The 24th book I read for this challenge was Catherine: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie, a biography of Catherine the Great of Russia. The book is a tome, the longest book I’ve read on my Kindle. It traces the life of Sophia, Princess of Anst-Zerbst, became the Grand Archduchess Eketerina (Catherine) of Russia when she married Archduke Peter, the successor to the Empress Elizabeth of Russia, The daughter of Peter the Great. She was only a fourteen year old girl when she went to Russia and converted to Orthodoxy and finally married Archduke Peter at the age of sixteen. The marriage was a disaster and never consummated. Peter was immature and more content with playing with his toy and real soldiers than paying attention to his wife, then took interest in her ladies in waiting. Catherine finally took a lover in order to conceive an heir to the throne and did bear a son, Paul. She also had a daughter who did not survive by another lover, and finally had another son. Peter had no children, as far as anyone knows. When Elizabeth died, Peter became the new emperor, Peter III. He was incompetent, taking no interest in foreign or internal affairs, still lost in his world of pretend soldiering. Catherine’s supporters staged a coup d’état that put Catherine on the thrown. Peter III was inadvertently killed during the coup. Thus began the reign of Catherine II.
Catherine was intelligent and interested in foreign affairs and reforms in Russia. She was an autocrat who was a hands-on leader. She read every dispatch and received all foreign dignitaries. She was involved in all treaties and wars, political reforms, took many lovers, but had her long-time favorites in whom she confided over the long years of her reign. The book follows her foreign policies, her attempts at reform, the wars in which Russia was involved, her meddling in other nations, how the events in other nations affected Russia, her many “favorites” or lovers, her doubts about leaving her empire to her son Paul and her consideration of making her grandson Alexander her successor, the expansion of the Russian Empire under Catherine’s reign through war and treaties, and her involvement in the Enlightenment. The power of her personality was the glue that held the Russian Empire together for the many years of her reign. Twenty-four books down, 76 to go.