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.
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
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.
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