Catherine The Great: Biography, Stories, And Trivia About The Great

By Grace Taylor
Portrait of Empress Catherine II (1729-1796), 1780s. Found in the collection of State Hermitage, St. Petersburg. Artist: Rokotov, Fyodor Stepanovich. (Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Catherine the Great, the last reigning empress of Russia, brought Russia into the modern world and solidified its status as a major European power during the 18th century. Originally from Pomerania (modern-day Poland), she was born on May 2, 1729 as Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, daughter of minor German prince Christian August. Despite their titles, there wasn't much money in being a minor prince during those days, so like many young nobles, Catherine was married off at the age of only 16 to Peter III of Russia, a major step up for her.

Peter III did not shine as bright as his grandfather, Peter the Great, who had governed Russia under a strong military rule, and was often abused and humiliated as a child by his tutors. Given his poor upbringing, it's no wonder that Peter had little will to dedicate himself to ruling Russia and made close to zero effort to endear himself to his people. Catherine, however, fell quickly in love with this new and mysterious land and almost immediately began studying Russian. Within a remarkably short time, she managed to woo the court to her favor despite not having any Russian heritage herself.