Catherine The Great

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Sophia Frederika-Augusta, later known as Catherine, was born on May 2, 1729 in the Baltic seaport town of Stettin, then part of German Pomerania. She was born into the Anhalt- Zerbst family, one of the poorest and most obscure of all the German princely families. Her father, Christian Augusta, did not become the reigning prince of Zerbst until Catherine was thirteen years old. In 1743, at the age of fifteen, Catherine's mother, Johanna, found her a husband. She was to marry Grand Duke Peter III of Holstein, he was sixteen. When Catherine met her husband she thought that he was weak, egotistical, unbalanced, ineffective and entirely Lutheran and German in his attitude. Catherine decided to convert to Russian Orthodoxy after a year of instruction and education from the Russian court. She was married in 1745 and became Grand Duchess Catherine of Russia. Catherine's life as a Grand Duchess from 1745 to 1762 was very difficult. Their marriage was never on good terms. Catherine thought that she would have to make her own way and find her place within the Russian court. She learned how to speak Russian to convince the court of her good will. She studied rituals of Orthodoxy and was careful to show respect for her new religion. Catherine occupied herself reading everything she could find. She particularly enjoyed the works of Plato and Voltaire. Her interest in intellectual things caused even greater distance between Peter and herself. Many years passed and there was still no heir to the throne. The Empress Elizabeth of Russia, Peter III's aunt, was irritated because she wanted to secure a powerful dynasty and couldn't accomplish this without the presence of a male heir. She thought it was Catherine's fault because she wasn't attracted to her husband. However, it was Peter that was not able to produce a male son, so Elizabeth permitted an affair between Catherine and a Russian military officer named Serge Saltykov. Catherine finally gave birth to a son, whom the Empress named Paul, on September 20, 1754. Peter accepted him as his own. Immediately after Paul's birth Elizabeth took him to her apartments and raised him as her own. This caused Peter and Catherine's relationship to drift further apart. On Christmas day 1761, the Empress Elizabeth Petrovna died and the reign of Tsar Peter
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