Apr 7, 2006

Catherine the great: Hot to trot

But there was no horse. Frances Wilson reviews a new biography.
The empress was famously hot to trot - a joke circulated in St Petersburg that the canal which had cost the most money was Catherine's Canal - but not, it seems, keen on stable relationships. After forcing her feckless husband to abdicate (Frederick the Great said that Peter III was dethroned by his wife like a child being sent to bed), she turned a blind eye when he was murdered by her lover and his brothers. In Catherine the Great, Virginia Rounding details Catherine's relationships with 11 other lovers; gossips whispered that there were at least 289 more than that.

The wonder is that Catherine had time for any loving while being caught up in the business of washing the blood off her hands, securing her own survival, and dragging Russia into the 18th century. "What a picture!" reported the French attaché after the coup. "The grandson of Peter I dethroned and put to death… while a Princess of Anhalt-Zerbst usurps the crown, beginning her reign with a regicide." Not a good start for a woman who set so much store by reason and Enlightenment principles.

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