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The story of one of the truly great female rulers in history by an award winning historian.
The daughter of an impoverished aristocrat, Catherine was married aged 16 to Grand Duke Peter, heir to the throne of all the Russias, a feckless teenager with a weakness for drink. Catherine was only able to give him an heir by passing off her lover's son as his own.
In 1762, Catherine rode out of St Petersburg at the head of an army to arrest her husband. Three months later she became sole empress of the largest empire on earth. She was 33 years old.
She ruled Russia as a benevolent autocrat for 34 years,fighting the Turks abroad and rebellion at home, and shepherding her people through the upheavals of the French Revolution. She took on many lovers but gave her heart to General Potemkin, the foremost statesman of her time.
She died in 1796 aged 67, revered by her people as 'our mother', praised by Voltaire as a philosopher, reviled by her enemies as the Messalina of the North and remembered in history as Catherine the Great.
From this extraordinary life of great events, fabulous splendour and barbaric cruelty, Robert K. Massie has woven a thrilling narrative based on impeccable scholarship and a cinematic eye for detail.
The Pulitzer-winning biographer of Nicholas and Alexandra and of Peter the Great, Massie now relates the life of a minor German princess, Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, who became Empress Catherine II of Russia (1729 1796). She was related through her ambitious mother to notable European royalty; her husband-to-be, the Russian grand duke Peter, was the only living grandson of Peter the Great. As Massie relates, during her disastrous marriage to Peter, Catherine bore three children by three different lovers, and she and Peter were controlled by Peter's all-powerful aunt, Empress Elizabeth, who took physical possession of Catherine's firstborn, Paul. Six months into her husband's incompetent reign as Peter III, Catherine, 33, who had always believed herself superior to her husband, dethroned him, but probably did not plan his subsequent murder, though, Massie writes, a shadow of suspicion hung over her. Confident, cultured, and witty, Catherine avoided excesses of personal power and ruled as a benevolent despot. Magnifying the towering achievements of Peter the Great, she imported European culture into Russia, from philosophy to medicine, education, architecture, and art. Effectively utilizing Catherine's own memoirs, Massie once again delivers a masterful, intimate, and tantalizing portrait of a majestic monarch.