Catherine - Apparently She Didn't Want to be Called "Great"
Biographical Profile:

Family Background, early life and influences:
Christian August (Catherine's Father) by Antoin Pesne, c.1746
Christian August (Catherine's Father) by Antoin Pesne, c.1746

Catherine the Great, born Sophie Auguste Frederike von Anhalt-Zerbst, was born 2nd of May 1729, Stettin, Prussia
(Now Szczecin, Poland). Before she was rechristened Catherine on June 28 1744 in Moscow, her nickname was “Figchen”, a diminutive of Sophie, Sophiechen, of ‘fiechen. Her father, Prince Christian Augustus of Anhalt-Zerbst (29 November 1690 –16 March 1747), belonged to the ruling family of Anhalt, but held the
Johanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp (Catherine's Mother)
Johanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp (Catherine's Mother)

rank of a Prussian General and was a Lutheran. He married the considerably younger Princess Johanna of Holstein-Gottorp (24 October 1712 - 30 May 1760) on 8 November 1727 in Vechelde (he was 37, she was 15). Johanna was related to many noble families in Germany, and took every opportunity to travel to the courts of Zerbst, Hamburg, Brunswick and Kiel. Historical accounts illustrate Johanna as a cold, abusive social climber who loved court intrigues. Catherine was the eldest of 5 children, however only she and one of her younger brothers lived into adulthood. Her siblings are as follow (oldest to youngest); Prince Wilhelm Christian Friedrich (1730-1742), Prince Friedrich Augustus (1734-1793), Princess Auguste Christine Charlotte (b/d 1736 – lived two weeks), Princess Elizabeth Ulrike (1742-1745). Princess Elizabeth’s godmother was Empress Elizabeth.

As was common for German princely families at the time, Catherine was educated chiefly by French governesses and tutors. As a child, Catherine was close to her governess Mademoiselle Babette Cardel, who was from a Huguenot family that had fled from France to Germany. Catherine herself described her as, “the kind of governess every child should have”. Her education emphasized subjects that were considered proper for a young lady of her social class. These subjects included religion (Lutheranism), history, French, German and music.

In her childhood and teenage years, her father and the Empress had an immense influence over her religion. Prior to Catherine’s new life in Russia where she converted to Russian Orthodoxy, Catherine was a Lutheran like her father before her. In her memoirs Catherine recounts that before she left for Russia, her father pleaded with her not to convert as he knew the Empress would encourage her to do so as it was the main religion in Russia at the time. Her father was extremely opposed to his daughter’s conversion and gave her books of controversy to protect her Protestantism. However in the end, she ended up converting and was re-christened Catherine.
In 1744, Catherine left her home in Prussia and travelled to Russia to meet the grand duke Peter III, her second cousin and future husband. The choice of Catherine as a wife to Peter, who was heir of Empress Elizabeth, came about from Empress Elizabeth and Frederick II of Prussia who wanted to strengthen the relationship between Prussia and Russia. This allegiance was planned in order to weaken Austria’s influence over their countries. Although this plan fell through, which many historians believe to be due to the intervention of Catherine’s mother, the Empress had previous ties with the family (she had planned to marry Princess Johanna's brother Charles Augustus beore his untimely death of smallpox right before the wedding in 1727, she was also godmother to Catherine's younger sister Ulrike) and took a liking to Catherine and the marriage between Catherine and the Empress’s nephew was decided upon.

Many people were reluctant at first about Catherine being the future wife of Peter III, as she came from Prussia and knew nothing about their language or religion. Many people were also suspicious of Catherine because her mother had been caught spying on Empress Elizabeth for Frederick II of Prussia. Johanna who was a social climber wanted nothing more than to become famous through her daughter’s marriage into Russian royalty. This infuriated the Empress immensely, and she was eventually banned from the country never to return. Throughout all of this, Catherine still held strong, and applied herself to converting to Russian Orthodox and learning the Russian language with such dedication that her memoirs record how she rose at night and walked about her bedroom barefoot repeating her lessons. This resulted in a severe bout of pneumonia in March 1744.

Even by her father’s objections, on 28th June 1744, Princess Sophie converted to the Russian Orthodox Church and was rechristened Catherine. The following day, the formal betrothal between her and the Grand Duke Peter III took place. On August 21, 1745 at three o’clock in the afternoon, Catherine and Peter were escorted by a procession of one hundred and twenty carriages to the cathedral of Kazan, where they were married. The religious ceremony lasted several hours and the festivities continued for ten days. One month later, Catherine’s mother left Russia never to return. On Christmas Day, 1761, Empress Elizabeth died and the reign of Catherine’s husband Peter III began.
Catherine’s rise to power:The coup d'état of July 1762
When Empress Elizabeth died in 1961, her nephew Peter III succeed her as the new Czar of Russia, with Catherine as Empress Consort of Russia. However Peter’s reign as Czar only lasted a short 6 months. Peter was extremely unpopular in many circles. Due to his open contempt for orthodoxy and the secularization of religious estates belonging to the church clergy, to non-religious estates, he gained numerous opponents among church prelate (high-ranking member of the clergy e.g. abbot, bishop, cardinal). Though his decision to withdraw from the Seven Year’s War with Prussia and negotiate an alliance with Frederick II of Prussia was accepted by the people of Russia –the war effort had dragged on for years, and the resources of Russia were nearly exhausted – his decision to embark on war with Denmark was not supported by the Russian people. However more detrimental to Peter’s position was his immense unpopularity with the Russian guards. He was openly hostile to the guards and drastic revision of the conditions of service and threats to revoke the guards’ privileges only flamed their anger towards Peter. They were Catherine’s essential support the overthrowing of her husband.

History portrays Catherine to be an ambitious and scheming woman. In her memoirs she wrote that at the time of her engagement to Peter she was already convinced that she would eventually become empress of Russia in her own right. On June 28 1762, Catherine was taken by Alexis Orlov (brother of Gregory Orlov – who she was mistress to), to the imperial residence of Peterhof. There was a solemn mass and a public declaration of Peter’s dethronement and the accession of Catherine. Peter was placed under arrest by a body of troops. A few days later Peter assassinated by his guards (6th of July 1762). This was the beginning of Catherine’s long reign of thirty-four years.
Major Noteworthy Achievements
At the time Catherine became Empress of Russia, the country’s wealth and resources had been drained by war and the country was bankrupt. When she became Empress, Catherine realised that Russia’s future was in its land and resources. She encouraged agricultural reform by implementing new crops and techniques, importing modern machinery from European countries including England, and foreign workers came in from other countries to work. Russia was a country rich in mineral resources, and she established Russia’s first School of mining where geologists and workers could be trained to take advantage of this valuable asset.Catherine also had a positive impact on work and trade in the country. Russia’s foreign change was revitalised by the removal of export duties, and in about five years, she pulled the country out of bankruptcy. New factories were established, particularly in linens and leather goods, which provided many jobs for the people. The number of factories from when she first became Empress was 984, which during her reign increased to more than 3000.In her later years, Catherine was the first person to be inoculated for a vaccination for smallpox, which at the time, was the biggest killer of children. This was the first of her many achievements in the improvement of Russia’s medical systems. By her decree, every province in Russia had a hospital and she founded a College of Medicine to train doctors, so that everyone would have access to medical benefits.
  • The construction of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg which continues to remain one of the world’s greatest art museums.
  • Established schools staffed with teachers in every province, along with founding a boarding school for girls
  • The initiation of the Imperial Russian Dictionary, which included the vocabulary of two-hundred languages
  • In 1766, she granted freedom of worship throughout the country

Catherine died of a stroke on November 6, 1976 at the age of 67. She was buried in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg. She was the longest living Romanov monarch. Her successor was her son Paul, whose new title was Emperor Paul I. Although Paul was her successor, many historians believe that he was not her first choice and she had been planning to disinherit him and have his son Alexander rule when she died.

Catherine the Great Legacy:

Intelligent, ambitious and cunning, Catherine was one of the most powerful women of her time. Catherine’s reign as Empress of Russia is seen as impressive, but what makes it all the more impressive was that she was a woman who led the country without a husband. Considered one of the most important leaders of the Russian Empre, she helped set the foundations for the Russian "Westernization" in the 19th and 20th centuries. She challenged not only the social norms of the time bus also set the precedent for women in powerful positions. Catherine was an enthusiastic patron of literature, art and education, and one of her crowning achievements, the construction of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg- which housed the art she avidly collected- which continues to remain one of the world’s greatest art museums that people today are still able to appreciate. Catherine the Greats’ achievements played an important role in Russia’s development as a modern state in both a political and cultural sense. Her legacy would live on to help Russia become a major world power after her death.
2 May 1729 – Sophie Auguste Frederike von Anhalt-Zerbst (Catherine) born, Stettin, Prussia
28 June 1744 - the Russian Orthodox Church received Princess Sophia as a member with the new name Catherine.
29 June 1744 – Formal betrothal between Catherine and Peter III takes place
21 August 1745 – Catherine marries Peter III
1 October 1754 – Catherine gives birth to a son, Paul
25 December 1761 – Empress Elizabeth dies, Peter III proclaimed Emperor of Russia and Catherine Empress Consort
28 June 1762 – Coup d’état. Catherine proclaimed Empress of Russia
1766 – Catherine granted freedom of worship in Russia
1781 – Construction of the Siberian Highway had begun
6 November 1796 – Catherine dies of a stroke (Age 67)
25 November 1796 – Catherine’s coffin placed at the Grand Gallery’s chamber of mourning. Buried at Peter and Paul Cathedral St Petersburg

Map of Her Life:

Primary Sources
Primary Source 1:
1774 from Denis Diderot
Catherine the Great, the ruler of Russia from 1762 to 1796, charmed European
intellectuals. She won their admiration because of her love of learning and her
desire to implement Enlightenment ideas in her country. One of her greatest
admirers was the French philosophe Denis Diderot, who corresponded with
Catherine frequently and visited her in 1773–1774.
Dear Madame: From the bosom of my family I have the honor to write to Your
Majesty. Father, mother, brothers, sisters, children, grandchildren, friends, and
acquaintances throw themselves at your feet and thank you for all the kindnesses
which you have extended to me at your court. As they have shared my happiness,
it is just that they should also share my memories. I must tell Your Majesty,
because I feel it in the depths of my heart, that I merit the praise that I am going
to give myself; this is the advantage which sovereigns gain when they confer their
interests on a good man: they spread joy in the hearts of a great number of others.
The talents and the virtues of Your Majesty have become the conversational topics
of our evenings. Everyone wishes to know everything. No circumstance appears
too minor for the speaker or for his hearers. I am forced to tell the same story ten
times over.

Primary Source 2

Marble statue of Catherine II in the guise of Minerva (1789–1790), by Fedot Shubin.

Catherine II of Russia

Picture Gallery
Portrait by Albert Albertrandi of Catherine II, circa 1770

Catherine's Signature

Portrait by Mikhail Shibanov of Catherine II in traveling-costume, 1787.

Equestrian portrait of Catherine II in the attire of a male officer.

Tsar Peter III reigned only 6 months; he died on 17 July 1762 (Catherine's Husband)

Catherine II and Potemkin and the Millennium Monument in Novgorod

Portrait of Catherine II by Dmitry Levitsky , by 1782.