CATHERINE THE GREAT

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By Tim Sullivan

Today’s fierce female is Catherine the Great.

Buckle up, because this lady is about to take us on a real JOURNEY today. Born Princess Sophie of the Austrian Empire, she was betrothed to her second cousin Peter at the age of 10. She detested him immediately. She moved to Russia at age 14 and married Peter the following year. She went to great lengths to make allies within the court, befriending her mother-in-law, Empress Elizabeth, and learning Russian. For his part, her German-born husband spoke not a word of the native tongue of the country he would one day rule.

As part of her transformation, Princess Sophie converted to Russian Orthodox and was baptized Catherine. Her marriage with Peter continued to disintegrate, as both engaged in a series of affairs leading him to question the legitimacy of their children. I’d be careful, Pete, because Cate is playing the long game here…

When Empress Elizabeth died in 1762, Peter ascended to the throne. The court was none too impressed with his refusal to assimilate into Russian life, and they really didn’t like his ties to his German/Prussian roots, as Prussia had recently fought Russia in the Seven Years War. After declaring his admiration for Prussian King Frederick II, Peter went on holiday, and Catherine seized her moment. She delivered an address to the Russian armies, asking them to support her ascension to the throne. They quickly agreed, Peter was imprisoned by Catherine and forced to sign abdication papers, and shortly thereafter he was killed by one of her supporters. There is no evidence to indicate Catherine was involved in the assassination, but I wouldn’t put it past her. Pete's reign lasted less than six months. 

Under Catherine’s rule, Russia experienced a renaissance of arts and culture. She was devoted to improving education across her realm, founding numerous facilities for children of both genders. She was an avowed patron of the arts, and in particular, Russian opera gained in popularity throughout her reign. Through successful diplomacy and wars, the borders of Russia expanded by over 200k miles, including the annexation of Crimea, the Caucuses, much of the Ukraine, Lithuania, and Belarus. 

You may have heard Catherine was a sex fiend, and most of those myths were created after her death - often by men who sought to denigrate a powerful female leader. That being said, the old girl had some game left in her yet. Though she never remarried, she had dozens of lovers, who she would frequently use for political gain and then discard. She had at least one child after Peter died who was hidden away in another court. Her final lover was Prince Zubov, who was 38 years her junior. 

It wasn’t all “great” under Catherine though - she ruthlessly quelled serf uprisings when they sought freedom or at least better conditions. Muslims, Jews, and Catholics were all variously persecuted depending on what she deemed their threat level to be to her absolute rule. Two noblemen who each sought to out-fox Catherine by gaining momentum as rightful heirs to the throne found themselves promptly executed for their efforts. She was the subject of many unsuccessful coup attempts against her oppressive regime before she died in 1796 at the age of 67. 

So file this fierce female away as the OG Claire Underwood (sorry, Hale) and admire and loathe her as you see fit.

“I praise loudly. I blame softly.”

“A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache.”

"I used to say to myself that happiness and misery depend on ourselves. If you feel unhappy, raise your self above unhappiness, and so act that your happiness may be independent of all eventualities.”

“The more a man knows, the more he forgives.”

“I may be kindly, I am ordinarily gentle, but in my line of business I am obliged to will terribly what I will at all.”

“I beg you take courage; the brave soul can mend even disaster."

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