Portrait of Catherine the Great of Russia

2.5 Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia

Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia

Basic Facts:

Life: 1729 to 1796

Reign: 1762 to 1796

Extremely Brief Summary: Catherine married into the Russian royal family, took a look at her husband, and decided she could do it better. When she personally led an army of 14,000 men against him, he abdicated before she even arrived. She subsequently ruled Russia as an Enlightened despot. She held many high principles but had mixed results on putting them into practice. She transformed Russia from a relative backwater to a major player on the European stage.

One of many quotes: “What I despair of overthrowing, I undermine.” (written to Diderot, quoted in Robert K. Massie’s Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, p. 572)

Selected Sources and Images:

Catherine is a well-documented figure, and the list of possible resources is long. There are plenty of biographies to choose from, but my biggest source for this episode was Robert K. Massie’s entertaining biography Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman.

Also interesting is Catherine’s own memoirs, which you can read for free on Project Gutenberg. The BBC has an interesting interview with various scholars about Catherine.

Catherine as portrayed by her court painter Vigilius Eriksen.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Peter and Catherine together as Grand Duke and Grand Duchess. The white wigs are misleading. Catherine was only abotu 16 when this was painted and Peter was not much older.

Georg Cristoph Grooth, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Catherine as she may have looked when she set off to capture her offending husband, dressed in uniform and on a white horse.

By Vigilius Eriksen – Wikimedia Commons

Historical Fiction

And finally, Catherine appears as a secondary character in one of my favorite historical novels of all time. For a rollicking feminist adventure story across several centuries and several continents, check out Katherine Neville’s The Eight. As one reviewer put it, this is the feminist answer to Indiana Jones.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.


  1. There was a show about Catherine that is very memorable to me. It was violent and steamy, but it sounds from your episode that they got many of these characters just right. Particularly Peter and Catherine herself. Elizabeth was a bit harsher in the show. Anyway, I enjoyed hearing the real story from you! Entertaining as always! Here’s the link to info about that show: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ekaterina_(TV_series)


  2. Yours is the first podcast I have ever enjoyed. These episodes are smart, clever, with new info I’ve never heard before, but short enough that I can listen to a few installments in between dinner and bedtime. I also love that you have a world view here; it’s so refreshing to learn about Chinese– and soon South American–history.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s