Birthday: April 15, 1684
Died At Age: 43
Sun Sign: Aries
Also Known As: Marta Samuilovna Skavronskaya
Born Country: Latvia
Born in: Jēkabpils, Duchy of Courland, Semigallia
Famous as: Empress of Russia
Empresses & Queens
Spouse/Ex-: Peter the Great
father: Samuel Skowroński
mother: Elisabeth Moritz
children: Catherine Petrovna, Elizabeth of Russia, Grand Duchess Anna Petrovna of Russia, Grand Duchess Natalia Petrovna of Russia, Margarita Petrovna, Maria Natalia Petrovna, Pavel Petrovich, Peter Petrovich
Died on: May 17, 1727
place of death: Tsarskoye Selo, Pushkin, Russia
Cause of Death: Tuberculosis
Who was Catherine I of Russia?
Catherine I of Russia was the Empress of Russia from 1724 until her death. She was the second wife of Peter the Great. She came from a very poor family and did not have a pleasant childhood. She worked as a maid for most of her childhood and remained illiterate throughout her life. She was of Polish origin and was originally named Marta Helena Skowronska. She was extremely beautiful in her youth, and enamored by her beauty, Peter the Great took her as his wife. She was made the empress upon her marriage. She was rechristened as “Catherine” after the birth of her first child. She had twelve children, most of who didn’t survive childhood. Catherine’s relationship with Peter was one based on mutual love and respect. She was considered to be an extremely compassionate person and had a calming effect on Peter. She cared for him during his last days and he died in her arms. After Peter’s untimely death, she continued his legacy and ruled the nation with great astuteness. Her difficult life, multiple childbirths, and heavy drinking after her husband’s death took a major toll on her health. She passed away from tuberculosis in 1727.
Childhood & Early Life
Catherine I was born as Marta Samuilovna Skavronskaya on 15 April 1684, to Samuel Skowronski and Elisabeth Moritz. She had four siblings. Her parents died of the plague in 1689, leaving behind five children.
After her parents’ death, Marta was taken in by an aunt and sent to Marienburg where she was raised by Johann Ernst Gluck. He was a Lutheran pastor and educator who was the first person to translate the Bible into Latvian.
Marta lived the life of a lowly servant in Marienburg. She remained illiterate throughout her life as no effort was made to teach her to read and write.
In 1701, at the age of seventeen, she was married off to a Swedish dragoon called Johan Cruse or Johann Rabbe, with whom she remained for only eight days. During this period, the Great Northern War was going on between Sweden and Russia.
The town where Marta lived was besieged by the troops led by Field Marshal Boris Sheremetev who took her captive. At first, she lived at Sheremetev’s home and worked there. Later, she traveled back to Russia with his army.
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Marriage with Peter the Great
In Russia, she worked in the house of Prince Alexander Menshikov, who was a good friend of Peter the Great of Russia. It was here that Peter met Marta for the first time. Within a short time, they became lovers even though Peter was already married.
Marta was energetic, compassionate, charming and always cheerful. She was the only one person who had the capability to calm Peter in his frequent bouts of rage.
Soon, she accepted the Russian Orthodox faith and received the name Catherine Alexeyevna upon baptism. Catherine thus became an inseparable part of Peter’s life; he married her as his second wife in February 1712. On 7 May 1724, Catherine was crowned Empress of Russia.
On January 28, 1725, Peter died without naming an heir to the throne. The guards and prominent personalities of Russia supported Catherine to be their next ruler.
Accession & Reign
In his entire life, Peter fought against corruption in Russia. He was a powerful ruler loved by his people. His sister Matrena and her husband Willem Mons sought the throne and started influencing Catherine through Peter. Peter found this out and executed Mons and exiled Matrena in 1724.
Catherine was officially crowned the Empress of Russia. Peter the Great had been an able ruler who had coined several policies to modernize Russia. Catherine followed his path.
During Catherine’s rule, the nation was mostly at peace and the expense of maintaining the military was ruining the government’s revenues. Catherine, who represented the interests of the “new men,” the common people, reduced the military expenditure and this tax relief to the common people made her a just and fair ruler in their eyes.
Catherine and Peter had twelve children, of who only Anna and Elizabeth survived to adulthood. She was succeeded by Peter’s twelve-year-old grandson.
Death & Legacy
Catherine died two years after Peter, on May 17, 1727, at the age of 43, in St. Petersburg, due to tuberculosis. She was buried at St. Peter and St. Paul Fortress next to her husband.
Catherine was the first woman to rule over Imperial Russia. She paved the way for a monarchy dominated by women, including her daughter Elizabeth and granddaughter-in-law, Catherine the Great.
Catherine was a great ruler who built the first bridges in the capital and gave her name to Catherinehof near St. Petersburg. The Tsarkoye Selo estate where the Catherine Palace exists still bears her name. Also, she gave her name to Kadriorg Park and the neighborhood of Tallinn, Estonia, the place where the Presidential Palace of Estonia exists now.
Catherine’s policies were reasonable and cautious, probably owing to her humble origins.
Peter the Great fondly called Catherine “Katerinushka”.