Reading Catherine the Great, Portrait of a Woman

A narrative biography written by Robert K. Massie

Biography Catherine II of Russiaq

In 1744 at the age of 14 Catherine (born as Sophie) was summoned to Russia by Empress Elizabeth. The Empress wished her to marry the Grand Duke Peter of Russia. Peter was 2 years older than his cousin Catherine. They became great friends.

Catherine was intelligent, witty and matured quickly. Peter possessed none of those characteristics and preferred to amuse himself playing war games with toy soldiers. Catherine knew what her future was destined to be and was driven to make it happen, so she tolerated his adolescent behavior.

In August 1745 Peter and Catherine were married. Neither had been taught about sex so on their wedding night, and for 9 years after, they did not consummate their marriage. Their relationship deteriorated. When she became pregnant by a lover they were forced to have marital relations. She lost that child and did eventually have a son by Peter, an heir to the throne.

Peter went on over the years to drink and smoke heavily and the people lost confidence with his ability to lead. Peter was to become Emporer and with Empress Elizabeth’s failing health, people worried. Catherine, however, gained in popularity.

In 1761 Empress Elizabeth died. Peter was proclaimed Emporer of Russia. Peter immediately started to reclaim Prussia (his beloved homeland) and denounce the Orthodox religion.

By June the following year tensions had risen and there was a fear that Catherine would be sent away and Peter left to rule. A coup was planned and quickly executed making Catherine the ruling Empress of Russia.

Peter abdicated the throne. His 6 month reign was over. In Frederick the Great’s words, “He allowed himself to be dethroned like a child being sent to bed.”

Within a week, Peter was dead. Officially from a hemorrhoid condition. It is most likely, however, that he died at the hands of Catherine’s guards.

… Next Catherine’s reign as Empress.

This takes us through Chapter 44, page 277 of 574.

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