6 Intriguing Nobles at the Court of Catherine the Great

6 Intriguing Nobles at the Court of Catherine the Great

In 1762, Catherine the Great organised a coup d’état against her husband Peter III, taking the throne as Empress of All Russia – but she didn’t do it alone. Unlike her abrasive husband, Catherine soon realised that maintaining the love and support of her nobles was paramount to her success, and rewarded those who helped her generously.

She ruled over an enlightened court like no Russian monarch before her, and surrounded herself with a number of fascinating characters. Meet 6 such characters, whose stories of bravery, intellect, and romance coloured the halls of the Winter Palace for over 30 years.

1. Grigory Orlov

One of Catherine’s most famous lovers, Grigory Orlov was a leading figure in the fateful coup of 1762. The pair had been lovers since 1760, when after returning from the Seven Years War, Orlov’s boisterous presence at court caught the attention of the then-Grand Duchess.

By April 1762 they had an illegitimate child named Aleksey, and a mere 3 months later Orlov’s troops took St Petersburg, securing Catherine as Empress.

Grigory Orlov by Fyodor Rokotov, 1762-63 (Image credit: Public domain)

Following this, Grigory was made Major-General and given the title of count, soon becoming one of Catherine’s leading advisors. He later became president of the Free Economic Society, seeking the improvement of the condition of serfs in Russia.

At one time the Empress even considered marrying him, yet was dissuaded so by her advisors. Their relationship began to falter as rumours of his infidelity swirled the court, and in a last ditch attempt to win her back he presented her with a vast diamond that was placed in her sceptre. The Empress had however already moved her affections on to Grigory Potemkin.

2. Alexei Orlov

Grigory’s younger brother Alexei was a fierce character at court, and unafraid to get his hands dirty. Standing over 6 ft 6 tall, he donned a battle scar across his face earning him a fearsome nickname – ‘scarface’.

Alexei Orlov by Unknown painter, 1782 (Image credit: Public domain)

Upon the fall of Peter III, he travelled to Peterhof Palace to retrieve Catherine and, upon finding her in her bed, informed her:

‘the time has come for you to reign, madame.’

When Peter III mysteriously died 6 days later, Alexei was largely supposed to have poisoned him either on the orders of the Empress or of his own accord. Though this marred her initial reign, he too was rewarded for his role in the coup and went on to have a successful military career.

In another curious anecdote from the younger Orlov’s time at Catherine’s court, in 1775 he was sent on a mission to seduce and capture a pretender to the Russian throne, Princess Tarakanova. Clearly his rugged charm was enough to enthral her, as she was at last enticed aboard a boat in a harbour near Tuscany and arrested.

3. Grigory Potemkin

Grigory Potemkin is perhaps one of the most well-known courtiers of the eminent monarch. Beginning his career in the Horse Guards regiment, by the coup of 1762 he was Sergeant and represented his troops in the overthrow. Here Potemkin caught the attention of Catherine who, enjoying his colourful personality and excellent imitation skills, made him a gentleman of the bedchamber.

(Grigory Potemkin by Unknown, after an original by Johann Baptist von Lampi the Elder, c.1784-88 (Image credit: Public domain)

Though now a favourite at court, Potemkin was eager to return to the military. Catherine granted his request and he went on to serve as Major-General of the cavalry, taking part in a host of military successes and bringing general renown to his name.

In 1774, he returned to court and was quickly installed as Catherine’s chief lover, with the Empress describing him as

‘one of the greatest, the most comical and amusing, characters of this iron century’

The pair are rumoured to have discreetly got married, and even as their relationship eventually began to fizzle out, he remained at the court as a hugely influential friend and occasional romantic tryst.

4. Princess Yekaterina Dashkova

Princess Dashkova moved to the court of Catherine and Peter at just 16, having married Prince Mikhail Dashkova in 1759. At the time of Catherine’s coup she was a mere 19 years old, yet credits herself with a central role in the event.

In her memoirs, she writes of disguising herself in men’s clothes to travel unnoticed, and liaising with the Orlov brothers on their movements.

Princess Yekaterina Dashkova by Dimitry Levitzky, 1784 (Image credit: Public domain)

Following the coup, Dashkova’s outspoken nature caused friction between her and the Empress. When her husband died in 1768, Dashkova left court aged 25 to travel Europe in the pursuit of cultural and intellectual growth.

In Paris, she became acquainted with Voltaire and Diderot, and struck up a lasting friendship with Benjamin Franklin, discussing with them philosophy, politics and literature. The charismatic princess also lived in Edinburgh for 2 years, where she is interestingly recorded undertaking a sword-fight with a Scottish lady.

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Having grown her vast well of knowledge and Western culture, when she returned to Catherine’s court the Empress received her with open arms and much enthusiasm.

She was made Director of the Imperial Academy of Arts and Sciences – the first woman in the world to preside over an academy of science – and 2 years later she was also made President of the newly established Russian Academy. Under her guidance both institutions flourished.

5. Countess Alexandra Branitskaya

Alexandra Branitskaya was first introduced to Catherine’s court in 1775 as a niece of Grigory Potemkin, yet a number of theories surround her birth. One such theory places her as Catherine’s illegitimate daughter by either Potemkin or another lover, Sergey Saltykov, yet this is largely unfounded.

Alexandra Branitskaya by Richard Brompton, 1781 (Image credit: Public domain)

She soon became Catherine’s chief maid-of-honour and one of the most admired women at court, and through her closeness to Potemkin was widely treated as a member of the Imperial family.

Though Branitskaya had not received a full education, her confident and wilful personality reportedly made up for this. One British ambassador commented on her ‘talent for creating plots’, and interestingly her willingness to provide him with intel in exchange for gifts.

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One such ‘plot’ involved the removal of two of Catherine’s favourites – her lady-in-waiting Praskovya Bruce and then-lover Ivan Rimsky-Korsakov – by leading her to walk in on them in a compromising position.

The countess retained her influence and respectability for decades to come, and continued to play a significant role in the courts of Catherine’s successors.

6. Gavrila Derzhavin

Gavrila Derzhavin resided at the court of Catherine the Great for 20 years in various different stately roles, from Minister of Justice to personal secretary to the Empress. He was politically astute and a skilled soldier, yet his legacy lies in the realm of Russian literature.

Gavrila Derzhavin by Vladimir Borovikovsky, 1811 (Image credit: Public domain)

Today revered as one of the first great Russian poets, Derzhavin wrote a vast array of magnificent verse for Catherine and her courtiers.

His work was allowed to flourish at the increasingly enlightened Russian court that, while inspired by Western courts such as Versailles, took on a Russian flair of its own.

He playfully compared his poetry to lemonade, and hailed Catherine in the epic ‘Ode to Felitsa’ as the saviour of the unruly Russian court through her enlightened ideas, writing:

‘To you alone is it proper,

Tsarevna! to create light out of darkness;

Dividing Chaos into harmonious spheres,

With a union of wholeness to strengthen them.’

As one of the first Russians able to express his ideas in written work, he paved the way for the eminent poets of the 19th century, and truly encapsulated the changing world of Catherine the Great’s Russia – now considered a ‘Golden Age’ for the country.

Catherine the Great

Another biography of Catherine the Great? Simon Dixon locates his new book somewhere between Russia in the Age of Catherine the Great by Isabel de Madariaga (1), which he terms ‘the most important (and appropriately weighty) study of Catherine’s reign in any language,’ and John T. Alexander’s Catherine the Great: Life and Legend (2), ‘the first modern scholarly biography, particularly interesting on medical matters and also strong on social history’ (p. 391). Implying that neither work is truly comprehensive–‘clearly an impossible goal’–his own effort seeks ‘to recover a sense of place, situating Catherine in the context of the Court society in which she grew up in Germany and lived most of her long life in Russia’ (p. 2). In so doing he brings to bear the fruits of a substantial recent historiography devoted to court life in early modern Europe and Russia viewed as a crucial component of governance in an age of monarchical absolutism, with works by T. C. W. Blanning and Richard S. Wortman accorded particular authority.(3) True to his word, Professor Dixon’s book is much less an account of Catherine’s private life (see Alexander) or a political history of her reign (see de Madariaga) than it is a minutely detailed chronicle of Russian court life of the period 1744 (Catherine’s arrival in St. Petersburg from her native Germany) to 1796 (her death) as gleaned from its verbal but also, to some extent, its visual remains (the book includes 23 contemporary illustrations along with six maps).

As all historians know, recovering context in a way that is at once faithful to the documents and intelligible to our contemporaries is the essence of our craft. In this central task Dixon largely succeeds, at times brilliantly. The kaleidoscope of coronations and royal weddings that he deftly presents, of extravagant court entertainments and solemn church rites, of gargantuan meals and gorgeous dress parties, the rapidly shifting scenes peopled by a wondrous array of dignified grandees and sleazy parvenus, cunning diplomats and sycophantic scholars, secret lovers and duteous servants, is little short of stunning – to the point, at times, of surfeit. And at the center of it all sits comely, zaftig Catherine (Dixon is ever discreet, indeed politically correct, in describing her), now deeply, not to say passionately engaged in the proceedings, now cooly, even wittily observant (her own memoirs and letters are Dixon’s most important source), now adroitly exploiting a tense situation for her own frequently noble – or nobly selfish – ends. The overall impression – and an element of subjective impressionism is unavoidable here – is one of barely contained bedlam, with all or some of the several hundred people involved – ‘the Court’ – reeling from crisis to crisis, from bedazzlement to horror, from joyful celebration to ignominious, if well-compensated, defeat. Catherine ruled by conciliation, persuasion, blandishment, bribery, deception, spectacle, and pure charm rarely were courtiers who incurred her disfavour subjected to the threat let alone the application of harsh punishment. She also liked to claim, as Dixon duly reports, that hers was an orderly as well as an enlightened court. But ‘discipline’ was instantly the watchword of the day when her son and successor Tsar Paul assumed the throne (p. 316).

At the same time, larger underlying developments – the fate of serfdom in Russia, the development of industry, the promotion of trade and public education, the peopling of empty lands – are conscientiously noted and major events of the period – the Pugachev rebellion, the conquest of Crimea and partitions of Poland, the rise of Prussia or the advent of the French Revolution, the bloody wars and complex diplomacy – are at least alluded to in the rush to the next item on the Imperial Russian court calendar. Catherine’s legislative achievements, of which she was extremely, perhaps inordinately, proud, are recorded with measured deference if not always clearly explained, whether in their short-term application or longer term significance. Chapter ten, for example, is entitled ‘The Search for Emotional Stability 1776–1784,' suggesting that the assortment of such developments, events, and achievements occurring over these eight vital years that the chapter in due course mentions was historically less important than the contemporaneous flow of Catherine’s love life. Nor is the chapter’s conclusion – ‘For all Catherine’s emotional turbulence, the direction of her government had remained firm’ (p. 269) –entirely reassuring. When all’s said and done, however, one puts down Dixon’s book in grateful realization that he has given us a literate, compassionate, immensely colourful but plausible representation of an important chunk of the Russo-European past.

Notwithstanding her long and largely successful reign, Catherine suffered a relative dearth of serious historical study until quite recently, as Professor Dixon’s epilogue somewhat inadvertently shows. Sexism, populism, Marxism, and plain old prurience all played their part in either denying her historical importance or grossly distorting her record. So did envy. In fact, Dixon concludes his panoptic chronicle by suggesting, a little unexpectedly, that her ‘gentle methods’ and ‘tolerant and trusting’ manner rarely inspired her successors ‘not least because it has served as a subtle form of ammunition for their critics for most of the two centuries since her death’ (p. 335). Be that as it may, Dixon’s bibliographical essay (‘Further Reading’) as well as numerous chapter notes make it clear that in the last 20 years or so much serious work has been accomplished in both Russian and English (also German). This solid literature is frequently cited by Dixon rather than engaged: there is little historiographical discussion in his book, little critical evaluation of his sources and of the controversies that study of her reign has given rise to among historians–historians rather than royal contemporaries and successors, contemporary friends and foes, contemporary and later publicists, the commentators Dixon mostly pays heed to, particularly in his epilogue.

The lack of an obvious historiographical dimension in turn raises the question of the book’s intended readership. The hundreds of chapter notes (filling nearly 50 pages), invocation of an academic totem like Jürgen Habermas (not in the index but see p. 345 n. 43), and glancing reference to numerous figures and events only fellow historians could be expected to recognize, suggest that the latter are his target. And yes, specialists in early modern Russian and European history will certainly find material here of considerable interest, thanks to the diligence of Dixon’s research even in quite tangential sources – e.g. Mozart’s collected letters (pp. 234, 254) – and determination to work in all his findings. On the other hand, the abundance of anecdote and sensational detail, the strong preference for narrative over analysis, the pleasantly fluent, often humorous style, the barely repressed delight in drollery, scandal, and the bizarre, indicate a more general, commercially rewarding audience. Can one write history that is both? That is at once instructive and entertaining? Academically sound yet readily readable? Serious, but fun? A good deal of history aspiring to be both has indeed recently appeared, especially, it seems, in Britain, whence its most successful practitioners have tended to migrate to the United States (e.g. Simon Schama, Niall Ferguson), there to occupy prestigious academic chairs while surfacing regularly in the public media and generating ever more lavishly published books. Such historians are to be distinguished from the ‘telly dons’ of yesteryear, who were dons first, dutifully practicing their craft in quiet seclusion, and occasional television talking heads only second. The Schamusons of today are agented megastars, their work as historians inseparable from their work in the media.

It’s doubtful that Professor Dixon would wish to put himself in that league (it seems safe to predict he’ll stay in London). His is much closer to the hard monographic work on which all good history, academic or popular, is built. He entirely eschews the massive interpretive claims of the Schamusons and their grand historical verdicts – characteristics of their work that make it eminently teachable, to be sure. Indeed Dixon’s colleagues might wish that his book spoke more often directly to their professional concerns. But we must not ask for the moon. His book is a richly rewarding depiction, impeccably produced, of the Age of Catherine the Great in all its questionable glory. The notion that history can be at once instructive and entertaining is here handsomely vindicated.

Prophet Warnings: 9 intriguing predictions from history

From premonitions to contact with the spirit world, from royal astrologers to ploughboys, the prophets and psychics of the past continue to intrigue and mystify. Here we look at nine of the most famous seers from the past five centuries.

1. Nostradamus – Hitler’s Rise

Michel de Nostredame (1503-1566), known by the Latin form Nostradamus, was a leading Renaissance man whose work as an astrologer took him to the French royal court, where he did horoscopes for Catherine de Medici (1519-1589) and later became court physician.

The enduring popular image of Nostradamus is of the bearded medieval mystic sitting in his dark attic, quill in hand, looking into a bowl of water (scrying). Here the Frenchman foresaw some of the great events of history, including the rise of Napoleon and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Read more about: Mysteries

Nostradamus: Which of his predictions came true?

One prophecy from his 1555 book Les Prophéties, reads, according to one translation:

‘In the mountains of Austria near the Rhine / There will be born of simple parents,’

And then in another quatrain it says:

‘The greatest part of the battlefield / Will be against Hister’.

This has been interpreted by some to refer to Adolf Hitler. In fact, ‘Hister’ is another name for the Lower Danube. The Hitler interpretation was made by writer Erika Cheetham (1939-1998), and despite being heavily disputed by scholars has continued to hold sway in the popular imagination.

In 1983, French scholars published a wealth of the private correspondence of Nostradamus and demonstrated that most of the ‘prophecies’ of Nostradamus that have been espoused in the modern era are either misinterpretations or outright fabrications.

2. Robert Nixon – The Abdication of King James II

Known as the ‘Cheshire Prophet’, Robert Nixon was born into a poor farming family in 1467. Withdrawn and virtually mute, today there would be a much kinder diagnosis, but in the 15th century Robert was the ‘village idiot’.

One day the young man spoke up and eerily pointed at an ox, predicting its imminent death. Shocked farm hands then watched the animal keel over and expire in front of them. Powerful seer or budding vet? The local dignitaries, farmers, and Nixon’s family were intrigued and baffled in equal measure.

Read more about: British History

A brief history of the Jacobite Risings

One night Nixon regaled drinkers in a local tavern with all the forthcoming events he had seen in a vision in the sky, such as the rise of Oliver Cromwell and the French Revolution.

Probably Nixon’s most famous prophecy concerned King James II. The Cheshire Prophet declared in the pub:

‘When a raven shall build its nest in a stone lion’s mouth on top of a church in Cheshire, a king of England shall be driven out of his kingdom to return nevermore.’

Two hundred years later, in 1688, a raven did reputedly build a nest in a gargoyle on top of a Cheshire church the day before James II was dethroned and exiled to France, where he died.

Nixon even allegedly predicted his own torturous death – dying of ‘thirst and starvation’ - which occurred after he was locked inside a wooden chest and forgotten about while a guest of King Henry VII.

3. Elizabeth Barton – The Death of King Henry VIII

By the mid-1520s word was spreading throughout England of a wondrous Benedictine nun named Elizabeth Barton (1506-1534). Her ‘miracles, revelations and prophecies’ earned her nicknames such as ‘The Holy Maid of Kent’.

By the early 1530s, Sister Barton was popular and influential. For a time, King Henry VIII and his most powerful aides were happy for Barton to have legitimacy as a public prophetess because her ‘visions’ encouraged Henry’s bloodthirsty purge of heretics and rebels. But the nun quickly fell out of royal favour after starting to prophesise that if Henry divorced Catherine of Aragon and married Anne Boleyn, within a month he would ‘die a villain’s death’ after losing his kingdom.

Read more about: Tudor History

The killer king: How many people did Henry VIII execute?

Sister Elizabeth Barton was executed on 20th April 1534 along with five of her key allies. In January of that year, Sister Elizabeth had been attainted (being not just condemned to death but also stripped of lands and titles) for being a ‘false prophet’ that had conspired to topple the king.

4. William Lilly - The Great Fire of London

William Lilly (1602-1681), a farmer’s son from Leicestershire, walked to London at the age of eighteen to seek fame and fortune.

In 1647 he published his Christian Astrology, considered one of the most important works in western astrology. His 36 almanacs contained all manner of prophecies and predictions.

In his 1651 book Monarchy or No Monarchy, Lily drew pictures that appeared to accurately predict the coming Great Fire of London of 1666, which destroyed two-thirds of the capital. After the big blaze, these pictures were interpreted as an accurate forecast and Lilly was hauled before an investigative committee, accused of starting the inferno himself. He ended his days rather peacefully for a prophet, dying at the grand old age of 79.

5. The Brahan Seer – The Battle of Culloden

Kenneth Mackenzie was no ordinary farm labourer. Known as the Brahan Seer, or Coinneach Odhar (‘Dark Kenneth’ in Scottish Gaelic), he was believed to have been born on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland in the early 17th century.

After acquiring a reputation as a local seer, he was taken on as a resident prophet by the lords of the Brahan estate near Dingwall on the Scottish mainland

Around six miles east of Inverness is Drumrossie Moor, site of the famous 1746 Battle of Culloden, where Charles Stuart’s Jacobite army was decimated by government forces under the Duke of Cumberland.

Read more about: British History

Bonnie Prince Charlie: Rebel prince

In 1630, Kenneth Mackenzie was said to have been walking across Drumrossie Moor when he suddenly went into a fervour, crying: ‘Oh! Drumrossie, thy bleak moor shall, ere many generations have passed away, be stained with the best blood of the Highlands. Glad I am that I will not see the day! Heads will be lopped off by the score, and no mercy shall be shown.’

Over a century later, Cumberland earned the nickname ‘Butcher’ by showing ‘no mercy’.

6. Jacques Cazotte – Madame Guillotine and the French Revolution

Jacques Cazotte (1719-1792) was a French author, occultist, and frequent guest at that great institution of 18th-century France: the salon. At one such dinner party in Paris in 1788, he shocked the guests by predicting that King Louis XVI would be executed in the coming revolution, as well as many aristocrats, including some present there that very evening.

In May 1789, the French Revolution began, and many nobles lost their heads, as Cazotte had predicted. It was a few years later, in January 1793, that his darkest prophecy came to fruition – when King Louis XIV was guillotined in front of a huge crowd in the centre of Paris.

Read more about: Battles

Napoleon: flawed hero or power-mad tyrant?

Cazotte, too, had an appointment with ‘Madame Guillotine’. Whether he had foreseen his own death or not is unknown, but in September 1792 he was decried as a royalist by the revolutionary authorities and beheaded.

7. Emanuel Swedenborg – His own death

Enigmatic Swedish polymath Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) spent his early adult life travelling and studying around Europe.

Swedenborg claimed to have endured one night in his fifties a harrowing revelation from Jesus Christ, who informed Swedenborg of his new direct line to the spirit world.

Swedenborg went on to make many psychic revelations, including ‘seeing’ the disastrous Stockholm fire of 1759 happening while at a dinner party in Gothenburg, 250 miles away.

His most prophecy, however, concerned his own death.

In 1772 he wrote to John Wesley (1703-1791), the founder of the Methodist Church, and asked to meet with him. When Wesley offered to meet him several weeks after that date, Swedenborg replied that he would be joining the ‘world of spirits’ on 29 March. Swedenborg indeed died on that date, while in London, where he was buried for nearly 150 years before being moved to Sweden.

8. Wolf Messing – Hitler’s Disastrous Russian Campaign

Born in Warsaw, mind magician Wolf Messing (1899-1974) travelled the world in his teens giving public performances of his psychic powers.

Read more about: Medieval History

The Nazi hunt for holy treasure from Thor's Hammer to the Holy Grail

Famous for his legendary stunt where he found his way into Stalin’s private room unchallenged, Messing’s most chilling prophecy occurred before the outbreak of World War II. In a packed Warsaw theatre, he told the eager audience that: ‘If Hitler goes to war against the East, his death awaits him.’ He was also reputed to have predicted when the war would begin, being out by just a month, and even apparently told Stalin in the early years of the war that he had had a vision of Soviet tanks entering Berlin.

Was Messing a gifted psychic or simply a lucky guesser with a good grasp of history and international relations?

9. Jeane Dixon – The Death of JFK

American astrologer Jeane Dixon (1904-1997) claimed that as a young girl a fortune teller in a covered wagon told her that she would become a famous psychic.

A prolific predicter, Dixon was dubbed ‘the national seer’ by the press.

As early as 1952 she predicted that a ‘blue-eyed Democrat’ would be in the White House in 1960 and would be ‘assassinated or die in office’. This does accurately describe iconic US president John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) - apart from his eyes, which were ‘greenish-grey’.

Catherine the Great: your guide to the famed Empress of Russia

Was Russia's most renowned female ruler Catherine the Great – played by actress Helen Mirren in TV series The Great – an astute military leader and spearhead of human rights? Or was she a "deceitful harlot" who only served the privileged? And the question everyone wants to know: did she murder her husband, Tsar Peter III?

This competition is now closed

Published: October 21, 2019 at 1:00 pm

When Catherine Alekseyevna, empress consort of all the Russians, awoke on 28 June 1762, it was to startling news. She jumped out of bed, hastily got dressed, and rushed to the carriage that was waiting for her in the grounds of her palace, the Peterhof. Such was Catherine’s haste that morning that she didn’t have time to do her hair before jumping in her carriage. Instead, her expensive French hairdresser attended to it while she swept through the streets of Saint Petersburg.

As the carriage picked up speed, Catherine can hardly have failed to notice that crowds were thronging the roadside to hail her progress. When she reached her destination, it soon became clear why. Her husband, Tsar Peter III of Russia, had been deposed in a coup, led away in tears to a very uncertain future – and Catherine was to replace him.

If Catherine had considered the magnitude of the task that confronted her that morning, she might have headed straight back to bed rather than boldly accept the army’s invitation to become their tsarina. Russia in the mid-18th century was a vast, unruly and, in many ways, backwards country, blighted by poverty and massive inequality. Thanks to her riotous love life, her passion for high art and her fabulously expensive tastes, Catherine would carve out a reputation as one of the most colourful rulers in European history, arguably becoming in the process the most powerful woman in history. But it was her achievement in turning Russia from basket case into a bona fide world superpower that earned her that most prized of epithets, ‘the Great’.

Listen: Janet Hartley explores Catherine the Great’s life and considers whether there is any truth behind the scandals associated with her, on this episode of the HistoryExtra podcast

Timeline: Catherine the Great

21 April 1729*

Sophia of Anhalt Zerbst, the future Catherine the Great, is born in Stettin (now Szczecin in Poland) to Princess Johanna Elizabeth of Holstein-Gottorp and Prince Christian August of Anhalt Zerbst.

21 August 1745

Catherine (the name she took in 1744 when she converted to Russian Orthodoxy) marries the future Peter III in St Petersburg during the reign of Elizabeth.

25 December 1761

Peter III becomes tsar of Russia.

28 June 1762

Peter III is deposed by Catherine with the help of elite army officers, including her lover Grigory Orlov. She becomes empress.

30 July 1767

Catherine publishes her Instruction, which proposes liberal, humanitarian political theories.

25 July 1772

Austria, Prussia and Russia agree to partition Poland-Lithuania. Russia gains territory in Lithuania.

10 July 1774

The Treaty of Kuchuk Kainarji (today Kaynardzha in Bulgaria) ends the first Russo-Turkish war (1768–74). Russia acquires significant territory on the northern coast of the Black Sea, including the towns of Kerch and Kinburn and the coast between the rivers Bug and Dnieper.

8 April 1783

Catherine issues a manifesto proclaiming her intention to annex the Crimea from the Ottoman empire. The annexation is confirmed in practice by an agreement with the Turks on 28 December 1783.

21 April 1785

Charters to the nobles and towns are promulgated, clarifying the rights and privileges of nobles and townspeople.

5 October 1791

Grigory Potemkin, Catherine’s favourite and former lover, dies on campaign in Moldavia just before the conclusion of the treaty with the Ottoman empire that ends the second Russo-Turkish War.

13 October 1795

The final partition of Poland-Lithuania is agreed between Austria, Prussia and Russia. Russia acquires 120,000 square km of Lithuania, western Ukraine and Belarus as a result of the three partitions.

6 November 1796

Catherine dies in St Petersburg.

*All dates according to the Julian calendar, used in 18th-century Russia. This timeline first appeared in BBC History Magazine in September 2019

What did Catherine the Great accomplish?

Catherine’s accomplishments are made all the more remarkable by the fact that she didn’t have a single drop of Russian blood in her body. She was born Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg on 2 May 1729 in what was then the city of Stettin (now Szczecin in Poland) to Prussian aristocrats. Her mother, Princess Johanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp, was a very small fish in Europe’s royal pond but she did have limitless ambition for her daughter and, just as importantly, connections. And it was one of these connections that enabled her to wangle an invitation for the young Catherine to the court of Empress Elizabeth of Russia. Luckily for Johanna, Catherine was a gifted girl. She was pretty, intelligent and, above all, charming, and her magnetic personality had soon enchanted Elizabeth – so much so that the Russian empress engineered Catherine’s engagement to her nephew, Peter.

Catherine’s union with Russia’s heir apparent would catapult her onto the world stage. But as a relationship, it was a car crash. She was worldly and cultured, devouring books on politics and history, and later exchanging letters with the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire. Peter was self-absorbed and immature, “talking”, as Catherine wrote, “of nothing but soldiers and toys. I listened politely and often yawned but did not interrupt him.”

Their marriage got off to an awful start – on their wedding night Peter left his new wife in bed while he caroused downstairs with his friends – and, with Peter’s elevation to tsar on his aunt’s death in December 1761, things only got worse. Soon he was taking mistresses and openly talking of pushing Catherine aside to allow one of them to rule with him. Not even the birth of a son, Paul, could save the marriage – rumours abounded that Paul’s father was in fact Catherine’s lover, the handsome courtier Sergei Saltykov .

He may have been tsar, but Peter suffered one crucial disadvantage in his confrontation with his wife – he was reviled by swathes of the Russian army. So when Catherine engineered a coup against him – with the help of artillery officer Grigory Orlov – it quickly picked up a devastating momentum. Peter, it was said, “gave up the throne like a child being put to bed”. For the most part, Russia’s church, military and aristocracy welcomed their new female ruler. But the Empress had even bigger fish to fry. She wanted Europe’s superpowers – Britain and France – to accord her nation the respect that she believed it deserved, and that could only be achieved on the military stage.

The great debate: did Catherine the Great kill her husband?

Coups were hardly rare in early-modern Europe, but what makes Tsar Peter III’s downfall in the summer of 1762 so intriguing is the identity of those who masterminded it. That Catherine was complicit in the deposition of her husband is almost beyond doubt – the couple’s relationship had long turned toxic, she had everything to gain from his removal (the Russian throne), and her lover, Grigory Orlov, was the public face of the revolt. But what is less certain is Catherine’s role in what happened next.

The coup caught Peter completely on the hop. After formally abdicating, he was. arrested, taken to the village of Ropsha, and placed in the custody of Alexei Grigoryevich Orlov, Grigory’s brother. A few days later he was dead.

The official explanation was that he had fallen victim to ‘haemorrhoidal colic’. But few doubted that he had been murdered. The big question is, did Catherine order the killing?

The fact is, we just don’t know. Most historians agree that she could, if she’d wished, acted to save Peter – by, for example, allowing him a passage into exile – and that she had lots to gain by ridding herself of him for good. But proving that the new empress had her husband’s blood on her hands has so far proved utterly elusive.

Catherine the Great’s military endeavours

Over the next three decades, Catherine’s armies embarked on a series of military endeavours that would establish Russia as an imperial heavyweight. In the east she partitioned Poland and swallowed up swathes of Lithuania and Belarus. In the south, she took the fight to the Ottoman Empire, with spectacular results.

In their confrontations with the Turks, the Russians were greatly hampered by the lack of a naval presence on the Mediterranean. To overcome this Achilles’ heel, Russia’s generals came up with an audacious plan – to sail a fleet over 4,000 miles from its home port in the Baltic around the west of France and Spain, and up the Mediterranean to take the Turks by surprise. Catherine signed off on the plan, and the payback was game-changing – a famous victory at the battle of Chesma in July 1770 (in which Russia lost at most 600 dead to the Turks’ 9,000″ and a foothold in the Mediterranean. She would later annex the Crimea.

More military victories followed – many of them masterminded by the dashing head of Catherine’s armies, Grigory Potemkin. By the mid-1770s, however, Potemkin was a lot more than just the empress’s chief military adviser – he was her lover. Catherine was smitten, calling him “My colossus… my tiger”, and writing: “Me loves General a lot.” If anyone can be called the love of Catherine’s life, it was he.

But he was far from the last. After her affair with Potemkin fizzled out, Catherine took on a string of new lovers – many of them, curiously, recommended by Potemkin himself. And as the Tsarina grew more elderly, so her new beaus appeared to grow younger – the last, Prince Platon Zubov, was 38 years her junior. Sharing a bed with someone old enough to be your grandmother may not have been to everyone’s taste, but it certainly had its compensations. Catherine routinely bestowed her paramours with titles, land and palaces – and, in one case, more than a thousand serfs.

Eligible young army officers weren’t alone in falling for Catherine’s charms. As her global reputation grew, more and more members of Europe’s intelligentsia developed a fascination with her, some travelling east to report back on the enigmatic woman behind Russia’s renaissance.

“The double doors opened and the Empress appeared,” wrote the French portrait artist Madame Vigée Le Brun after observing Catherine at a gala. “I have said that she was quite small, and yet on the days when she made her public appearances, with her head held high, her eagle-like stare and a countenance accustomed to command, all this gave her such an air of majesty that to me she might have been Queen of the World.”

If Catherine the Great had one overarching goal as empress, it was, in her words, to “drag Russia out of its medieval stupor and into the modern world”. In her eyes, that meant introducing Enlightenment values to the darkest recesses of Russian life, and investing vast sums of energy into promoting the arts. At the latter of these two ambitions, Catherine has few equals. She presided over a golden age of Russian culture, buying the art collection of Britain’s first prime minister, Robert Walpole, snapping up cultural treasures from France and, above all, creating one of the world’s great art collections, the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg. This was no ordinary museum but a shrine to the Enlightenment, and in its galleries Catherine placed 38,000 books, 10,000 drawings and countless engraved gems.

But all this cost money. Eye watering sums of money. Catherine was an inveterate spendthrift, and while she frittered 12 per cent of Russia’s national budget on her court alone, millions of serfs continued to live in grinding poverty.

How many affairs did Catherine the Great have?

The woman who became Catherine the Great was far from the ideal wife. Her marriage to Peter III of Russia lasted from 1745 until his suspicious death in 1762, and she had at least three lovers during this time (Catherine herself hinted that her husband had not fathered her children). As the widowed empress, she showed great favouritism to male courtiers and gained a reputation for rampant promiscuity that has veiled her love-life in myth. Various scholars have credited her with anywhere between 12 and 300 lovers – and even a secret second marriage.

Broken promises

When Catherine assumed the throne, it appeared that she would make some serious strides towards dismantling a system that, for centuries, had condemned Russia’s serfs to work as virtual slaves for their masters. She sponsored the ‘Nakaz’ (or ‘Instruction’), a draft law code heavily influenced by the principles of the French Enlightenment, which proclaimed the equality of all men before the law and disapproved of the death penalty and torture.

But draft stage is as far as the plans got. Catherine never followed through on the Nakaz, and a few years later, thousands of serfs were rising in revolt. They were led by a Cossack called Yemelyan Pugachev, who not only promised their freedom but declared that he was Catherine’s deposed husband, returning to reclaim his throne. This may sound faintly ridiculous, but for Catherine it was deadly serious and, as the rebels hunted down and butchered 1,500 nobles, she struggled to come up with a response to the insurrection.

When she eventually did, she was utterly ruthless. The revolt was crushed, Pugachev was captured, and he was forced to endure a thoroughly unenlightened death – first he was hanged and then his limbs were chopped off. Before long, Catherine enacted a series of laws that greatly increased the nobility’s privileges. For the vast majority of Russians, freedom would have to wait.

By now, Catherine was an old woman increasingly forced to consider what would happen to her adopted nation after her death. She had a frosty relationship with her son Paul, and made it abundantly clear that she’d far prefer her grandson Alexander to succeed her to the throne. It was a battle she would lose – in the short term at least. On 16 November 1796, Catherine had a stroke while on the toilet (not while performing a bizarre sexual act, as a stubborn but completely fabricated rumour has it) and died the following day. Paul was crowned tsar and, in a remarkable show of spite towards his mother, immediately passed a law banning a woman from ever again taking the throne. But his triumph was to be short-lived. Like his father, he was deposed and assassinated in a coup – to be replaced by Catherine’s favourite, Alexander. Most things that Catherine the Great had willed during her extraordinary life came to pass, and it seems that they continued to do so even beyond the grave.

Catherine the Great&aposs first marriage was a mismatch.

Her arranged marriage with her husband, the future Czar Peter III, was a mismatch from the beginning. By 1752, nine years into her marriage, Catherine had already found an alternative lover, Sergei Saltykov. Shortly after that she met Stanislaus Poniatowski, with whom she had a daughter, and whom she would later install as king of Poland, thereby strengthening Russia’s position in Europe with a loyal vassal. After overthrowing her husband Peter III in a coup d’état in July 1762, Catherine was crowned Empress of Russia. She would never marry again, instead taking lovers whom she promoted to key positions in the Russian government.

A key player in the coup was Grigory Orlov with whom she would have a son while she was still married. When in August 1772 Orlov left court, Catherine took another lover, Alexander Vasilchikov. But this relationship did not last long: Vasilchikov was replaced in 1774 with Grigory Potemkin, who became Catherine’s long-term de facto consort. Of this change in partners, Catherine wrote to a friend: "Why do you reproach me because I dismiss a well-meaning but extremely boring bourgeois in favor of one of the greatest, the most comical and amusing, characters of this iron century?" Even after their relationship ended around 1776, Potemkin remained her favorite minister, earning the title “Prince of the Holy Roman Empire.”

Over the next 20 years, Catherine would have a further seven romantic relationships. Although these were usually with much younger men, there is little to suggest any kind of voracious sexual appetite. So where do the legends about Catherine come from?

Grigory Orlov and Grigory Potemkin, lovers of Empress Catherine.

Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

In reality, Catherine &aposloved to be in love&apos

Even during her lifetime, Catherine couldn’t escape the talk about her love life. There are stories out there about her associated with nymphomania, bestiality, voyeurism — and even a love of erotic furniture. And perhaps the most notorious myth is that she died making love to a horse. In actuality, she passed away after she suffered a stroke at 67 in 1796.

But the truth is: While she did have many lovers, she was never in a relationship with more than one at a time. And most of those relationships lasted at least a couple of years.

“She was a serial monogamist,” Helen Mirren, who portrays Catherine on the small screen, told Vanity Fair. “She loved to be in love. She loved the excitement of the eyes across the room as they enter and the dates. She went on dates, if you like. The difference was that when she was tired of someone, she either gave them a country, or she gave them a huge palace and enough money for them and their family to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. She had that financial power over people.”

Since she didn’t want to marry again (or else she𠆝 have to split her power), her grandiose parting gifts after a breakup became legendary. One ex is said to have received 1,000 indentured servants while Poniatowski was made the king of Poland.

The new Tudor King

Henry VII took care not to be too radical and he strove to keep control of all government matters, he was organized and oversaw all he could, without involving others. He knew his position was tenuous. He was, on the face of it, industrious and ruled with a powerful authority, with Majesty. He believed in the crown, he had to, if the Tudors were to become successful. He had to eliminate rival claimants and there were many. The previous royal family had married and intermarried with a range of aristocratic families and there were many who could claim 'royalty', it had got too complicated. Henry married Elizabeth of York, seemingly uniting the houses York and Lancaster and in that moment created a brand, the Tudor Rose that came to symbolize the new era, the Tudor Period.

3. Elizabeth had become Empress after deposing Ivan IV, who was Emperor at the time – and an actual baby.

We see him as a child on The Great – one who is never Emperor, and who is murdered by Elizabeth. But the real Ivan became Emperor at only two months old, was deposed by Elizabeth just over a year later, and was imprisoned until the age of 23, when he was murdered by his guards during the reign of Catherine the Great.

Annotated Bibliography

Alexander, John T. Catherine the Great: Life and Legend. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
Alexander examines the life of Catherine the Great in general, but pays particular attention to issues which other books on Catherine usually omit. He first focuses on her involvement in the coup d'etat: a conspiracy against her husband Peter III. Alexander discusses Catherine's concern with the crisis in public health in Russia, including her attempts to fight smallpox, pestilence, and the plague. Catherine had many lovers throughout her life and Alexander includes the love notes written to Peter Zavadovski from the years 1776 to 1777. Alexander attacks the stories of Catherine's involvement with bestiality. He assures readers that Catherine did not die while attempting to have sexual intercourse with a horse, but rather after suffered from an attack of apoplexy while sitting on her commode. Alexander not only discusses Catherine's life while she was Empress of Russia, but he also discusses her impact in the later centuries on stage and screen, sculpture, and painting.

Anthony, Katharine. Catherine the Great. Garden City, N.Y.: Garden City Publishing Company, Inc., 1925.
The book focuses on the primary events of Catherine the Great's life. It spends much attention examining Catherine's early years before she became Empress. Anthony also examines Catherine's relations with her multitude of lovers, especially Grigory Orlov and Grigory Potemkin. Anthony refers to both Catherine's envy of French art and culture and her resentment of the French attitude towards Russians as barbarians. Anthony discusses how Catherine viewed the French as the enemy. Catherine's intentions were to put her grandson, Alexander, not her son Paul, on the throne of Russia. She also intended to place her grandson Constantine on the throne of the Greek and Oriental Empires. Anthony includes a few pictures of Catherine and there is a short index at the end of the book. There is neither a bibliography nor endnotes to further assist the reader's research of Catherine The Great. This also leaves doubt to the legitimacy and authenticity of Anthony's work.

Cowles, Virginia. The Romanovs. New York, N.Y.: Harper and Row, 1971.
This book concentrates on the lives of those related to the Romanov dynasty. Chapter IV is dedicated to Catherine The Great. Cowles focuses on Catherine's promiscuity. She goes as far as to call Catherine a nymphomaniac. When Catherine's husband took the throne of Russia, Catherine was pregnant with Grigory Orlov's child. After Orlov's involvement in overthrowing her husband from the throne of Russia, Catherine refused to marry him. In the latter portion of the book she discusses Catherine's relationship with Grigory Potemkin. He was referred to as the "cyclops of the court." He had lost an eye, and one of the stories blames the loss of this eye on Catherine's former lover, Grigory Orlov. Potemkin apparently was involved in a fight with the Orlov brothers. Although it is believed Catherine never remarried after Peter III, many letters written to Potemkin address him as 'dear husband,' 'beloved husband' and she alludes to herself as 'your wife.' Cowles also examines her love of art and literature, including her correspondences with Voltaire and Diderot. Through her love of writing, Catherine poured her heart out in letters and memoirs. Despite her hatred of France, Catherine embraced the French language and culture. French was the language of her court. Catherine thought of herself as a liberal. The book features many color photographs that were specially commissioned by Russian born photographer, Victor Kennet.

Nevermore/CGREAT.HTM> (9 Nov 2004).
This web site by Dixon, a historian, discusses Catherine the Great and provides personal opinions of her. It contains an analysis of her ruling style, along with information about her marriage, the birth of her son, the reign of Peter III, and her reign as Empress. It includes pictures of her and those who were closely related to her and provides a bibliography. Dixon believes that Russia owes her much for her reign and that she truly earned the title "the Great." Dixon also believes that too many judge her for having promiscuous relationships while she may have just been filling her lonely hours by sharing her intellect with these men. She believes that in order to judge her greatness and see her achievements, one must distinguish between Catherine the woman and Catherine the Empress.

Dmytryshyn, Basil. Modernization of Russia Under Peter I and Catherine II. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1974.
Half of the book focuses solely on the life of Peter I. The section dedicated to Catherine is entitled: "Catherine II's Instruction." Catherine achieved modernization through plagiarism of Peter I. This book examines the decrees and laws established under Catherine. These laws tried to bring to a successful conclusion the work of modernization that had been started by Peter I. Catherine tried to remodel Russia's laws, institutions, and society in accordance with the principles being expounded in Western Europe. The French Enlightenment inspired and persuaded Catherine's actions. She clearly states that Russia is a European state. She was also concerned with Russia's territory, its government, and the situation of its people. Dmytryshyn examines Grigory Orlov and his relationship with the Empress as well as his role in helping Catherine obtain the throne. Catherine's actions during her reign are examined through the eyes of Catherine, Russia, and foreigners. This book lacks an index and contains a small number of footnotes.

Gooch, G.P. Catherine The Great and Other Studies. Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1966.
Gooch refers to Catherine as one of the three celebrated 'Philosophic Despots' of the eighteenth century. Gooch questions whether or not Catherine's son Paul was the legitimate heir of Peter III, or the son of one of Catherine's lovers. He further examines the poor relationship between Catherine and her son. Despite other author's accusations of Catherine's hatred of France, Gooch devotes a whole chapter to Catherine's sympathy towards Marie Antoinette and her troubles resulting from the French Revolution. She is quoted as admiring her. The book begins to lose its focus on Catherine after discussing her relationship with Voltaire. The book goes on to discuss French salons and Otto von Bismark of Germany. There is a substantial section dedicated to Voltaire and his work as a historian. There is an index to further help the reader but there is no bibliography nor are there any footnotes.

Kaus, Gina. Catherine: The Portrait of an Empress. New York: The Viking Press, 1935.
Kaus pays a great deal of attention to Catherine's early life. Her relationship with her siblings and the poor relationship she had with her father discussed in detail. Catherine hungered for love, something she would struggle with for her whole life. She desired a husband who would provide her with a crown more dazzling than that of Zerbst, in her native land of Germany. Her marriage to Peter III was a failure but provided her with the crown of Russia. Her extramarital affairs are discussed. After the conspiracy against her husband was successfully carried out, the Imperial Guards proclaimed her the sole ruler of Russia. There was an intense hatred between Catherine and her son Paul,and because of this, Catherine planned to make her grandson, Alexander, the successor to the throne of Russia. Grigory Potemkin loved and admired her as no one else in Catherine's life. A number of illustrations are included as well as an index.

Lentin, Tony. "The Return of Catherine The Great." History Today, December 1996, 16-20.
This article celebrates the bicentenary year of her death. There is suddenly a new wave of scholarly interest after an international conference in St. Petersburg. The article focuses on her accomplishments during her reign. She provided Russia with three and a half decades of political stability. She dedicated herself to the Enlightenment and putting those ideas into practice through legislation. She believed passionately in the power of the printed word. She encouraged book production and the translation of foreign works into Russian. The article highlights some of Catherine's most important reforms brought about during her reign. It also refers to some of the newest sources available on Catherine The Great and Lentin includes them in his citations.

Masson, Charles. Secret Memoirs of the Court of Petersburg. 2 nd ed. New York, N.Y.: Arno Press, 1970.
Masson examines Catherine's " favorites " or lovers whom she held in high esteem during her life. There are also documents, which question whether Russia would suffer the same fate as France and succumb to revolution. Chapter six examines the conditions in Russia that might have led up to a revolution. Masson comments on the debauchery occurring in Russia that went seemingly unpunished. Masson discusses female run governments in general and especially the female leaders of Russia before Catherine II. Catherine The Great tried to better the lives of Russian women. She gave them some positions of power and founded the Smol'ny Institute, Russia's first girls' school, in 1769. Catherine's love for knowledge and education were to be passed along to her grandsons but not in such elaborate fashion as she had planned. Their education was based on the great thinkers such as Locke, and Rousseau. Catherine imported many French scholars to educate the Russians, and he contributes this as a factor to why so many Russians, including Catherine, were taken by French culture. This book focuses in general on the influences in Catherine's life.

O'Malley, Lurana Donnels. "Masks of the Empress." Comparative Drama, Spring 1997, 65-85.
O'Malley reviews Catherine The Great's first play, Oh These Times. She discusses Catherine's use of plays as a way of expressing her political messages and priorities. Her attitude toward superstition and her attitude towards Moscow are major themes of the play. Moscow signified everything that needed change in her Enlightened Russia. The play also is a reflection of her moral and religious beliefs. This article enlightens the reader to yet, another of Catherine's talents. This article is an example of one of the enjoyments of Catherine's life and how she used it to further influence the lives of her subjects.

Raeff, Marc. "Autocracy Tempered by Reform or Regicide." The American Historical Review, October 1993, 1143-55.
The article examines the neglect of Catherine the Great's reign in Russia. He discusses new biographies written about the successive rule of Catherine II, Peter III, and Paul I. Raeff blames Communism for the neglect of this period of Russian History. With Communism's collapse in Russia there is now a renewed interest in people such as Catherine the Great.

Reddaway, W.F. Documents of Catherine The Great. New York: 1971.
This book was written in French, and later translated into English. The book is a reproduction of the correspondences between Catherine and Voltaire between the years 1762 and 1777. The letters reveal Catherine's philosophies in law, punishment, trade and commerce, and education. The book discusses Peter the Great's inspiration in regard to Catherine's projected code. Reddaway offers his commentary and analysis after each chapter. A timeline relevant to the correspondence of Catherine and Voltaire is included at the end of the book. It includes what was happening in philosophy, in Britain, within the European continent, and in Russia.

Scott, Robert H. "Catherine the Great." [ From Microsoft Encarta. 1995] <http://great.russian-women.net/Catherine_the_Great.shtml> (9 November 2004).
This site proved to give a rather thorough description of the life of Catherine II. It includes how she came to power as Empress of Russia, her role in Enlightenment literature, and her efforts to rationalize and reform the administration of the Russian Empire. It stresses the role that Catherine played in the development of Russia into a modern state.

StanKlos.com. "Catherine the Great, Ekaterina Alexeevna, 1729-1796, Empress Of All Russia." Virtualology. 2000. <http://www.virtualology.com/virtualmuseumofhistory/internationalhall/worldleaders/CATHERINETHEGREAT.ORG/> (9 November 2004).
A picture of her autograph and briefly annotated links to several other sites.

"The Empress of Opera." Civilization, 1 February 1997, 15.
Although the article is short in length, it discusses some important elements of Catherine's life. For example, her correspondence with French philosophers and the many lovers she had throughout her life are examined. Supposedly tone-deaf, Catherine devoted some of her time to opera. She wrote librettos for operas that were composed by musicians who she imported to St. Petersburg. Her most extravagant work was the dramatic History of Oleg. Oleg was a ninth-century Russian prince. Her work expressed her political views. The article makes it a point to mention that since she was Empress, she could easily get her librettos published. Despite this fact, contemporary audiences applauded her work.

Thomson, Gladys Scott. Catherine the Great and the Expansion of Russia. Aylesbury, London: English Universities Press, LTD., 1950.
Thomson presents a thorough view of Catherine the Great from her childhood until her death. Thomson discusses Catherine's young life in Germany and her incompatibility with Peter III. Thomson attributes reading as the basis for her involvement in politics. A major portion of the book is spent on her foreign policy and her dealings with Lithuania, Poland, and the defeat of Turkey. The relationship between Grigory Potemkin is discussed in great detail. The book also examines the continuation of Peter The Great's improvements and modernization of Russia. Because of this concept of modernization, Catherine built statues and public gardens and promoted music, theater, and dancing. She built an academy to supervise all the branches of art throughout Russia. She also founded a royal school of theater. Catherine was especially concerned with smallpox and plague, so she stimulated improvements in the science of medicine. The relationship between Catherine and her grandsons is another section of importance in this book. There is an annotated bibliography included at the end of the book for further reading on Catherine The Great.

U.S. Library of Congress. "Early Imperial Russia."Country Studies US. n.d. <http://countrystudies.us/russia/4.htm> (9 November 2004).
This site focuses on the Imperial Expansion of Russia during the reigns of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great. It describes the annexation of many areas as the result of various treaties, as well as the the results from partitioning Poland. It also discusses the Pugachev Uprising which led to Catherine's determination to reorganize Russia's administration. Overall it shows how Catherine set the foundation for the nineteenth century empire. It provides useful information about Catherine's role in Russia and her attempt to make its administration more effective.

Van de Pas, Leo. "Catherine II "the Great." Worldroots. http://worldroots.com/brigitte/gifs/cath2russia.jpg. (9 November 2004).
On a site about the ancestors and relations to the author, he includes a portrait of the elderly monarch.

Waliszewski, K. The Romance of an Empress. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1905.
Although this book was dedicated to Catherine's entire life, chapter eleven provided valuable insight to Catherine as a writer. It was in her works written for the stage that the pen of Catherine is most prolific(p356). She does a bit of everything in literature, but she concentrated especially on dramatic writing. She wrote plays that were satirical, philosophical, social, or religious. Waliszewski provides the reader with a detailed account of Catherine's life. Its only flaw is that there is no bibliography, index, or endnotes of any kind.

The Real Story Behind Catherine the Great's Mythologized Sex Life

Ahead of HBO's series, we sort through the legend and the truth of the Russian leader's colorful romantic proclivities.

Legends abound about Catherine the Great&mdashthe good kind and the bad kind. In the plus column, the longest-reigning empress of Russia transformed her empire into one of Europe&rsquos great and enduring powers, annexing over 200,000 miles of land, building over 100 new towns, and fostering a golden age of development for the arts and sciences. However, Catherine wasn&rsquot simply a great conqueror&mdashshe was also an enlightened intellectual and a forward-thinking trailblazer, a woman who championed vaccination, uplifted female artists, exchanged letters with leading philosophers like Voltaire, wrote memoirs, and penned the first works of children&rsquos literature published in Russia.

Yet other legends are less savory (and less factual), namely the legends concerning Catherine&rsquos infamous life between the sheets. Even in her lifetime, Catherine was known for her string of male lovers, many of whom were significantly younger than her, and some of whom reaped political and financial benefits from their arrangement. Yet thanks to misogyny, jealousy, and a poisonous court culture, Catherine was accused of practically every form of sexual deviance you can dream up--like bestiality, nyphomania, and voyeurism, to name a few.

With the monarch&rsquos story hitting television in HBO&rsquos Catherine the Great, we took it upon ourselves to sort fact from fiction when it comes to her personal life. Read on for the real story about how Catherine lived and loved.

Was Catherine the Great married?

Empress Catherine II of Russia was born Princess Sophie of Prussia (now Poland). In 1745, at the age of 16, she was married through a dynastic arrangement to her second cousin, the prospective Tsar Peter of Holstein-Gottorp. Upon her conversion to Russian Orthodoxy, she took the name Yekaterina (anglicized as Catherine).

The arranged marriage was a complete mismatch, largely due to Peter&rsquos personal failings--Peter was neurotic, stubborn, and an alcoholic. Desperately unhappy, Catherine began to take lovers. Though Catherine gave birth to three children who survived to adulthood, some historians believe that Peter fathered none of them, likely due to impotence or infertility.

Did Catherine the Great kill her husband?

Probably not, though public opinion held her accountable for his assassination. Catherine came to power through a political coup against her husband that lately turned deadly. When Peter inherited the throne, he quickly ended Russia&rsquos war with Prussia (as he was fanatically in thrall to the Prussian king, Frederick II) and sought to improve life for the working poor through domestic reform, alienating the military class as well as the nobility. Six months into his reign, when Peter left Saint Petersburg on vacation, Catherine met with the military, whom she implored to protect her from her husband.

Upon his return, Catherine ordered Peter&rsquos arrest and forced him to sign a document of abdication. As the only heir apparent was the crown prince Paul, then a small child, Catherine acceded to the throne. Eight days later, Peter died at the hands of Alexei Orlov, younger brother to Catherine&rsquos then-lover Grigory Orlov. No evidence exists to support Catherine&rsquos complicity in the assassination, yet the Russian public by and large held her accountable, casting a shadow over her reign. Though Catherine&rsquos detractors would argue that Paul should take the throne upon coming of age, Catherine squashed dozens of uprisings to reign for over three decades until her death.

How many lovers did Catherine the Great really have?

While some historians argue that Catherine took 22 male lovers, others claim that she had only 12 romantic relationships. Catherine loved to be in love, writing, &ldquoThe trouble is that my heart is loathe to remain even one hour without love.&rdquo

Though the number of Catherine&rsquos lovers is disputed, the nature of those relationships is not. Catherine aligned herself with generals, admirals, and wealthy nobles, forming relationships that were as politically rewarding as they were pleasurable.

What political favors did Catherine the Great&rsquos lovers receive?

Catherine was unfailingly generous to her current and former lovers, often dispatching them with parting gifts at the conclusion of their time together. Such gifts included lands, titles, palaces, and even people&mdashone former lover was dispatched with 1,000 indentured servants. Arguably the most handsomely rewarded of Catherine&rsquos lovers was Stanislaw Poniatowski, whom she later installed as the king of Poland in a bid to maintain Poland as a loyal vassal.

Who was Grigory Potemkin?

Grigory Potemkin, whose romantic and political relationship with Catherine is at the heart of HBO&rsquos new series, was largely believed to be the great love of Catherine&rsquos life. Potemkin was a minor noble who distinguished himself through military service in the Russo-Turkish War, after which he began a sexual relationship with Catherine and became the most powerful man in Russia. In Potemkin, Catherine found her equal, an intellectual and ambitious man with whom she could share power as well as romance. Together they masterminded the colonization of southern Russia, annexed Crimea, and founded the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which became one of the most powerful naval forces in Europe.

Potemkin reportedly possessed &ldquoelephantine sexual equipment,&rdquo according to one biography of Catherine. Catherine allegedly had his &ldquoglorious weapon&rdquo cast in porcelain to provide companionship while Potemkin was away, though the artifact has yet to be located, which casts doubt on the story. Catherine called Potemkin &ldquoGolden Pheasant&rdquo and &ldquoTwin Soul,&rdquo writing to him, &ldquoI love you all the time with all my soul.&rdquo

Even after their relationship ended, Potemkin remained a favorite of Catherine&rsquos, earning the title, &ldquoPrince of the Holy Roman Empire.&rdquo When Potemkin died of a fever at just 52, Catherine was distraught, writing to a friend, &ldquoA terrible deathblow has just fallen on my head&hellipmy pupil, my friend, almost my idol, Prince Potemkin of Taurida, has died&hellipyou cannot imagine how broken I am.&rdquo After Potemkin&rsquos death, Catherine never found another great love, instead choosing handsome, young, and politically insignificant men as her lovers, one of whom likened himself to a &ldquokept girl.&rdquo

How did Catherine the Great die?

She didn&rsquot die fucking a horse, that&rsquos for sure. The most notorious sexual myth about Catherine is that she was crushed to death by the horse with whom she was having sex. Other rumors claim that Catherine died while on the toilet. The reality is that Catherine suffered a stroke at 67 years old, then died peacefully in bed the following day.

Was Catherine the Great really a sexual deviant?

Stories about Catherine&rsquos sexual proclivities are numerous&mdashsome have argued that she collected erotic furniture, that she was a nyphomaniac, that she employed a trusted countess to vet potential lovers by sleeping with them first. Though Catherine took a number of lovers, there&rsquos little evidence to suggest that she had any deviant sexual proclivities. Catherine was famed for her sexual independence, but she was also the victim of a smear campaign by her envious and misogynistic male enemies--including her son Paul, who coveted the throne and sought to poison the court against her.

Progressive historians argue that many of the lurid stories about Catherine are vicious gossip spread by her enemies, which have now evolved into urban legends. After all, similar rumors of sexual depravity followed other powerful female leaders like Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, Elizabeth I. Whatever Catherine was into, she was a singularly modern woman and a formidable ruler. Russia as we know it wouldn&rsquot exist without her.

Watch the video: CATHERINE THE GREAT - 6 EPS HD - English subtitles