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History Makers: Catherine II

Was its most renowned female ruler an astute military leader and spearhead of human rights, or a deceitful harlot who only served the privileged?
QUEEN OF HEARTS When Catherine’s husband Tsar Peter III alienated his people, they instead turned to his wife, and she was proclaimed the rightful ruler
ALAMY X2

When Catherine Alekseyevna, Empress Consort of all the Russians, awoke on 28 June 1762, it was to startling news. She jumped out of bed, hastily got dressed, and rushed to the carriage that was waiting for her in the grounds of her palace, the Peterhof. Such was Catherine’s haste that morning that she didn’t have time to do her hair before jumping in her carriage. Instead, her expensive French hairdresser attended to it while she swept through the streets of Saint Petersburg.

BRIDGEMAN IMAGES X2, GETTY X7

1744

THE BETROTHAL

Catherine arrives in the Russian capital of Saint Petersburg from her homeland of Prussia. She enchants Empress Elizabeth of Russia, who offers Catherine’s hand in marriage to her nephew Peter, the heir to the Russian throne.

JUNE 1762

A HUSBAND BETRAYED

As their relationship grows ever more dysfunctional, Catherine colludes in a coup against her husband, the Tsar. Peter is forced to abdicate and dies a few days later, likely murdered.

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About BBC History Revealed Magazine

The November 2016 issue of History Revealed.