- 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During the French Revolution, beheadings of the monarchy had become more popular and Catherine rescinded many of the reforms she had created.
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Russia's main dispute with Poland was over the treatment of many Orthodox Russians who lived in the eastern part of the country. In a 1772 treaty, Catherine gave parts of Poland to Prussia and Austria, while taking the eastern region herself.
Russia's actions in Poland triggered a military conflict with Turkey. Enjoying numerous victories in 1769 and 1770, Catherine showed the world that Russia was a mighty power. She reached a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire in 1774,
which brought new lands into the empire and gave Russia a foothold in the Black Sea. One of the war's heroes, Gregory Potemkin, became a trusted advisor and lover of Catherine's.
Potemkin proved to be a great supporter of Catherine and an accomplished statesman in his own right. Ruling over newly gained territories in southern Russia in her name, he started new towns and cities, and built up the country's navy there. Potemkin also encouraged Catherine to take over the Crimea peninsula in 1783, shoring up Russia's position in the Black Sea. A few years later, Catherine once again clashed with the Ottoman Empire. The two countries battled each other from 1787 to 1792.
At the time of Catherine's accession, Russia was viewed as backward and provincial by many in Europe. She sought to change this negative opinion through expanding educational opportunities and the arts. Catherine had a boarding school established for girls from noble families in St. Petersburg, and later called for free schools to be created in towns across Russia.
Catherine was devoted to the arts, and sponsored many cultural projects. In St. Petersburg, she had a theater built for opera and ballet performances—and even wrote a few librettos herself. She also became a prominent art collector, and many of these were displayed in the Hermitage in a royal residence in St. Petersburg.
An avid reader, Catherine was especially fond of the philosophers and writers of the Enlightenment. She exchanged letters with the French writer Voltaire, and writer Denis Diderot came to Russia to visit with her. In fact, Diderot was the one who gave Cathering her nickname, "Catherine the Great." With literary aspirations of her own, Catherine also wrote about her life in a collection of memoirs.
The love life of Catherine II has been a topic of much speculation and misinformation. The rumors of bestiality have been debunked, but the royal did have numerous relationships during her reign. Catherine could not remarry, as it would jeopardize her position, and she had to appear chaste to the public. Behind the scenes, however, she seemed to have quite the sexual appetite.
According to most accounts, Catherine had around 12 lovers during her life. She had a system for managing her affairs—often bestowing gifts, honors and titles on those she liked, in order to win their favor. At each relationship's end, Catherine usually found a way to get her new paramour out of her hair. Gregory Potemkin, perhaps her most significant lover, spent many years as her favorite, and remained lifelong friends after their passions cooled.
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