Women of Royalty
Catherine the Great
Sophie to Ekaterina
     Sophia August Frederika was born on May 2, 1729 in the coastal city of Szczecin, set on the Baltic Sea in German Pomerania, modern Poland. She was born to a lowly Prussian officer of German birth, Christian August von Anholt-Zerbst, and his wife, the German Princess Joanna Elizabeth of Holstein-Gottorp. Sophia's parents ruled the tiny German principality of Anhalt-Zerbst, an obscure piece of land set on the Baltic that was passed down hereditarily on her father's side of the family. Joanna Elizabeth was the daughter of Christian Augustus von Holstein-Gottorp and Albertina von Baden-Durlach. She was born on October 24, 1712. Her family was not prominent in the world of European politics but her brother, Karl August, had been the Empress of Russia's, Elizabeth, love before he died unexpectedly in St. Petersburg in 1727. The family lived in lowly obscurity. Christian was away most of the time fighting in the Prussian army as an officer and Sophia lived not in the splendor of most daughters of princesses but instead lived in a poor damaged house in Anhalt-Zerbst. Nicknamed Figchen, Sophia did not receive much of an education and played with peasant children. She perhaps even did the work of servants. Her mother was abusive to Sophia. Her life was definitely not that of a royal. However, a drastic change came that would indeed transform Sophia into the perfect picture of a royal. Elizabeth, Empress of Russia, was seeking out a bride for her nephew, the Grand Duke Peter, the next ruler of Russia. Elizabeth had always kept a good watch on Sophia's family, as she had loved Joanna Elizabeth's brother. In 1743, Elizabeth sent a letter to Joanna informing her that she wished for an audience with Sophia in Russia in order to discuss a possible marriage between Sophia and Peter. Before Joanna and Sophia set out for Russia in 1744, Frederick, the King of Prussia, held a banquet in Sophia's honor saying that if the marriage were to take place, an alliance would be made between Russia and Prussia.
     Joanna and Sophia arrived in St. Petersburg on February 9, 1744. Elizabeth was taken with Sophia. She saw Sophia as the perfect match for Peter. However, Peter did not like Sophia at all. Nevertheless Sophia married Peter and Sophia began her lessons to transform herself into a Russian. She converted to the Russian Orthodox faith, changed her name to Ekaterina, Russian for Catherine. She educated herself in the Russian language, Russian history, and diplomacy. Peter was a great disappointment. He was ugly, thin, and in no way athletic. He did not love his wife nor did he ever consummate his marriage with Catherine. Afraid that the dynasty would fall apart if Catherine never had a child with Peter, Elizabeth allowed Catherine to have an affair with a Russian officer named Serge Saltykov. Catherine did attempt to conceive a child, a boy named Peter. The father of the child has never been confirmed. Was it Peter's child? Or was it Saltykov's? It is not known.
Empress Elizabeth died on December 25, 1761. Peter and Catherine ascended to the throne of Russia as Emperor Peter III and Empress Catherine II. The Russian people hated Peter almost as much as Catherine did. He was a fanatic for Prussian customs and ways, and at the time tensions were growing between Russia and Prussia. The uniforms of the Russian army were changed to the Prussian uniforms and the Russian ways of war and fighting were discarded for the Prussian art of war.
     Peter began his very deep mistrust in Catherine at the time and one night when she refused to toast to him at a large social, her reported that Catherine's time was up, and secretly revealed his plans to lock her away.
Finally, Russia had enough of Peter and a rebellion exploded on June 28, 1762. Catherine escaped her apartments with her close friends, the Orlov brothers: dashing and handsome young men that were very loyal to Catherine, one of them, Grigori Orlov, being her lover. The brothers set out to capture and hold Peter ransom late at night, but soon Peter started to fight back from his bed and before the morning on July 17, 1762, the brothers had killed Peter. Catherine became the sole ruler of Russia when she was crowned on September 22, 1762 in the Kremlin in Moscow.
Empress of Russia
     Catherine quickly began to make changes in Russia after her ascension. She restored what her husband destroyed before westernizing the Russian ways.
     She began to reform the government after reading the works of the ancient Romans, French philosophers, and the authors of the Enlightenment. She found it hard to impose foreign precepts on the government and deeply fell into autocracy. Catherine continued the ruin of the Orthodox religion which had begun with Peter the Great, transforming priests into state officials and taking money from the church for her own expenses.
     Catherine built many great monuments across Russia. She changed St. Petersburg into an art center for artists, scientists, and writers alike. She spent millions of rubles on the Hermitage collection and buildings, which are now famed throughout the world. Catherine made many peace and war ties with other nations and kept Russia very sturdy and powerful.
     Her sex life was very extravegant. It is said that she would have groups of men brought to her rooms at times to 'experiment'. Although it is not true that she had sexual relations with a horse (which is very far-fetched), she did have many lovers and had a very interesting sex life.
     Her family life was not as prosperous as her accomplishments. She was urged to re-marry, but was not one for commitment. She did have many lovers. Saltykov and Orlov graced her past. A Russian officer, Potemkin, became Catherine's lover and rumors circulated that they had married in the Church of St. Samson in St. Petersburg. Catherine's son, Peter, was indeed very much like his estranged and hated supposed father, Emperor Peter III. He hated his mother and never forgave her for her role in his father's death. He never accepted the fact that his father was very likely Serge Saltykov. Indeed, he planned to erase and destroy his mother from Russian history and to destroy her accomplishments. Catherine did not favor her son very much after his crude and cruel words against his mother and decided it would better to name her grandson, Alexander, as her heir. However, she had presumed that she had many years to live and never made the transition of the powers before her death on November 6, 1796 of a heartattack.
     Catherine's accomplishments continue to live on today. The Hermitage still stands, as does the Catherine Palace, a sumptuous palace built in Tsarkoe Selo near the Alexander Palace named for her. Her empire continued to live on until the Russian monarchy fell in 1917. Her reign left impressions on the rulers of other European nations and even rulers of today. She made many transitions in the fields of education, government, art, and society. Today she is a revered icon and a reminder of the great age of the Romanovs.
(Originally published at http://catherinethegreat.freeservers.com)