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Catherine the Great achieved great military conquests for Mother Russia

Posted in Historical articles, History, Royalty on Monday, 17 December 2012

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This edited article about Catherine the Great originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 799 published on 7th May 1977.

Russian bear cartoon, picture,  image, illustration

Potemkin astride Catherine the Great, who is depicted as the Russian bear in a contemporary political cartoon dated 19 April, 1791.

Like all young girls of noble family, Sophia Augusta, born the daughter of the Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst on 2nd May 1729, was destined for a marriage of political convenience.

Sophia was taken from her home in Stettin, Prussia, when she was 17 years old, to be married to Peter of Holstein, heir to the Russian throne. Before her marriage, Sophia was received into the Russian Orthodox Church and took the name Catherine. It is as Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, that history remembers her.

Catherine was a woman of unusual determination and wisdom who sought a political future of her own. During the 17 years before her husband came to the throne, Catherine devoted her time to becoming as Russian as possible, and her future subjects loved her for it. They were flattered that she bothered to learn their language when most of the nobility preferred to speak French.

Although Catherine loved Russia, that love did not extend to her husband. He was ugly, his face was scarred by smallpox, and he had a cruel sense of humour. He often beat Catherine and played mean practical jokes on her. Yet she bore with him patiently for he was her means of power.

In 1762, Peter ascended the throne, but he was so unpopular, and he acquitted himself so badly, that he was “arrested” by his own guard. While thus detained, he died – in suspicious circumstances – and Catherine became Empress. She ruled as the “Little Mother of All the Russias” for the next 34 years.

During those years, she doubled Russia’s influence in international politics, drawing the country into important association with her homeland, Prussia. Her military conquests subdued the Turks, providing protection for Christians in Turkey and giving Russia an outlet to the Black Sea.

Catherine’s political ability was undoubted: she read widely, especially in Russian history, and fostered interest in culture at her court. Many of her brilliant and intelligent letters and writings have survived.

Catherine tackled domestic problems as well. She opened the first founding hospital in Russia and introduced vaccination and other medical reforms. Though she was severe, as were all Russian rulers of those days, and would not tolerate opposition, she had a genuine love for her adopted country and its people.

When she died at the age of 67 the “Little Mother of All the Russias” was sincerely mourned.

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