Catherine the Great (1729-1796)

Art by 9 muses and an old mind (tumblr 1, tumblr 2)

Prussian by birth, Catherine the Great became one of the most important monarchs in Russian history.  She began her life as a minor German princess named Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg.  Diplomatic machinations brought Catherine to the Russian court in 1744 as a potential bride for the future Peter III.  Catherine enthusiastically embraced Russia culture, earning the approval of Empress Elizabeth.  Catherine converted to Russian Orthodoxy against her father’s wishes and married Peter in 1745. 

After the death of Empress Elizabeth in 1761, Peter ascended to the throne as Emperor Peter III.  Catherine and Peter’s marriage had never been happy and it became even more strained with this rise to power.  Peter was a deeply unpopular and alienating ruler who many felt favored Prussia over Russia.  Six months after Peter’s ascension to the throne, Catherine took power in a bloodless coup.  Eight days later, Peter was dead under mysterious circumstances.

Catherine ruled Russia for the next thirty-four years, overseeing a golden age.  She expanded the territory of the Russian Empire and continued the process of Westernization begun by Peter the Great.  She rewrote Russia’s legal code and discouraged capital punishment.  She also championed the arts, creating one of the world’s most impressive art collections.  Although Catherine was generally popular, she was not without her opponents and she subdued more than a dozen domestic uprising during her reign.

Beyond her achievements as a monarch, Catherine was famous for her love affairs.  While there are many wild rumors, Catherine was likely more of a serial monogamist than a wild libertine.  Her twelve known lovers were important men who supported her ambition.  When Catherine decided to move on from a relationship, the men were given money, land, and serfs as going away presents.

Catherine’s heir was her son Paul.  Although he was treated as the son of Peter III, Paul was widely thought to be the son of the courtier Sergei Saltykov.  After his birth, Empress Elizabeth took control of little Paul’s upbringing.  Catherine had very little contact with her son during his formative years and after she took power, she began to fear him as a potential rival.  Eventually, Catherine took over the upbringing of her grandsons the way Elizabeth had taken over Peter’s upbringing.  Many believed Catherine planned to skip over her son and name her grandson Alexander as her heir.  When Catherine died, Paul confiscated her will before it was made public and took power.  Like Peter, Paul was an erratic and unpopular leader.  Five years into his reign, Paul was assassinated and his 23-year-old son ascended to the throne as Alexander I.

January 14, 1973: Elvis Presley’s Aloha From Hawaii, is broadcast live via satellite from Honolulu Hawaii, and airs in over 40 countries across Asia and Europe. The show was the first entertainment special by a single performer to be broadcast live around the world and the most expensive entertainment special at the time, costing $2.5 million.


Photo: Elvis Presley in Honolulu Hawaii, 1/14/73 (Gary Null / NBC)