Catherine the Great rose to leadership as a Russian empress between 1762 and 1796. The 34 years she was in office was the longest reign of any Russian female leader. She expanded the country’s greatness within those years, building her legacy.
Historians have written several articles regarding her love and political lives, but there are a few facts that you still might not know about her. In this article, we will look at some of the most surprising facts about Catherine the Great.
Interesting Facts About the Longest Serving Female Russian Leader
1. Catherine – Ekaterina – was not her real name
Born in Szczecin, Poland, Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst, was a daughter to Christian August, a general in the Prussian Army, an interesting fact about Catherine the Great. Her mother was related to the Russian royal family, although their links were quite distant.
She was a princess, but that was not enough to give her a chance of marrying Karl Peter Ulrich. Her mother campaigned for her, and it paid off. Catherine and Karl got married on August 21st, 1745. She later converted to Russian Orthodoxy, and that’s where she got the name Ekaterina, “Catherine.”
2. Catherine and Peter III did not have a smooth marriage life
Like any other marriage, Catherine and Peter III’s partnership was characterized by some hard patches. However, this one was quite different since they were not a perfect match from the word go. It is said that Catherine was more ambitious and brighter than her husband.
In addition, she did not like him, and that was proven in some of Catherine’s literature. The extramarital affairs by both parties did not help the ever-deteriorating marriage. In fact, at some point, Catherine hinted that Peter III was not the biological father of any of her children.
3. She overthrew her husband from the throne
After taking power on January 5th, 1762, Peter III was immediately out of favor from the people due to how his governance. At the same time, Catherine believed that he was going to divorce her because of the issues they had in their marriage. As such, she sought a plan to overthrow him and take over the throne.
Her lover, Grigory Orlov, aided her strategies, and in July 1762, Peter III was overthrown through a coup d’etat. He was later killed while in custody and gave Catherine a free pass to the throne. On September 22nd, 1762, she was crowned empress of Russia, just nine months after Peter III had risen to power, an interesting Catherine the Great fact.
4. Catherine the Great added Crimea to her territory
Russia has had a long-standing history with the Crimea Peninsula. Catherine the Great envisioned a stronger and physically larger Russia and worked towards achieving those dreams. Following the Russo-Turkish War that lasted for six years from 1768, she seized the land as a way of strengthening her country’s presence in the Black Sea.
It is reported that during her tenure, more than 200,000 square miles were added to the Russian territory. Modern-Day Lithuania, Latvia, and Ukraine were part of Catherine’s portion.
5. Catherine the Great was Russia’s longest-serving female leader
After overthrowing her husband in 1762, Catherine stayed in power for 34 years. Her reign was characterized by ups and downs, both socially and politically. Nonetheless, she has been recorded in the history books as the longest-serving female leader in the Russian empire.
6. She played a vital role in the Russian enlightenment
The Hermitage Museum was founded on Catherine the Great’s artifacts. She bought a set of paintings in 1764 from a Berlin dealer and used the collection to set up a museum that occupies the modern-day Winter Palace. She went on to purchase millions of artifacts that make up the more significant part of today’s Hermitage museum collections, an interesting fact about Catherine the Great.
7. Catherine embraced modern medications
Catherine ruled during a time when traditional drugs were the most trusted among most people. There were no recognizable advancements in the field of medicine at the time. However, she embraced the few ideas that were brought forth to her administration.
In fact, Thomas Dimsdale – a British doctor – inoculated her against smallpox. She ordered the vaccination of about 150 staff members before channeling the services to the Russians. By the end of that century, millions of people in Russia had been inoculated against smallpox.
8. Her lovers were rewarded with gift hampers
Even before the death of her husband, Catherine the Great had a number of extramarital affairs. After the demise of Peter III, Catherine was now free to do all sorts of things without hiding. All her lovers were rewarded with various gifts every time they were called upon to satisfy the Russian empress, a unique fact about Catherine the Great. She was known for taking many lovers and spoiling them with serfs.
9. She refused to help Great Britain during the revolutionary war
A colonial rebellion rose in America against Britain, and there weren’t enough British troops to deal with the issue. As such, the Earl of Dartmouth decided to seek help from Catherine’s government. Catherine, on the other hand, declined the request for 20,000 Russian troops despite being approached several times.
10. Pugachev, former army officer, claimed to be Catherine’s dead husband
During her reign, Catherine the Great faced a series of rebellions and uprisings that were geared towards socio-economic issues. The most famous one was the one led by Pugachev, who impersonated Catherine’s late husband, Peter III.
As such, Pugachev claimed to be the rightful heir of the throne and drew a lot of supporters during such campaigns. However, Catherine’s government finally caught up with him, and he was executed in Moscow.
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