Every story has an ending, and we’ve reached the end of Catherine the Great. Born Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg in Stettin, Pomerania, Prussia…converted to Catherine II by the Russian Orthodox Church…and becoming Catherine the Great within the pages of history. It’s time to talk about the final days of Catherine the Great, the mist of propaganda myths that surround them, and the future of Russia afterwards.
So, what made Catherine II so Great? Why, in history, do we recall the Russian empress as “Catherine the Great”? Well, in short, she was a brilliant political success story. More than just a personal success story, mind you. Catherine’s success went further than personal ambitions and benefits. Catherine became the Great for the era she bestowed upon her people. That’s right. We’re nearing the end of this biography. Today we talk about Catherine the Great’s reign — what she did during her time in power, and what the history books will record of her until the end of time.
Catherine II may have taken the throne, but there were plenty of usurpers lurking throughout her empire. The new empress would crush several rebellions and prevent countless coups, many pathetic, to keep herself within the palace. One could easily call the early days of Catherine’s reign as relatively unstable. Perhaps the only two reasons the people of Russia didn’t immediately call for Catherine to give up the throne were the unpopular opinions of Peter III and the fact that Catherine had issued 40,000 soldiers to patrol the streets.
Only a year in her journey as autocrat of Russia, Catherine heard stories of Poniatowski in Poland. Upon the death of Poland’s King Augustus III in late 1763, the idea of electing a new king became prominent in European politics. Catherine threw her support behind her former lover, spending over 2,500,000 rubles to support his election. Because of the massive support, Poniatowski was elected King of Poland with 5,584 votes.
Catherine has found herself in a rather delicate situation. Her third child, fathered by her newest lover Grigory Orlov, had just very recently been born; her dunce of a husband Peter III had just taken over the country; and everyone around her was waiting for some sort of coup to occur. France and Austria weren’t too pleased to hear that Peter III had been able to take over the throne of Russia. The Prussian boy who had always been obsessed with military drab had obvious sympathies for Frederick the Great – the land-grabbing military madman who was pushing through central Europe.
Most people assumed that, since Catherine had done her job of producing a “legitimate” heir, she wouldn’t really be seen with Peter, her horrendous husband, anymore. Imagine the surprise people had when she entered Peter’s birthday ball in a superb, diamond-encrusted blue dress in an extravagant entrance! The mother of the heir was more than just the mother of the heir after that; she became a social figure…and with due time she was able to transform herself from something other than her previous personality.
After a wedding ceremony that lasted four hours and receiving a ring worth more than the average village this side of the Don River, Catherine and Peter were an item – a dysfunctional royal one. The obsession so many young girls have with becoming a princess and being whisked away to a powerful kingdom to have a happily ever after with some Prince Charming is…fantasy at that. Catherine’s marriage was Peter was objectionable at best.
Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg was born in the small city of Stettin, Pomerania, Prussia. Depending on the calendar system you use, we’re talking about either April 21st or May 2nd of 1729. Stettin, once part of the Kingdom of Prussia, is now renamed and within jurisdiction of modern-day Poland. In fact, it’s now the capital city of the West Pomeranian Voivodeship, serving as a major seaport for Poland by the Baltic Sea.