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Catherine II

Catherine II., the celebrated Empress of Russia, was the daughter of the Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst, and was born at Stettin in 1729. Her names of Sophia Augusta were changed to Catherine Alexievna when she married Peter, nephew of the Empress Elizabeth, in 1745. He was a hideous, empty-headed, debauched young man, with a few good qualities, however, but he was soon detested and despised by his clever, intriguing wife, who spent the early years of their marriage in study and seclusion. Presently she beceeme infected by the corruption of the court, and her conduct with Soltykoff, Narischkine, and Poniatowski, afterwards King of Poland, gave rise to grave suspicions. In 1762 her husband mounted the throne as Peter III., but was speedily forced to abdicate by an insurrectionary movement at which Catherine connived. A few days later he was strangled in the castle of Robocha by Alexis Orloff, one of her favourites, and she was crowned Empress at Moscow. Her life henceforth was stained by gross profligacy and unbounded cruelty, but she was a vigorous and able sovereign, promoting agriculture and commerce, encouraging literature and science, and losing no opportunity for enlarging the empire. She corresponded with Diderot, D'Alembert, Euler, and Voltaire, and drew up with her own hand a scheme for the codification of the law. She annexed Courland, putting her favourite Biron in the place of the reigning prince. As the result of several successful campaigns she won the Crimea and other provinces from the Turks. She set Poniatowski, another of her admirers, on the throne of Poland, and was the moving spirit in the infamous partition of that kingdom in 1772, thus acquiring Volhynia and Podolia. She was preparing to take part in the revolutionary war against France when she died of apoplexy in 1796, and was succeeded by her degenerate son Paul I. A curious autobiography written by her was published by Herzen in 1859.