- NAME: Catherine II
- OCCUPATION: Political Leader, Empress
- BIRTH DATE: May 02, 1729
- DEATH DATE: November 17, 1796
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Stettin, Poland
- PLACE OF DEATH: Tsarskoye Selo, Russia
- Full Name: Sophie Friederike Auguste, Prinzessin von Anhalt-Zerbst
- AKA: Sophie Friederike Auguste
- AKA: Catherine II
- AKA: Yekaterina Velikaya
- AKA: Yekaterina Alekseyevna
- AKA: Catherine the Great
Best Known For
Catherine II was empress of Russia, and led her country into the political and cultural life of Europe, carrying on the work begun by Peter the Great.
On Christmas Day Empress Elizabeth died, leaving the throne to Peter the Third.
Catherine the Great ruled Russia's empire for some 34 years. While she led her country to prominence, she was best known for her steamy love affairs.
During the French Revolution, beheadings of the monarchy had become more popular and Catherine rescinded many of the reforms she had created.
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Catherine II, often called Catherine the Great, was born on May 2, 1729, in Stettin, Prussia (now Szczecin, Poland), and became the Russian empress in 1762. Under her reign, Russia expanded its territories and modernized, following the lead of Western Europe.
Catherine II of Russia, sometimes called Catherine the Great, started out as a minor German princess. She grew up in Stettin in a small principality called Anhalt-Zebst. Her father, Christian August, was a prince of this tiny dominion, but he gained more fame for his military career. He served as a general for Frederick William I of Prussia. Princess Johanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp, Catherine II's mother, had little interest in her daughter. Instead, Johanna spent much of her time and energy on Catherine's younger brother Wilhelm Christian, but the boy died at the age of 12.
As Catherine grew up, her mother eventually came to see her daughter as a means to move up the social ladder and improve her own situation. Her mother had relatives in other royal courts in the region, and brought Catherine with her on visits to seek out possible suitors. Catherine saw marriage as a way to escape from her controlling mother.
Educated by tutors, Catherine had religious studies with a military chaplain, but she questioned much of what he taught her. She also learned three languages: German, French and Russian. The Russian came in handy when Catherine's mother wrangled an invitation to St. Petersburg from the Empress Elizabeth; Elizabeth had once been engaged to Johanna's older brother, who died of smallpox, and she felt a connection to Johanna's family. She wanted to see if Catherine would be suitable for her heir, Grand Duke Peter (later Peter III).
In 1744, a teenage Catherine traveled with her mother to Russia. She soon fell ill, and her treatment created conflict between her mother and the Russian Empress, Elizabeth. Elizabeth insisted on numerous bloodlettings, while Johanna protested the procedure. When Catherine recovered, she moved forward with her relationship to Grand Duke Peter. The pair became engaged, and Catherine converted to the Russian Orthodox faith, despite her deeply Lutheran father's objections. Along with her new religion, she also received a new name—Yekaterina or Catherine.
On August 21, 1745, Catherine II married into the Russian royal family, becoming a grand duchess. She and Peter proved to be anything but a happy couple, however. Peter was immature and juvenile, preferring to play with toys and mistresses than to be with his wife. Catherine II developed her own pastimes, which included reading extensively.
After several miscarriages, Catherine II finally produced a heir. Her son, Paul, was born on September 20, 1754. The paternity of the child has been a subject of great debate with many scholars, who believe that Paul's father was actually Sergei Saltykov, a Russian noble and member of the court. Others have claimed that Paul looked a lot like Peter, leading them to believe that he was actually Paul's father.
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