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Dramatic Facts About Catherine The Great, Lusty Lover And Iron-Fisted Ruler

Updated June 2, 2020 408.6k views12 items

Who was Catherine the Great? You definitely know the name but probably not the life of the fascinating woman behind it. In reality, the Russian empress truly earned her "The Great" epithet, though her achievements weren't necessarily "good."

Born a minor German princess, Catherine married the heir to the Russian throne, tossed him out of power, and became a powerful ruler in her own right. Many Catherine the Great biographies mention her vigorous foreign and domestic policies as well as her tyrannical tendencies. 

But when she wasn't ruling, what did Catherine the Great do? She studied philosophy, took many lovers, and collected art. When she wasn't indulging her passions, she also toured her kingdom, wrote letters to the most famous folks of the day, and turned her court into a place of culture. Like many rulers, the Empress's life is haunted by rumors. In this case, though, the truth about Catherine the Great is perhaps even more dramatic than the hearsay that follows her even today.

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  • Catherine's Best Friend "Tested" Her Potential Lovers

    Catherine's Best Friend "Tested" Her Potential Lovers
    Photo: Pietro Rotari / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Meet Countess Praskovya Bruce, one of Catherine's best friends since her teenage years. The two were so close for decades that Catherine dedicated an entire section of her memoirs to the Countess. Allegedly, however, Catherine's friendship came with a hefty responsibility. 

    According to Giacomo Cassanova, Catherine asked Praskovya to "test" her potential lovers. This test was reportedly also the end of the pair's friendship, as Catherine found the Countess in bed with a man she had already falled for.

  • She Had A Secret Love Child By Her Lover Gregory Orlov

    She Had A Secret Love Child By Her Lover Gregory Orlov
    Photo: Carl-Ludwig Christinek / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Shortly before staging a coup and becoming Empress in her own right, Catherine gave birth to a secret love child with her lover, Grigory Orlov. The baby was named Alexei Bobrinsky.

    Despite the fact that, as an adult, Alexei ran up big debts, Catherine indulged him and gave him the freedom to do generally as he pleased. 

  • She Was Pen Pals With Voltaire

    She Was Pen Pals With Voltaire
    Photo: Nicolas de Largillière / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Dubbed an "enlightened despot," Catherine enjoyed reading the works of the philosophers of the Enlightenment, including the French Voltaire. The two began corresponding in a series of fascinating letters, though the pair never actually met, they wrote to each other for 15 years.

    Voltaire and Catherine got along famously; as historiogrpaher of the Roman Empire, Voltaire helped shape the image of Catherine the Great as a wise and just monarch. While Voltaire supported Catherine politcally, their relationship was also intimate; Voltaire had a portrait of the ruler in his bedroom.

  • She Came Close To Perishing On The Toilet

    She Came Close To Perishing On The Toilet
    Photo: Dmitry Levitzky / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Catherine the Great sort of perished on the toilet. In 1796, at age 67, she got up to go to the bathroom, sat down on the toilet, and then had a stroke. Her servants found her there, managed to carry the empress back to her bed, and placed her on a mattress, where she actually passed.

    Although her fatal stroke happened on the commode, she technically passed in bed.