Robert K. Massie, author of “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman” gives readers true insight into this fascinating ruler, who started her life in 1729 as Princess Sophia of the tiny Prussian kingdom of Anhalt-Zerbt only to hit the jackpot as a teenager when she is selected by Empress Elizabeth of Russia to marry her heir, the man who would be Peter III, albeit briefly.Share
The details of Catherine’s disastrous marriage to her mentally unstable cousin Peter are the stuff of legend. Catherine finds herself wed to a smallpox-scarred nincompoop who plays with puppets in bed, tortures dogs and worse, refuses to sleep with her.
Thus the [grand duchess], under extreme pressure to produce an heir, begins to take lovers who will become the father of her children. Later, when her husband takes the throne, she stages a coup with the help of men like Gregory Orlov and Grigory Potemkin who would also alter the face of Europe.
Catherine, who wrote that she ‘could not live a day without love’ also loved absolute power but enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the philosophers of the day such as Diderot and Voltaire. Throughout her 34 year reign, she remained witty, cynical, lovestruck and often deeply disappointed by her political and romantic failures. (Read entire review.)