American Circus, 1880-1940 cites the New York Times' description of Maria as she was billed by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in Madison Square Garden: “Daughter of Imperial Russia’s World-Famous Mad Monk and Confidant to the Late Czar.” The book implies that Maria used the Rasputin name as part of her act, “billing herself as performing magic over wild beasts just as her father dominated men.”
Maria Rasputin appearing in Dresden, circa 1935. Image via Getty Images.
Maria’s career in the circus was short-lived, however—she quit after being mauled by a bear. She went on to marry an electrical engineer, and after their divorce in 1945 went to work in a shipyard as a machinist.
Maria tried to set the record straight about her famous father, teaming up with journalist Patte Barham. Together the pair pieced together Maria’s memories and diaries into the book Rasputin: The Man Behind the Myth. It was published in 1977—the same year Maria died.
“My father was a very kind, very holy man,” she told the Associated Press. “Always he thinks of others—never himself, only others. Many people were jealous of him.”