Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman
Robert K. Massie
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“[A] tale of power, perseverance and passion . . . a great story in the hands of a master storyteller.”—The Wall Street Journal
The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure German princess who became one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history. Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into empress of Russia by sheer determination. For thirty-four years, the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution. Catherine’s family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies—all are here, vividly brought to life. History offers few stories richer than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, an eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.
“[A] compelling portrait not just of a Russian titan, but also of a flesh-and-blood woman.”—Newsweek
“An absorbing, satisfying biography.”—Los Angeles Times
“Juicy and suspenseful.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A great life, indeed, and irresistibly told.”—Salon
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were left alone. The black-robed priest with a long white beard sat by her bed and they talked for an hour and a half. She described to him the past and present state of her affairs, the grand duke’s behavior toward her, the Shuvalovs’ hostility, how they were poisoning the empress’s view of her, and the constant dismissal of her servants, particularly those who were most devoted to her. For these reasons, she said, she had written to the empress and begged to be sent home. She asked the priest
was very late. It was three o’clock in the morning. Peter left first, then Catherine, followed by Shuvalov. Just as the count reached the door, the empress called him back. Catherine returned to her rooms and had started to undress when there was a knock on her door. It was Alexander Shuvalov. “He told me that the empress had spoken to him for some time, and had instructed him to tell me not to worry too much, and that she would have another conversation with me, alone and soon.” She curtsied to
would, in turn, appease the grand duke. This suggested to Poniatowski an approach that might make it possible for him to stay in Russia a little longer. At a court ball at Peterhof, he danced with Elizabeth Vorontsova, and while they performed a minuet, he whispered to her, “You know that you have it in your power to make several people very happy.” Vorontsova, seeing a further opportunity to place the grand duchess under obligation, smiled and said, “Come to the Mon Plaisir villa tonight an hour
Mikhailovich, the father of Peter the Great, and Alexis died in 1676. Peter, as part of his effort to Westernize Russia, had transformed this image, creating for the autocrat a new, secular role as “first servant of the state.” Peter had also altered the right of succession, decreeing that the throne would no longer pass down a fixed hereditary male line but that each sovereign would be free to name his successor. Even by these new rules, however, Catherine failed to qualify. Neither Empress
discovery, he summoned everyone to come and peek through the holes. Servants placed chairs, footstools, and benches before the perforated door to form an impromptu amphitheater so all could enjoy the spectacle. When Peter and his entourage had finished staring, he invited Catherine and her ladies-in-waiting to come and see this remarkable sight. He did not tell us what it was, apparently to give us a pleasant surprise. I did not hurry quickly enough, so he carried off Madame Krause and my women.