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 spread about her, particularly her love life.
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.
- But Not Too Foreign: The Saxon lands she was born in were (and still are — there's a cultural autonomy of Luzhician Serbs around Bautzennote ) a Slavic territory, though more-or-less completely Germanized by the 18th century. Her princely house of Ascanii, though, still remembered their Luzhician origins, if barely, and also were direct decendants of Russia's Rurikids, even if through a female line.
- Cigar Chomper: While she's now thought mostly to have smoked a pipe, she was known to enjoy an occasional cigar, and is, in fact, often credited with introducing cigar smoking to Russia.
- Common Knowledge: How she died.
- For those who don't know: often said to have been while banging a horse. Turns out it's not true.
- In 19th century Russia, there was another dirty legend about 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 her with the royal scepter, a crown, and/or an ermine cape.
Works about her:
- The Scarlet Empress (1934): An American biopic starring Marlene Dietrich.
- The Rise of Catherine the Great (1934): A British biopic starring Elisabeth Bergner and Douglas Fairbanks Jr..
- Young Catherine (1991): A British miniseries starring Julia Ormond.
- Catherine the Great (1995): An American television movie starring Catherine Zeta-Jones.
- Ekaterina (2014): A Russian series starring Marina Aleksandrova.
- Catherine the Great (2015): A Russian series starring Yuliya Snigir.
- Catherine the Great (2019): An American miniseries starring Helen Mirren.
- The Great (2020): An American comedic series starring Elle Fanning.
Works featuring her:
Anime and Manga
- Le Chevalier d'Eon: Features her as a major character.
- In The Eagle she is a middle-aged and very horny tsarina who particularly enjoys sex with handsome young cavalrymen like Rudolph Valentino.
- In the 1937 Screwball Comedy Nothing Sacred, a fancy stage show includes her as one of the "heroines of history," alongside Lady Godiva, "the Dutch girl who stuck her finger in the dike," and Pocahontas.
- Münchhausen: She lusts after Baron von Munchhausen.
- Has a cameo in Russian Ark, where she loudly interrupts a ballet to take a pee break.
- She's also, naturally, a major character in some Russian Swashbuckler movies, such as The Gardemarines and the miniseries Catherine's Musketeers.
- Valentin Pikul's novel Favourite tells the story of Catherine and Potemkin both as lovers and as statespersons.
- One of The Royal Diaries centers around Catherine and her traveling to Russia to become Peter's bride.
Live Action TV
- Jack of All Trades depicted her as a Sensual Slav in one episode, constantly flirting with Jack. There were also a lot of jokes about the horse rumour.
- The Civilization series has had Catherine as a recurring leader for Russia — Civ III depicted her as an old woman, Civ IV as a feisty young woman in a Russian officer's uniform, and Civ V as a middle-aged woman in a magnificent court dress. Her dialogue and body language on the diplomacy screen tends to be flirtatious, though in Civ IV Catherine might also "slap" the viewer in response to an insulting trade proposal. Catherine is also infamous for her Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, as her Civ V AI is given a high Deceptiveness rating (i.e. her displayed opinion of you does not match her actual stance towards your civ), while in V and IV she is unique for being willing to backstab and attack a friend, especially if bribed. And Civ V gives Russia an achievement for being the first civ in a game to research Horseback Riding, referencing that slander.
- On Epic Rap Battles of History, she's the last of a line of "Great" rulers (like Alexander the Great and Frederick the Great) to face off against Ivan the Terrible.
- She appears in a Xavier Riddle and the Secret Museum episode, where she makes friends with a kid named Matthias and teaches Brad about making friends.
- A clone of her appears as a minor character in Clone High. When she turns the Gandhi clone down for a prom date, he tells her to "get off your high horse."