Catherine the Great was one of the most famous rulers of Russia but how much do we know about her life?
Like many Russian rulers, we are all familiar with the name but we may be a little ignorant about her history. Here are some facts about Catherine the Great that you may not know.
Catherine the Great was born in Poland
Well Germany actually, to be completely accurate although her birth town of Stettin, once part of the German Empire, now forms part of Polish territory.
She was born on the second of May, 1729 to the ruling Anhalt family.
Catherine was not her original name
Catherine was born Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg and only assumed the name of Catherine after she was accepted into the Russian Orthodox Church in 1745.
She had been summoned to Russia by Czarina Elizabeth I as a possible bride for her nephew, Grand Duke Peter who was the grandson of Peter the Great. The Couple were married when Catherine had just turned sixteen.
Catherine almost died as a teenager
Catherine’s diary reveals that soon after her arrival in Russia she fell ill with Pleuritis. It’s generally believed that she was close to death on many occasions and she owed her own survival to frequent bloodletting.
In one day alone she allowed herself to be subjected to four phlebotomies and she frequently deteriorated into periods of extreme delirium.
Infidelity ruled her marriage
It is widely acknowledged that the marriage was an unhappy one and that both Peter and Catherine were involved in many affairs.
Catherine was linked with a host of notable Russian names including Sergei Saltykov, Alexander Vasilchikov and Grigory Orlov. In fact, it is widely rumoured, if not accepted as incontrovertible fact that Catherine’s son Paul was in fact fathered by Saltykov.
Catherine had her husband murdered, allegedly…
OK so this isn’t completely acknowledged as fact but historians have claimed for years that Catherine played a direct role in Peter’s death.
Peter was an unpopular leader with the Russian people and this only added to the desire for him to be removed from within the court. What is known is that the Czar was murdered at the hands of Alexei Orlov, the younger brother of Grigory, one of Catherine’s many lovers.
History has uncovered no direct evidence to implicate Catherine with his death but it is a firm belief in some quarters that she knew about the plot, while others claim she gave direct authority and approval.
Catherine was truly ‘Great’
It’s actually quite sad that history remembers Catherine largely for her sexual exploits and the inference that she was directly responsible for her husband’s murder. In fact, she was something of a visionary leader who introduced many beneficial reforms across Russia.
She increased her country’s borders and many of the most beautiful buildings in Russia are down to her introduction of Western artisans. She modernised the country and its power grew in the 34 years that she reigned until her death in 1796.