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Catherine II

Subject History

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405189224.2011.x


(1729–96), Tsarina of russia (1762–96), also known as “the Great.” Born Sophia Augusta Fredericka, Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst, Catherine emerged from her modest German origins when she was chosen by the Empress Elizabeth as bride for her nephew, Peter, the heir presumptive to Russia. Catherine moved there in 1744 and was married the following year. She successfully integrated herself into elite Russian society by adopting orthodox christianity and altering her original name to the russified Catherine. She initially attempted to please her new husband, who succeeded to the throne as Peter III in January 1762, but he rejected her and also alienated powerful groups in society with his eccentric behavior and admiration of all things Prussian. When Peter spoke of setting Catherine aside in favor of his mistress, she orchestrated a coup the following June with the assistance of her lover, Grigori Orlov, personally leading troops against her husband, who was forced to abdicate. She probably connived at his murder to protect her new position. Catherine's accession marked the beginning of a fresh period of Russian territorial expansion, which had faltered with the death of Peter I (the Great) in 1725. By placing another former lover, Stanislaus Poniatowski, on the Polish throne in 1764 she established Russian domination over that territory. She subsequently orchestrated the three partitions ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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