Catherine the Great: Love, Sex and Power by Virginia Rounding. Hardcover book published by Hutchinson 2006, 566 pages with a few colour illustrations.
“Dutiful daughter, frustrated wife, passionate lover, domineering mother, doting grandmother, devoted friend, tireless legislator, generous patron of artists and philosophers — the Empress Catherine II, the Great, was all these things, and more. Her reign, the longest in Russian Imperial history, lasted from 1762 until her death in 1796; during those years she built on the work begun by her most famous predecessor, Peter the Great, to establish Russia as a major European power and to transform its new capital, St Petersburg, into a city to rival Paris and London in the beauty of its architecture, the glittering splendour of its Court and the magnificence of its art collections. Yet the great Catherine was not even Russian by birth and had no legitimate claim to the Russian throne; she seized it and held on to it, through wars, rebellions and plagues, by the force of her personality, by her charm and determination, and by an unshakeable belief in her own destiny. This is the story of Catherine the woman, whom power alone could never satisfy, for she also wanted love, affection, friendship and humour.”
So how great was Catherine? Unfortunately I'm not really up with Catherine's overall performance, so i'm not really sure how great she was... and I might be on the complete wrong track with the reference to her Greatness as it may have been something that she married into. As you have probably surmised, Russian history from this period is probably one of my weaker points of knowledge, yet somehow, and rather strangely, I knew that:
- Catherine was an Empress of Russia
- Wasn't Russian
- Was big on the whole European thing
- Helped make St Petersburg “a city to rival Paris and London”
I have no idea how I know this stuff or when it entered my knowable knowledge but it is there and that it why this book is now here.
By all accounts (including the 566 pages in this book) Catherine is an important figure in Russian history and was someone who enjoyed having power and influence. I gather she was a royal you didn't muck around with or even try to muck around with... sort of like Vladimir Putin... but with more hair and jewelery. Russia has a history that is long and eventful and Catherine's time at the top job is another part of a history that keeps on giving.