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Useful Notes / Catherine the Great

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Catherine II of Russia (2 May [21 April in the Old Style calendar] 1729 - 17 November [6 November in the Old Style calendar] 1796), aka Catherine The Great, was, as her epithet states, one of the great rulers of Tsarist Russia, expanding the size, influence, and progress of the vast nation.

She wasn't actually born part of the Russian royal family (although had some distant relations). She was born Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst of one of the many principalities of pre-imperial Germany. A marriage was arranged between her and the future Peter III of Russia. After he ascended the throne, some of his reforms and military actions angered the nobility, and they conspired with Catherine to overthrow him, although her reasons were more personal.

She was unable to make all the reforms she wanted, like fixing the serf system in Russia, and she even had to slow down reforms after The French Revolution greatly exceeded the principles of enlightened despotism to the point of rendering it obsolete. While criticising many aspects of Russian society, she was also capable of repressing intellectuals whose criticism of serfdom was too subversive.


Despite the good she did for her country, there were still some bits of slander and libel about her, particularly her love life.

There have been a few works about her, notably The Scarlet Empress staring Marlene Dietrich. That same year there was film about here just called Catherine The Great starring Elisabeth Bergner and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Later there was Young Catherine starring Julia Ormond, and a tv movie Catherine The Great starring Catherine Zeta-Jones. She's also a major character in Le Chevalier d'Eon. She's also, naturally, a major character in some Russian Swashbuckler movies, such as The Gardemarines and the recent miniseries Catherine's Musketeers. She appeared in the movie Russian Ark watching a play of her own composition and telling everyone to praise it. Valentin Pikul's novel Favourite tells the story of Catherine and Potemkin both as lovers and as statepersons. One of The Royal Diaries was about Catherine traveling to Russia to marry Peter and assimilating into Russian culture. In 2014 TV series Ekaterina was released by Russia-1.


Tropes as portrayed in fiction:

  • Amicable Exes: Generally taken to be this with Grigory Potemkin, her minister and quite possibly secret ex-husband.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: Works that show her coronation. In the Catherine Zeta Jones movie, it's explicitly an Invoked Trope; she says that not having an awesome coronation was one of her husband's many failures, and a coronation will serve to gain the respect of advisors and the people.
  • Became Their Own Antithesis: Her treatment of her son, Paul, was quite similar to how she was treated when she was the Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst. Which is to say, not something she liked at all.
  • Cigar Chomper: While she's now thought to mostly smoke a pipe, she's been known to enjoy an occasional cigar, and is, in fact, often credited fot introducing cigar smoking to Russia.
  • "Common Knowledge": How she died. (For those who don't know: banging a horse.) Turns out it's not true.
    • In XIX-century Russia, there was another dirty legend of her death, saying she died while in the outhouse. Some even theorized she was stabbed from underside by someone. She did collapse from a stroke on the toilet, but she didn't die there; rather, she died in bed the next day. And since she was royalty, it was a chamber pot and not a common outhouse.
  • Historical Domain Character: Most of the people seen interacting with Catherine in various historical novels and movies were actual people with biographies exciting enough to be made into characters.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Regardless of Peter III's Real Life character, portrayals of him are that he's highly abusive or downright insane.
  • Hollywood History: Films that show her ascension are not only loose with the facts but also the portrayal of her husband.
  • Requisite Royal Regalia: Several portraits show he with the royal scepter, a crown, and/or an ermine cape.

Appears in the following works:


  • In The Eagle she is a middle-aged and very horny tsarina who particularly enjoys sex with handsome young cavalrymen like Rudolph Valentino.
  • Münchhausen: She lusts after Baron von Munchhausen.
  • The Scarlet Empress features Marlene Dietrich playing Catherine during her rise to power.


  • One of The Royal Diaries centers around Catherine and her traveling to Russia to become Peter's bride.


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