On December 7, 1714, Peter I established a new imperial medal: the Order of the Great Martyr Saint Catherine. Russia already had a few medals, but this one was special.
The honored saint was the celestial protector of Peter’s wife, her namesake, although the future Catherine I had started life as Marta Skowronska, who legend had it served as washerwoman to Russian army officers after being captured during the Great Northern War. Somehow, she managed to win the tsar’s affections and attain the status of Empress Consort, and, after Peter’s death, the Russian throne, which she occupied from 1725 to 1727.
Catherine exerted exceptional influence over her husband. When Peter’s rage would begin to boil over, as it often did, his courtiers would call for “matushka empress” (matushka being an untranslatable expression of respect and endearment rooted in the word for mother). She was always able to calm him down.
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