Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Catherine the Great
Catherine the Great (Catherine II) had never accepted this title during her lifetime. She said that: "I leave it to posterity to judge impartially what I have done." She has earned this title through her many accomplishments from when she ascended the throne to the day of her death.
Catherine was born on April 21, 1729 in Stettin, Germany (now Poland) as Sophia Augusta Frederika of Anhalt-Zerbst. Her father, Prince Christian Augustus of Anhalt-Zerbst was a high ranking officer in the Prussian army and a minor princeling in Germany, who married her mother, Princess Johanna of Holstein-Gottorp. Johanna's brother was supposed to marry Princess Elizabeth Petrovna, the daughter of Peter the Great, but he died of small pox before the wedding could take place which left the Princess heartbroken. Her sister, Anna, married the Duke Karl Fredrick of Holstein-Gottorp and three months after giving birth to Peter Ulrich, she died of tuberculosis. When Peter's father died, the claim to Sweden's throne passed to the son. After Princess Elizabeth (now Empress) declared Peter Ulrich, her nephew, the heir to the throne.
On January 1st, Empress Elizabeth sent a courier to Anhalt-Zerbst, inviting Johnna and her elder daughter to St. Petersburg. When Sophie first met Peter she thought him childish and frail because he was easily prone to all illnesses. Peter hated Russia and loved Prussia; King Fredrick was his hero.
On June 29th, Sophia was officially bethrothed to Peter and she became Grand Duchess Ekaterina Alexeyevna, now the second most powerful woman in Russia. Soon after the betrothal ceremony, Peter contracted the measles and then small pox. The Empress herself spent everyday with him, nursing him back to health. After many postponements, the wedding took place on August 21st, 1745 in the Cathedral of Kazan.
After years of no heir in sight, the Empress ordered an examination. A small surgical intervention allowed Peter to have normal marriage relations. After this was done, Catherine gave birth to Paul (which the Empress named) on September 20th, 1754. The Empress took Paul away to her apartments and for months, Catherine wasn't allowed to see him.
In 1761, the Empress Elizabeth died on Christmas Day. Tsar Peter III ended the Seven Year War and restored lands back to Prussia and even tried to force the Russian Army to wear Prussian uniforms and their disciplines. Rumors flew that Peter intended to dispose of Catherine and make his mistress his wife and new Empress. Catherine did not want that, so after many weeks, she conspired with the Orlov Brothers.
On June 29th, 1762 Peter signed the act of abdication, making Catherine the only ruler of Russia. Six days later, Peter died because he argued with his guards.
During her reign as Empress, Catherine improved agriculture practices, mining, art, education, and health.