November 01, 1996

A Woman of Substance

German princess who seized power in a vast foreign country and earned the ardent respect of her subjects and outsiders alike.

Catherine the Great of Russia was a great stateswoman, and a great seductress, her greatness emphasized by the modesty of her beginnings.

Born Sophie Frederika Augusta in 1729 to the decaying German Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst, she was fortunate enough to be chosen as a bride for Empress Elizabeth’s nephew Peter, the heir to the Russian throne. Sophie arrived at the glittering court in St. Petersburg in 1743 with two spare dresses, accompanied by her mother. After converting to Orthodoxy, she became Yekaterina Alexeyevna, and the next year was married.

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