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The country of Russia, officially called the Russian Federation, is the largest country in the world by area, spanning eleven time zones and covering more than one-eighths of the Earth's inhabited land area. Its capital and largest city is Moscow, and its official language is Russian, though it has 35 recognized languages, including Ukranian, Chechen, and Abaza.

On May 2, 1729, Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zergst was born to a not-very-well-known German prince and a mother who was related to the dukes of Holstein. When she was 14, she was selected to marry the grandson of Peter the Great who was heir to the throne of Russia as the Grand Duke Peter III.

In 1744, she arrived in Russia, assumed the title Grand Duchess Catherine Alekseyevna, and married her cousin Peter III. Catherine, who is best known as Catherine the Great, was absolutely despondent in her marriage. Her husband was very neurotic, a rabid fanboy of Prussia's Frederick II, a very heavy drinker if not an alcoholic, boring, stubborn, and Catherine just didn't like him.

Catherine, on the other hand, was intelligent, charming and unbelievable energy. She kept herself busy reading voraciously and having affairs. She had at least three affairs while Peter was still alive, and according to her writings, none of her three children was her husband's. That included the heir apparent, Paul.

She was an patron of the arts, and in fact, the Hermitage Museum, which opened while she reigned, began as part of her personal collection. She wholeheartedly supported The Enlightenment and avidly promoted the western European and culture that lasts in Russia even today. She exchanged letters with French philosopher Voltaire.

The Empress Elizabeth, died on Christmas night in 1762 while Russia was involved in the Seven Years' War against Prussia with France, Sweden, and Austria as allies, leaving Peter III on the throne. Very soon after his ascension, he reversed the Empress's foreign policy by ending Russia's participation in the war and allying himself with Prussia.

He openly showed his preference of Prussia over the country over which he ruled. He was preparing to get rid of Catherine, but she had the support of the court, the aristocrats who considered themselves "enlightened," and both Moscow and St. Petersburg. She had solid support of the army, particularly those regiments stationed at St. Petersburg were her paramour, Grigory Orlov, was stationed.

Empress Elizabeth had staged a coup d’état in order to ascend to the throne, and that fact was not possible for Catherine to ignore.

On June 28, 1762, Catherine led the troops loyal to her into St. Petersburg where she was proclaimed empress and autocrat in the Kazan Cathedral. Peter abdicated and was detained and arrested in very short order. He wasimprisoned in Ropsha, under the guard of Aleksei Grigoryevich Orlov, a soldier and statesman who, along with his brother Grigory, was one of the leaders of the conspiracy to overthrow of Peter III. It was there the he was killed eight days later. The circumstances of his death are murky, but it is believed that if Aleksei did not kill him personally, it was upon his orders.

Catherine reigned for 34 years under the name Catherine II, though she was known as Catherine the Great. She replenished the treasury by secularizing the property of the clergy, who as a group, owned a third of all the land and the serfs in Russia. She declared one of her old paramours, Stanislaw Poniatowski to be the king of Poland.

She was, by all accounts, a masterful war strategist and was successful in her war against the Ottoman Empire, a constant enemy of Russia. Led by Aleksei Orlov, her troops entered Çeşme, Turkey, and burned the naval fleet of the Ottoman Empire. Despite the fact that Orlov had no land forces, the invasion was a small victory, as was the fact that the Turks had to sign the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca. The Turks were skilled soldiers and did not lose frequently.

She also advanced the southern boundary of Russia to the Black Sea. She added Crimea and most of Poland to Russia's territory. She struck alliances with the rulers of both Prussia and Austria.

In 1796, one of her last sweeping acts was undertaken after Persia invaded Georgia, and not for the first time, and Catherine waged war against Persia.

On the morning of November 5, 1796, Catherine got up early and was working in her study when her lady's maid asked whether she had slept well. She said that she had slept better than she had in a very long time. Just after 9:00 am, she went to her dressing room. After a while, her maid went to her quarters to make sure she was all right. She was not. She was laying on the floor of her bathroom. Her servants carried her to her room and the doctor examined her 45 minutes later and declared that she'd had a stroke. She went into a coma and died the next night.


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