sophie of anhalt zerbst

On This Day In History~ May 2nd

1729; The birth of Catherine the Great

Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great (2 May 1729 – 17 November 1796), was the most renowned and the longest-ruling female leader of Russia, reigning from 9 July 1762 until her death in 1796 at the age of 67. Her reign was called Russia’s golden age. She was born in Stettin, Pomerania, Prussia as Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, and came to power following a coup d'état and the assassination of her husband, Peter III, at the end of the Seven Years’ War. Russia was revitalized under her reign, growing larger and stronger than ever and becoming recognized as one of the great powers of Europe.

In both her accession to power and in rule of her empire, Catherine often relied on her noble favourites, most notably Grigory Orlov and Grigory Potemkin. Assisted by highly successful generals such as Pyotr Rumyantsev and Alexander Suvorov, and admirals such as Fyodor Ushakov, she governed at a time when the Russian Empire was expanding rapidly by conquest and diplomacy. In the south, the Crimean Khanate was crushed following victories over the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish wars, and Russia colonised the vast territories of Novorossiya along the coasts of the Black and Azov Seas. In the west, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, ruled by Catherine’s former lover, king Stanisław August Poniatowski, was eventually partitioned, with the Russian Empire gaining the largest share. In the east, Russia started to colonise Alaska, establishing Russian America.

Catherine reformed the administration of Russian guberniyas, and many new cities and towns were founded on her orders. An admirer of Peter the Great, Catherine continued to modernise Russia along Western European lines. However, military conscription and economy continued to depend on serfdom, and the increasing demands of the state and private landowners led to increased levels of reliance on serfs. This was one of the chief reasons behind several rebellions, including the large-scale Pugachev’s Rebellion of cossacks and peasants.

The period of Catherine the Great’s rule, the Catherinian Era, is often considered the Golden Age of the Russian Empire and the Russian nobility. The Manifesto on Freedom of the Nobility, issued during the short reign of Peter III and confirmed by Catherine, freed Russian nobles from compulsory military or state service. Construction of many mansions of the nobility, in the classical style endorsed by the Empress, changed the face of the country. A notable example of an enlightened despot, a correspondent of Voltaire and an amateur opera librettist, Catherine presided over the age of the Russian Enlightenment, when the Smolny Institute, the first state-financed higher education institution for women in Europe, was established.

Elizabeth of Russia (1709-1762)

Art by Katya Granger (tumblr, twitter)

Elizabeth was the daughter of Peter the Great and his second wife Catherine I, but she did not inherit the throne directly from her parents.  After Peter the Great’s death 1725, Catherine held power until her death in 1727.  Following Catherine’s death, Peter’s grandson by his first wife Eudoxia ascended to the throne as Peter II.  Peter II died in 1730 and Elizabeth’s elder cousin Anna ascended to the throne.  Although the nobility attempted to establish a constitutional monarchy under Anna, she was an autocratic ruler and the decade she controlled Russia is seen as a dark period.  After Anna’s death in 1740, Anna Leopoldovna briefly took control as regent for her infant son Ivan VI.  In November 1741, thirty three year old Elizabeth seized power in a bloodless coup with the help of the Preobrazhensky Regiment.

Although she was inexperienced and not particularly well educated, Elizabeth managed to maintain control of Russia for the next twenty years.  She cleared the Russian court of controversial German advisers and reestablished the senate.  She led Russia through both the War of Austrian Succession and the Seven Years’ War.  At the same time, Elizabeth supported the creation of the University of Moscow and the Imperial Academy of Arts.  She was a very popular monarch, thanks in no small part to her decision to forgo capital punishment.

Elizabeth was extravagant, vain, ebullient, devout, and kind.  Her court was among the most glittering in Europe and Elizabeth is said to have owned 15,000 dresses.  Although Elizabeth was considered beautiful and held enormous power, she hated the idea of being shown up by a more stylish woman at court.  In order to maintain her status as the best dressed woman in Russia, she demanded French merchants sell to her first and made it illegal for any woman to duplicate her hairstyle, clothing, or accessories.  Elizabeth’s parties were legendary, particularly her Metamorphoses balls where guests dressed as the opposite sex.  At the same time, she was deeply religious and built numerous churches.  She rescinded many of limitations her father had placed on the power of the Orthodox Church.  She was a peacemaker and did her best to limit the court backbiting that had plagued her predecessors.  

Although she had many lovers, Elizabeth never married and had no children.  With Ivan VI imprisoned, she selected her sister’s son Peter of Holstein-Gottorp as her successor.  Elizabeth brought the young, orphaned Peter to court where he converted to Russian Orthodoxy and was proclaimed heir in 1742.  Elizabeth then arranged a marriage for Peter with his cousin Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst.  When Sophie converted to Russia Orthodoxy, she took the name Catherine.  By the time Elizabeth died in 1761, she had set up Russia for its next great female ruler.


Yekaterina Alexeevna or Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great  was the most renowned and the longest-ruling female leader of Russia. Her reign was called Russia’s golden age.

She was born in Stettin, Pomerania, Prussia as Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, and came to power following a coup d'état and the assassination of her husband, Peter III, at the end of the Seven Years’ War. Russia was revitalized under her reign, growing larger and stronger than ever and becoming recognized as one of the great powers of Europe.

>> So I recommend you watching the show Ekaterina (2014)


CATHERINE THE GREAT born in 1729, Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst, the daughter of a German prince, she was related through her mother to the dukes of Holstein In 1744, she arrived in Russia, as the Grand Duchess Ekaterina Alekseyevna, or, in English, Catherine. Sophia could have been baptized with her own name, Sophia, which was a common name in Russia. But Empress Elizabeth had rejected this because Sophia had been the name of her own aunt, the half-sister and rival of Peter the Great who had struggled for the throne with the young tsar fifty-five years before. Instead, Elizabeth chose the name of her own mother, Catherine. Catherine married Peter, grandson of Peter the Great and heir to the throne. In June 1762 Catherine took an active part in a coup against her husband Emperor Peter III, she was proclaimed empress on 9 July 1762. Peter III abdicated and was assassinated eight days later. She was soon crowned in Moscow, beginning a 34-year reign.
official trailer for the upcoming Catherine the Great tv series.

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.