The first time I remember hearing the name “Catherine the Great” was as a child. Some art expo was in town and the theme dealt with her. Seeing the paintings of an older woman in eighteenth century getup, I judged her to be long gone. So, I asked my mom, “Who was she?” Mom told me how she was a Russian Empress. Soon after, one of the less official television networks ran a movie about Catherine the Great as a young woman. She was beautiful, her husband – Peter, was a tool, and Catherine and her lover Gregory Orlov pulled a coup for the empire.
With my recent introduction to A Wicked History series, I read Zu Vincent’s Catherine the Great: Empress of Russia. The cover shows an imperious Catherine with the word “Despot” spray-painted across her. Inside this book, I found a cunning young woman striving for survival, then power.
Born Princess Sophie Friederike Auguste of Anhalt-Zerbst in 1729, she was the daughter of Prussian Prince Christian August and Princess Johanna. Princess Johanna found the Prussian town dreary and wanted escape and she would use the young Sophie to do so.
Thus, at the fifteen year old Sophie and Princess Johanna arrived in Russia. Sophie sought the hand of Crown Prince Peter, a marriage of power, not love. His mother, Empress Elizabeth, liked Sophie, and soon, Sophie became Catherine and married Peter. Peter couldn’t stand her and Elizabeth feared Catherine’s intellect. Catherine bid her time for nearly twenty years, enduring mistreatment and abuse by Elizabeth and Peter.
When Elizabeth died, Catherine, with the help of numerous others, overpowered her jerky husband’s power. To the amazement of all of Europe, Catherine lived a long life, ruling her adopted home of Russia.
An important question Vincent asks is “Was she wicked?” After reading this biography, let me know what you think.
Four out of Five Pearls
The glory of the country is my own glory – to raise the Russian Empire to a degree of power above that of the other empires of Asia and Europe.
– Catherine the Great
Word Bank: (from the glossary of this book)
- alliance – an agreement to work together
- bureaucrat – an official in a governmental department
- Cossacks – people of Southern Russia, Ukraine, and Siberia who were known for their independence and military skill
- coup – a sudden, violent, and illegal seizure of power
- empire – a group of countries or regions that have the same ruler
- Enlightenment – a philosophical movement of the Eighteenth Century that emphasized the use of human reason to build a better world
- khan – a ruler of Turkish or Tatar tribes during the time of Catherine the Great
- open letter – a document that is addressed to a person but meant to be read by a wide audience
- Protestant – a Christian who does not belong to the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Church
- pustule – a small blister or pimple on the skin containing pus
- Russian Orthodox – describing the major church of Christianity in Russia
- scythe – a tool with a large, curved blade used for cutting crops
- sovereign – the supreme leader of a country
- steppe – a vast, treeless plain
- sultan – an emperor or ruler of a Muslim monarchy
- treason – the crime of betraying one’s country
- tsar – the emperor, or “Caesar,” of Russia
- tyrannical – ruling others in a cruel or unjust way
Places: Prussia, Russia, Constantinople, Poland, France, Great Britain
For more on Zu Vincent’s Catherine the Great: Empress of Russia, please check out the following links: