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Catherine the Great
By Kathleen Redman
  

1     This amazing woman was born a poor German princess and became one of Russia's greatest emperors.

She was born Princess Sophia August Frederika on May 2, 1729, in the Baltic seaport town of Stettin, then a part of German Pomerania. Her father was an obscure German military prince named Christian August, and her mother was Princess Joanna Elizabeth of Holstein-Gottorp. Her father was ruler of the tiny principality of Anhalt-Zerbst, but the greater part of his life was spent as an officer in the service of Prussia.

In 1744, she arrived in Moscow with her mother to marry Peter, the Grand Duke of Holstein, grandson of Peter the Great and heir to the Russian throne (later Peter III). Their marriage was an unhappy one. Catherine (now baptized into the Russian Orthodox Church under that name) spent much of her time preparing for her future reign.

In 1761, Peter was crowned emperor. Supported by the Russian military, Catherine overthrew Peter in 1762 and became Catherine II. She quickly began to make changes in government and society based on ideas learned from French philosophers of the Enlightenment and the authors of ancient Rome.

She was a friend of Voltaire and other European writers, and wrote stories and plays. She supported French writer and philosopher Denis Diderot when he was broke -- she bought his library, hired him to look after it at his own house, for which she paid him a salary for the next 50 years in advance.

Catherine patronized the arts, music and education, and she put millions of rubles into the creation of the Hermitage Museum, which today is the delight of Russia and the .....
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