Catherine the Great  

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On July 17, 1762 Catherine the Great becomes tsar of Russia upon the accidental murder of Peter III of Russia.

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Catherine II of Russia, called Catherine the Great (May 2, 1729 - November 17, 1796), — sometimes referred to as an epitome of the "enlightened despot" — reigned as Empress of Russia for 34 years. She cultivated Voltaire, Diderot and D'Alembert — all French philosophes encyclopedists who later cemented her reputation in their writings. Her collection of erotic art is documented in the documentary film The Lost Secret of Catherine the Great.

Personal life

Catherine, throughout her long reign, took many lovers, often elevating them to high positions for as long as they held her interest, and then pensioning them off with large estates and gifts of serfs. After her affair with Grigori Alexandrovich Potemkin, he would select a candidate-lover for her who had both the physical beauty as well as the mental faculties to hold Catherine's interest (such as Alexander Dmitriev-Mamonov). Some of these men loved her in return: she had a reputation as a beauty by the standards of the day, and always showed generosity towards her lovers, even after the end of an affair. The last of her lovers, Prince Zubov, 40 years her junior, proved the most capricious and extravagant of them all.

Catherine behaved harshly to her son Paul. In her memoirs, Catherine indicated that her first lover, Sergei Saltykov, had fathered Paul, but Paul physically resembled her husband, Peter. She sequestered from the court her illegitimate son by Grigori Orlov, Alexis Bobrinskoy (later created Count Bobrinskoy by Paul). It seems highly probable that she intended to exclude Paul from the succession, and to leave the crown to her eldest grandson Alexander, afterwards the emperor Alexander I. Her harshness to Paul stemmed probably as much from political distrust as from what she saw of his character. Whatever Catherine's other activities, she emphatically functioned as a sovereign and as a politician, guided in the last resort by interests of state. Keeping Paul in a state of semi-captivity in Gatchina and Pavlovsk, she resolved not to allow her son to dispute or to share in her authority.

Catherine suffered a stroke while taking a bath November 5 1796, and subsequently died at 10:15 the following evening without having regained consciousness. She was buried at the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg. Salacious myths about the circumstances of her death have survived the test of time and remain widely known even today.

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