Catherin The Great
Catherine the Great:
Empress of Russia,
History 120, Section 4 Russell Smith
Dr. Homer December 2, 1999
One of the most interesting, hard-working and powerful people to grace the pages of history during the eighteenth century was Catherine II, Empress of Russia. Historians have not always been so kind to her memory, and all too often one reads accounts of her private life, ignoring her many achievements. The stories of her love affairs have been overly misinterpreted and can be traced to a handful of French writers in the years immediately after Catherine's death, when Republican France was fighting for its life against a coalition that included Russia.
Catherine was born Sophia Augusta Frederika of Anhalt-Zerbst on April
21, 1729 in Stettin, then Germany, now Poland. Her father, Prince Christian Augustus of Anhalt-Zerbst, was a high-ranking officer in the Prussian Army and a minor prince among the principalities in Germany. He married the much younger Princess Johanna of Holstein-Gottorp. Years before, Johanna's brother Karl August of Holstein-Gottorp had gone to Russia to marry the Princess Elizabeth Petrovna. However the Prince died of small pox, leaving Elizabeth heart-broken. Elizabeth's sister, Anna gave birth to a son named Peter Ulrich, however tragedy once again struck as Anna's died of tuberculosis three months after giving birth to Peter. Peter, who eventually became Tsar Peter III, was the only surviving male descendent and the potentially heir to the throne of Russia after his father died.
In November 1741, Elizabeth seized the throne with the help of the Imperial Guards, and formally declared her nephew Peter heir to the throne. Peter was now 14 years old, and it was time for him to find a bride. Elizabeth had always remembered the family of her dead fiancée with fondness, and chose Sophie as the bride to be. The Empress Elizabeth seemed to have taken an instant liking to Sophie at an early age. Sophie began to learn the Russian language and studied the Orthodox religion, which of course pleased the Empress. On June 28, Sophie was received into the Church in a great ceremony, and as a result changed her name to Catherine. Catherine was now the second highest-ranking lady in the country. Shortly after, Peter obtained measles, which started to show all the symptoms of small pox. Catherine found him to be a most pitiful creature, and it was with dismay that she looked towards her wedding day. The royal court was back in St. Petersburg, and after several postponements, the wedding took place on August 21, 1745 in the Cathedral of Kazan. It was at this time that Catherine, who had never felt more isolated, wrote: I should have loved my new husband, if only he had been willing or able to be in the least lovable. But in the first days of my marriage, I made some cruel reflections about him. I said to myself: If you love this man, you will be the most wretched creature on Earth. Watch your step, so far as affection for this gentleman is concerned, think of yourself, Madame.
The young couple settled down, but the marriage was a miserable failure. Catherine was disappointed with her marriage, but decided to stick it out and concentrate on building herself a powerful group of allies. Catherine occupied herself with reading everything she could lay her hands on. She discovered satisfaction in the works of Plato and Voltaire. Her interest in the intellect caused an even greater distance between Peter and herself. The years passed and there was still no heir in sight. This of course irritated the Empress who wanted to secure a powerful dynasty, and could not do so without the presence of a male heir. She thought it must be Catherine's fault because she was not attracted to her husband. However, it was Peter that was not able to produce a male son, so Elizabeth permitted an affair between Catherine and a Russian military officer named Serge Saltykov.
Catherine finally gave birth to a son, whom the Empress named Paul, on September 20, 1754. Peter accepted it as his own. Elizabeth took the baby off to her apartments, where he would remain, as long as the Empress lived. This helped to