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Catherine II of Russia (2 May 1729 - 17 November 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 a Princess 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 twisted many of the principles of the enlightenment movement she was (supposedly) previously basing her reign on. 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 is this false story where she died making love to a horse. Although she wrote in her memoirs that she had strong urges, she did have a number of lovers, they were human, and she died of a stroke.
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 Oomond, and a tv movie Catherine The Great starring Catherine Zeta Jones. She was 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.
Tropes about her and the works about her:
- Arranged Marriage: Catherine and Peter III's.
- 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.
- Badass Bookworm: Catherine
- Balance of Power: How she tries to keep her advisors from gaining too much power.
- Big Beautiful Woman: Unlike many overweight royals, Catherine's extra poundage never hindered her beauty, and even when she aged past that it just helped her Grande Dame image.
- Big Good: in the series Catherine's Musketeers. You can tell by the name, really.
- Blackmail: Gregory Orlov makes an attempt, but is bought of.
- The Caligula: Peter III.
- Casanova: Serge Saltykov.
- Common Knowledge: How she died.
- In XIX-century Russia, there was another dirty legend of her death, saying she died while in the outhouse. Some even theoretized she was stabbed from underside by someone.
- Crowning Moment of Awesome: When Catherine is threatened with guns, she glares at the soldiers and walks right on.
- Deadpan Snarker: She once sarcastically told her nobles "Be so good as to call your peasants cattle".
- Double Standard: Like most emperors and empresses Catherine had a (long) line of affairs, but hers were looked down on more than the others, even disregarding her gender. The problem with Catharine II's affairs was who they were with and why she was having them: for power.
- Emergency Impersonation: Pugachev pretending to be Peter III.
- Ermine Cape Effect: Even when she traveled undercover.
- A Father to His Men: Potemkin.
- German Russians
- Going Native: She may not have been born Russian, but she ended up fully embracing her adopted nation.
- Grande Dame
- Grandma, What Massive Hotness You Have!: She was still physically attractive well into her 60's, as her late portraits show. At least, her later lovers never complained about doing it only for money and status.
- The High Queen: Catherine intentionally invoked this trope during her reign. She styled herself "the Russian Minerva" and "Semiramis of the North" and tried to give an impression of possessing unearthly wisdom and grandeur. Even wise-cracking libertines like Voltaire and Diderot were awed by her well-orchestrated posturing.
- Historical Domain Character: Most of them.
- 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
- Inherent in the System: Why it is hard to better the lot of serfs.
- Kick the Dog: The murder of Ivan VI, who was a legitimate, though minor, emperor deposed and imprisoned by Empress Elizabeth at toddler age and grown up in the prison. Also the fate of Princess Tarakanova, whose real identity is still unknown to historians (she pretended to be Empress Elizabeth's illegitimate daughter).
- Lonely At the Top: Catherine.
- Potemkin when he had command.
- Manly Tears: Potemkin
- Magnificent Bitch
- Mrs. Robinson: She frequently took on young men as lovers (sometimes arranged by previous lovers).
- Never Live It Down: The horse, even though it's a myth.
- The Not-Secret: The existence of her bastard son by Orlov, Alexei, who Catherine herself acknowledged privately, but who wasn't officially acknowledged until after she had died. No one was surprised.
- Pimped-Out Dress
- Porn Stash: Catherine sent her agents out to scour Europe for the finest Western pornography.
- Praetorian Guard: Subverted. Peter III's Prussian guards made the hate against him grow. Russia had just been at war with Prussia.
- Pretty in Mink: It is Russia, which meant warmth as well as style.
- Rags to Royalty: Catherine was from a very obscure noble family, but went on to become empress of Russia.
- Really Gets Around: Infamous for her penchant for young, well-built men. Most of her favorites turned out to be pretty good statesmen, though.
- Rebel Leader: Pugachev.
- Requisite Royal Regalia
- Right-Hand Hottie: Platon Zubov and many lesser known ones. She was fond of those.
- Royal Blood: She was part of a principality's royal family.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Catherine ruled and expanded Russia.
- Rule-Abiding Rebel: While writing many plays satirising contemporary Russian nobility, she didn't like people who took that criticism too far.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Potemkin.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: actually, every Russian empress regnant had it hard, except for Catherine I (who was a quite normal widow without a new romance).
- Strange Bedfellows: Bestuzhev and Vorontsov.
- Succession Crisis: What you get when the heir is insane.
- Unlimited Wardrobe: Owned thousands of dresses.
- Unwanted Spouse: Peter and Catherine both view the other as such.
- War Is Hell
- Welcome Back, Traitor: Elizabeth forgives Catherine for her secret correspondence with her generals.