Catherine the Great, also known as Catherine II was a female leader of Russia known for revitalizing the country and making it one of the great powers of Europe during her reign. She came into power after the death of her husband and rose to become the strongest and the longest ruling female leader of Russia. The period of her reign was known as Russia’s Golden Age; it was during her reign that the Russian empire expanded considerably, growing larger and stronger than ever before. Born as Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst, a minor princess, she gradually rose to become the leader of Russia through her marriage to Grand Duke Peter, the heir to the Russian throne. She had an unhappy marriage and was even living separately from her husband at one point. Her husband became Tsar Peter III though he reigned for just six months before being overthrown. She became the empress and ruled over Russia in what came to be known as the Catherinian era. She always had the help of her favourite nobles, Grigory Orlov and Grigory Potemkin, the latter of whom was also rumored to be one of her various lovers. She was also a very talented writer who produced several pieces of fiction, comedies and memoirs.
- She was born as the daughter of Christian August, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst who held the rank of a Prussian general, and Johanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp. She was educated by a French governess and tutors.Her mother had relations with members of royalty and through her diplomacy fixed her daughter’s marriage with the prospective tsar Peter of Holstein-Gottorp, heir to the ruling Russian Empress, Elizabeth. The marriage took place in 1745 when Catherine was 16 years old. The marriage was not be a happy union.Accession & Reign
- Empress Elizabeth died in January 1762 and Peter succeeded to the throne as Peter III of Russia and Catherine became the Empress Consort. However, by this time Peter and Catherine had become estranged.Peter had reigned for just six months when Catherine directed a coup which deposed Peter from power and made her the Empress of Russia in July 1762. Peter was strangled to death by Alexei Orlov within days after the coup.She expanded the borders of the Russian empire considerably during her reign. Territories of New Russia, Crimea, Northern Caucasus, Belarus, Lithuania, among others were brought under her control. It is estimated that she helped to add approximately 200,000 square miles to the Russian territory.She tried to bring about political and social reforms by compiling a document called ‘Nakaz’ which contained advice on how the legislature should function. She called a meeting of delegates from different social and economic classes to form the Legislative Commission in 1767.Under her reign, the Assignation Bank started issuing the first government paper money in 1768. Several bank branches were established all over the country. The large governmental spending necessitated the issuing of paper money.She made Russia a dominant super power in Europe after the first Russo-Turkish War against the Ottoman Empire that lasted from 1768 till 1774. She obtained access to Ukraine where she established the cities of Odessa, Nikolayev and Kherson.In 1783, she annexed the Crimea and the palace of the Crimean khans passed into Russian control. This provoked the second Russo-Turkish War that started in 1787.The Russo-Swedish War took place from 1788 to 1790. The King Gustav III of Sweden expected to overtake Russia but Russia fought back and prevented the Swedish army from advancing.She had a deep interest in arts, literature and education. She herself was an avid reader and also wrote fiction and memoirs. She loved European art and culture and was a patron of the Russian opera.She established the Smolny Institute for Noble Girls to promote education for females. The school taught French, music, dance, etc. and strict discipline was enforced within its premises.Major Battles
- Her first Russo-Turkish War (1768-74) enabled her to expand the Russian empire considerably by adding to the territory Southern Ukraine, Northern Caucasus and Crimea.She made a triumphal procession through New Russia and annexed Crimea which led to the declaration of the Russo-Turkish War of 1787-92 in which the Ottoman Empire attempted to regain lands lost to Russia in the previous Russo-Turkish War. However, the Catherine led Russia fought away the Ottomans.Personal Life & Legacy
- She got married to Peter, the then- Duke of Holstein-Gottorp in 1745 when she was just 16 years old. The couple had one son, Paul. The marriage was unhappy from the very beginning and Peter was reported to be cruel towards his wife. Both of them took lovers even while they were married to each other. Peter died in 1762.She took a series of lovers throughout her long reign and often gave them high positions and materialistic gifts and estates. Her most notable lovers were Grigori Alexandrovich Potemkin, Pyotr Zavadovsk, and Stanisław Poniatowski. She had two children with different lovers.She died of a stroke in November 1796. Her son Paul succeeded her to the throne.Trivia
- This famous empress of Russia was rumored to have sexual interest in horses.
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