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THE EMPRESS CATHARINE
T was about the year 1690 that Peter the Great commenced his reign, and he died in 1725, as will appear more
fully in the sequel of this volume. Thus the duration of the reign was thirty-five years. The wars between
Russia and Sweden occupied principally the early part of the reign through a period of many years. The battle
of Pultowa, by which the Swedish invasion of the Russian territories was repelled, was fought in 1709, nearly
twenty years after the Czar ascended the throne.
During the period while the Czar was thus occupied in his mortal struggle with the King of Sweden, there
appeared upon the stage, in connection with him, a lady, who afterward became one of the most celebrated
personages of history. This lady was the Empress Catharine. The character of this lady, the wonderful and
romantic incidents of her life, and the great fame of her exploits, have made her one of the most celebrated
personages of history. We
 can, however, here only give a brief account of that portion of her life which was connected with the history
Catharine was born in a little village near the town of Marienburg, in Livonia.
Her parents were in very humble circumstances, and they both died when she was a little child, leaving her in a
very destitute and friendless condition. The parish clerk, who was the teacher of a little school in which
perhaps she had been a pupil—for she was then four or five years old—felt compassion for her, and took her home
with him to his own house. He was the more disposed to do this as Catharine was a bright child, full of life
and activity, and, at the same time, amiable and docile in disposition, so that she was easily governed.
After Catharine had been some time at the house of the clerk, a certain Dr. Gluck, who was the minister of
Marienburg, happening to be on a visit to the clerk, saw her and heard her story. The minister was very much
pleased with the appearance and manners of the child, and he proposed that the clerk should give her up to him.
This the clerk was willing to do, as his income was very small, and the addition even
 of such a child to his family of course some-what increased his expenses. Besides, he knew that it would be
much more advantageous for Catharine, for the time being, and also much more conducive to her future success in
life, to be brought up in the minister's family at Marienberg than in his own humble home in the little
village. So Catharine went to live with the minister.
Here she soon made herself a great favorite. She was very intelligent and active, and very ambitious to learn
whatever the minister's wife was willing to teach her. She also took great interest in making herself useful in
every possible way, and displayed in her household avocations, and in all her other duties, a sort of womanly
energy which was quite, remarkable
 in one of her years. She learned to knit, to spin, and to sew, and she assisted the minister's wife very much
in these and similar occupations. She had learned to read in her native tongue at the clerk's school, but now
she conceived the idea of learning the German language. She devoted herself to this task with great assiduity
and success, and as soon as she had made such progress as to be able to read in that language, she spent all
her leisure time in perusing the German books which she found in the minister's library.
Years passed away, and Catharine grew up to be a young woman, and then a certain young man, a subaltern officer
in the Swedish army—for this was at the time when Livonia was in possession of the Swedes—fell in love with
her. The story was, that Catharine one day, in some way or other, fell into the hands of two Swedish soldiers,
by whom she would probably have been greatly maltreated; but the officer, coming by at that time, rescued her
and sent her safe to Dr. Gluck. The officer had lost one of his arms in some battle, and was covered with the
scars of other wounds; but he was a very generous and brave man, and was highly regarded by all who knew him.
When he offered Catharine his hand, she was strongly induced by
 her gratitude to him to accept it, but she said she must ask the minister's approval of his proposal, for he
had been a father to her, she said, and she would take no important step without his consent.
The minister, after suitable inquiry respecting the officer's character and prospects, readily gave his
consent, and so it was settled that Catharine should be married.
Now it happened that these occurrences took place not very long after the war broke out between Sweden and
Russia, and almost immediately after Catharine's marriage—some writers say on the very same day of the wedding,
and others on the day following—a Russian army came suddenly up to Marienburg, took possession of the town, and
made a great many of the inhabitants prisoners. Catharine herself was among the prisoners thus taken. The story
was, that in the confusion and alarm she hid herself with others in an oven, and was found by the Russian
soldiers there, and carried off as a valuable prize.
What became of the bridegroom is not certainly known. He was doubtless called suddenly to his post when the
alarm was given of the enemy's approach, and a great many different stories were told in respect to what
after-  ward befell him. One thing is certain, and that is, that his young bride never saw him again.
Catharine, when she found herself separated from her husband and shut up a helpless prisoner with a crowd of
other wretched and despairing captives, was overwhelmed with grief at the sad reverse of fortune that had
befallen her. She had good reason not only to mourn for the happiness which she had lost, but also to
experience very anxious and gloomy forebodings in respect to what was before her, for the main object of the
Russians in making prisoners of the young and beautiful women which they found in the towns that they
conquered, was to send them to Turkey, and to sell them there as slaves.
Catharine was, however, destined to escape this dreadful fate. One of the Russian generals, in looking over the
prisoners, was struck with her appearance, and with the singular expression of grief and despair which her
countenance displayed. He called her to him and asked her some questions; and he was more impressed by the
intelligence and good sense
 which her answers evinced than he had been by the beauty of her countenance. He bid her quiet her fears,
promising that he would himself take care of her. He immediately ordered some trusty men to take her to his
tent, where there were some women who would take charge of and protect her.
These women were employed in various domestic occupations in the service of the general. Catharine began at
once to interest herself in these employments, and to do all in her power to assist in them; and at length, as
one of the writers who gives an account of these transactions goes on to say, "the general, finding Catharine
very proper to manage his household affairs, gave her a sort of authority and inspection over these women and
over the rest of the domestics, by whom she soon came to be very much beloved by her manner of using them when
she instructed them in their duty. The general said himself that he never had been so well served as since
Catharine had been with him.
"It happened one day that Prince Menzikoff, who was the general's commanding officer and patron, saw
Catharine, and, observing something very extraordinary in her air and behavior, asked the general who she was
and in what
con-  dition she served him. The general related to him her story, taking care, at the same time, to do justice to
the merit of Catharine. The prince said that he was himself very ill served, and had occasion for just such a
person about him. The general replied that he was under too great obligations to his highness the prince to
refuse him any thing that he asked. He immediately called Catharine into his presence, and told her that that
was Prince Menzikoff, and that he had occasion for a servant like herself, and that he was able to be a much
better friend to her than he himself could be, and that he had too much kindness for her to prevent her
receiving such a piece of honor and good fortune.
"Catharine answered only with a profound courtesy, which showed, if not her consent to the change proposed, at
least her conviction that it was not then in her power to refuse the offer that was made to her. In short,
Prince Menzikoff took her with him, or she went to him the same day."
Catharine remained in the service of the prince for a year or two, and was then transferred from the household
of the prince to that of the Czar almost precisely in the same way in which she had been resigned to the prince
by the general. The Czar saw her one day while
 he was at dinner with the prince, and he was so much pleased with her appearance, and with the account which
the prince gave him of her character and history, that he wished to have her himself; and, however reluctant
the prince may have been to lose her, he knew very well that there was no alternative for him but to give his
consent. So Catharine was transferred to the household of the Czar.
She soon acquired a great ascendency over the Czar, and in process of time she was privately married to him.
This private marriage took place in 1707. For several years afterward the marriage was not publicly
acknowledged; but still Catharine's position was well understood, and her power at court, as well as her
personal influence over her husband, increased continually.
Catharine sometimes accompanied the emperor in his military campaigns, and at one time was the means, it is
thought, of saving him from very imminent danger. It was in the year 1711. The Czar was at that time at war
with the Turks, and he had advanced into the Turkish territory with a small, but very compact and
well-organized army. The Turks sent out a large force to meet him, and at length, after various marchings and
 Czar found himself surrounded by a Turkish force three times as large as his own. The Russians fortified their
camp, and the Turks attacked them. The latter attempted for two or three successive days to force the Russian
lines, but without success, and at length the grand vizier, who was in command of the Turkish troops, finding
that he could not force his enemy to quit their intrenchments, determined to starve them out; so he invested
the place closely on all sides. The Czar now gave himself up for lost, for he had only a very small stock of
provisions, and there seemed no possible way of escape from the snare in which he found himself involved.
Catharine was with her husband in the camp at this time, having had the courage to accompany him in the
expedition, notwithstanding its extremely dangerous character, and the story is that she was the means of
extricating him from his hazardous position by dextrously bribing the vizier.
The way in which she managed the affair was this. She arranged it with the emperor that he was to propose terms
of peace to the vizier, by which, on certain conditions, he was to be allowed to retire with his army.
Catharine then secretly made up a very valuable present for the vizier, consisting of jewels,
cost-  ly decorations, and other such valuables belonging to herself, which, as was customary in those times, she had
brought with her on the expedition, and also a large sum of money. This present she contrived to send to the
vizier at the same time with the proposals of peace made by the emperor. The vizier was extremely pleased with
the present, and he at once agreed to the conditions of peace, and thus the Czar and all his army escaped the
destruction which threatened them.
The vizier was afterward called to account for having thus let off his enemies so easily when he had them so
completely in his power; but he defended himself as well as he could by saying that the terms on which he had
made the treaty were as good as could be obtained in any way, adding, hypocritically, that "God commands us to
pardon our enemies when they ask us to do so, and humble themselves before us."
In the mean time, years passed away, and the emperor and Catharine lived very happily together, though the
connection which subsisted between them, while it was universally known, was not openly or publicly recognized.
In process of time they had two or three children, and this, together with the unassuming but yet
 faithful and efficient manner in which Catharine devoted herself to her duties as wife and mother, strengthened
the bond which bound her to the Czar, and at length, in the year 1712, Peter determined to place her before the
world in the position to which he had already privately and unofficially raised her, by a new and public
It was not pretended, however, that the Czar was to be married to Catharine now for the first time, but the
celebration was to be in honor of the nuptials long before performed. Accordingly, in the invitations that were
sent out, the expression used to denote the occasion on which the company was to be convened was "to celebrate
his majesty's old wedding." The place where the ceremony was to be performed was St. Petersburg, for this was
now many years after St. Petersburg had been built.
THE EMPRESS CATHERINE.
Very curious arrangements were made for the performance of this extraordinary ceremony. The Czar appeared in
the dress and character of an admiral of the fleet, and the other officers of the fleet, instead of the
ministers of state and great nobility, were made most prominent on the occasion, and were appointed to the most
honorable posts. This arrangement was made partly, no doubt, for the purpose of doing honor
 to the navy, which the Czar was now forming, and increasing the consideration of those who were connected with
it in the eyes of the country. As Catharine had no parents living, it was necessary to appoint persons to act
in their stead "to give away the bride." It was to the vice admiral and the rear admiral of the fleet that the
honor of acting in this capacity was assigned. They represented the bride's father, while Peter's mother, the
empress dowager, and the lady of the vice admiral of the fleet represented her mother.
Two of Catharine's own daughters were appointed bridemaids. Their appointment was, however, not much more than
an honorary one, for the children were very young, one of them being five and the other only three years old.
They appeared for a little time pending the ceremony, and then, becoming tired, they were taken away, and their
places supplied by two young ladies of the court, nieces of the Czar.
The wedding ceremony itself was performed at seven o'clock in the morning, in a little chapel belonging to
Prince Menzikoff, and before a small company, no person being present at that time except those who had some
official part to perform. The great wedding party had been invited to meet at the Czar's palace later in the
 day. After the ceremony had been performed in the chapel, the emperor and empress went from the chapel into
Menzikoff's palace, and remained there until the time arrived to repair to the palace of the Czar. Then a grand
procession was formed, and the married pair were conducted through the streets to their own palace with great
parade. As it was winter, the bridal party were conveyed in sleighs instead of carriages. These sleighs, or
sledges as they were called, were very elegantly decorated, and were drawn by six horses each. The procession
was accompanied by a band of music, consisting of trumpets, kettle-drums, and other martial instruments. The
entertainment at the palace was very splendid, and the festivities were concluded in the evening by a ball. The
whole city, too, was lighted up that night with bonfires and illuminations.
Three years after this public solemnization of the marriage the empress gave birth to a son. Peter was
perfectly overjoyed at this event. It is true that he had one son already, who was born of his first wife, who
was called the Czarewitz, and whose character and melancholy history will be the subject of the next chapter.
But this was the first son among the children of Catharine. She had had only
 daughters before. It was in the very crisis of the difficulties which the Czar had with his eldest son, and
when he was on the point of finally abandoning all hope of ever reclaiming him from his vices and making him a
fit inheritor of the crown, that this child of Catharine's was born. These circumstances, which will be
explained more fully in the next chapter, gave great political importance to the birth of Catharine's son, and
Peter caused the event to be celebrated with great public rejoicings. The rejoicings were continued for eight
days, and at the baptism of the babe, two kings, those of Denmark and of Prussia, acted as godfathers. The name
given to the child was Peter Petrowitz.
The baptism was celebrated with the greatest pomp, and it was attended with banqueting and rejoicings of the
most extraordinary character. Among other curious contrivances were two enormous pies, one served in the room
of the gentlemen and the other in that of the ladies; for, according to the ancient Russian custom on such
occasions, the sexes were separated, at the entertainments, tables being spread for the ladies and for the
gentlemen in different halls. From the ladies' pie there stepped out, when it was opened, a young dwarf, very
 and clothed in a very slight and very fantastic manner. The dwarf brought out with him from the pie some
wine-glasses and a bottle of wine. Taking these in his hand, he walked around the table drinking to the health
of the ladies, who received him wherever he came with screams of mingled surprise and laughter. It was the same
in the gentlemen's apartment, except that the dwarf which appeared before the company there was a female.
The birth of this son formed a new and very strong bond of attachment between Peter and Catharine, and it
increased very much the influence which she had previously exerted over him. The influence which she thus
exercised was very great, and it was also, in the main, very salutary. She alone could approach the Czar in the
fits of irritation and anger into which he often fell when any thing displeased him, and sometimes, when his
rage and fury were such that no one else would have dared to come near, Catharine knew how to quiet and calm
him, and gradually bring him back again to reason. She had great power over him, too, in respect to the nervous
affection—the convulsive twitchings of the head and face—to which he was subject. Indeed, it was said that the
soothing and mysterious influence of her gentle
 nursing in allaying these dreadful spasms, and relieving the royal patient from the distress which they
occasioned, gave rise to the first feeling of attachment which he formed for her, and which led him, in the
end, to make her his wife.
Catharine often exerted the power which she acquired over her husband for noble ends. A great many persons, who
from time to time excited the displeasure of the Czar, were rescued from undeserved death, and sometimes from
sufferings still more terrible than death, by her interposition. In many ways she softened the asperities of
Peter's character, and lightened the heavy burden of his imperial despotism. Every one was astonished at the
ascendency which she acquired over the violent and cruel temper of her husband, and equally pleased with the
good use which she made of her power.
There was not, however, always perfect peace between Catharine and her lord. Catharine was compelled sometimes
to endure great trials. On one occasion the Czar took it into his head, with or without cause, to feel jealous.
The object of his jealousy was a certain officer of his court whose name was De la Croix. Peter had no certain
evidence, it would seem, to justify his suspicions, for he said nothing openly on the subject, but he at once
caused the officer to be
 beheaded on some other pretext, and ordered his head to be set up on a pole in a great public square in Moscow.
He then took Catharine out into the square, and conveyed her to and fro in all directions across it, in order
that she might see the head in every point of view. Catharine understood perfectly well what it all meant, but,
though thunderstruck and overwhelmed with grief and horror at the terrible spectacle, she succeeded in
maintaining a perfect self-control through the whole scene, until, at length, she was released, and allowed to
return to her apartment, when she burst into tears, and for a long time could not be comforted or calmed.
With the exception of an occasional outbreak like this, the Czar evinced a very strong attachment to his
consort, and she continued to live with him a faithful and devoted wife for nearly twenty years; from the
period of her private marriage, in fact, to the death of her husband. During all this time she was continually
associated with him not only in his personal and private, but also in his public avocations and cares. She
accompanied him on his journeys, she aided him with her counsels in all affairs of state. He relied a great
deal on her judgment in all questions of policy, whether
in-  ternal or external; and he took counsel with her in all matters connected with his negotiations with foreign
states, with the sending and receiving of embassies, the making of treaties with them, and even, when occasion
occurred, in determining the question of peace or war.
And yet, notwithstanding the lofty qualities of statesmanship that Catharine thus displayed in the counsel and
aid which she rendered her husband, the education which she had received while at the minister's in Marienburg
was so imperfect that she never learned to write, and whenever, either during her husband's life or after his
death, she had occasion to put her signature to letters or documents of any kind, she did not attempt to write
the name herself, but always employed one of her daughters to do it for her.
At length, toward the close of his reign, Peter, having at that time no son to whom he could intrust the
government of his empire after he was gone, caused Catharine to be solemnly crowned as empress, with a view of
making her his successor on the throne. But before describing this coronation it is necessary first to give an
account of the circumstances which led to it, by relating the melancholy history of Alexis, Peter's oldest son.