Sunday, March 30, 2014

The dark secrets of Catherine the Great - A Woman of Many Legends

The young Empress
Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great was empress of Russia from 1762-1796. No Russian woman had ever reigned as long. Catherine's notorious love affairs and ravenous relationships are at the root of all the scandals, legends, and rumors that still abound about her, even though it is unlikely they are true. She took on lovers, and neither her age, nor her lover’s age mattered – young and old came to her bed from the time she was in her youth until she was old.

One rumor is that she died because of her voracious sexual appetite while attempting to have sex with a stallion. Apparently, the harness that held the horse above her broke and she was crushed.

Another story circulated that she died while sitting on the toilet and it broke or spring blades stabbed her when she sat down upon it. The toilet seat rumor may be partially true because she did have a stroke while on the john and later died in her bed.

Her first marriage was to Emperor Peter III, but because he was nothing more than a bungling incompetent, she deposed him with the help of Grigory Orlov, the military officer with whom she was having an illicit affair with. Deposing him was not enough, she had him arrested and killed so she could safely take the throne.

After Catherine granted Muslims the right to build mosques, her Christian subjects voiced their concerns through a petition they sent to her complaining that they were being built too high. Catherine’s response was simple. She was the Tsarina of Russian land—the sky was beyond her jurisdiction.

The older Empress
Catherine the Great

Catherine took on numerous lovers throughout her life and rewarded them lavishly with titles, land, estates, palaces, homes, and even serfs. Whenever she broke off one of her affairs, it was always on good terms. One or two of her children were illegitimate. But beware anyone man who betrayed her. For example, when she was 60 years old, her husband at the time secretly eloped with a 16-year-old girl and married her. Embittered, Catherine took her revenge. She tracked them down, and then secretly sent police disguised as women to whip her nemesis while forcing her husband to watch.

Despite her sordid private life, Catherine was well liked by her people, and her rule was known for her simple to understand policies. She counted the French philosopher Voltaire, and Grimm as confidants. The letters she exchanged with them was a public relations campaign to gain her credibility and create an image as a mother of Russia. Because of her efforts, Russia adopted the philosophies and culture of western Europe.

The novels of Eva Stachniak, The Winter Palace and Empress of the Night are an indepth, highly polished and sanitized version of her life. 

The follow-up to the #1 bestseller The Winter Palace
Perfect for the readers of Hilary Mantel and Alison Weir. 

Catherine the Great, the Romanov monarch reflects on her astonishing ascension to the throne, her leadership over the world's greatest power, and the lives sacrificed to make her the most feared woman in the world--lives including her own...

Catherine the Great muses on her life, her relentless battle between love and power, the country she brought into the glorious new century, and the bodies left in her wake. By the end of her life, she had accomplished more than virtually any other woman in history. She built and grew the Romanov empire, amassed a vast fortune of art and land, and controlled an unruly and conniving court. Now, in a voice both indelible and intimate, she reflects on the decisions that gained her the world and brought her enemies to their knees. And before her last breath, shadowed by the bloody French Revolution, she sets up the end game for her last political maneuver, ensuring her successor and the greater glory of Russia.

Author Eva Stachniak has written a sequel to The Winter Palace, her first novel about Catherine the Great. The novel is told in present tense in Catherine's own point of view as the great empress lays dying and reflects upon her life.  She has suffered a massive stroke and death is imminent and near. The author did a wonderful job of getting deep into Catherine's head - her thoughts, her desires, her emotions.

There is a strong focus on her relatioships with her children and grandchildren, what brought her joy, and what she regrets. As always, the research is thorough, along with wonderful descriptions of the era's clothing, sights, and smells. 

The story is presented in flashback mode, flitting back and forth between various points in her life in no chronological order. As a reader, I found this novel's focus challenging to understand and follow. Because of this, I highly recommend readers read The Winter Palace first to get a stronger grip on the storyline. For lovers of Catherine the Great and her impact on history, Eva Stachniak's novels are a great way to begin learning about this fascinating woman of history.


La Petite Gallery said...

Oh my gosh, I love this post . Please come and visit. I am putting you on my sidebar.

La Petite Gallery said...

I was in the Hermitage and Palace
it was awesome and I could have spent a week there looking at all the Art.

Mirella Sichirollo Patzer said...

Oh how awesome. I'm pea green with envy! I'm sure it was magnificent. Maybe one day, I'll be able to travel around in Europe and see such sites. Lucky you!

La Petite Gallery said...

Happy Easter yvonne