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Saturday, January 14, 2012
Book Review: Catherine The Great, Portrait Of A Woman by Robert K. Massie
Catherine was born Sophia Augusta Fredericka on April 21, 1729. Her parents were Prince Christian Augustus of Anhalt-Zerbst and Johanna Elizabeth of Holstein-Gottorp. Their principalities were apart of Germany. Christian and Johanna were not of high noble families. Christian was a professional soldier. He waited to marry until he was 37. His bride was 15. Their marriage was poorly matched. He was older, mature, settled, reserved, disciplined. He was not interested in gossip, or an extravagant lifestyle. His bride was the reverse of his temperament and beliefs. Sophia was their first child. Eighteen months later they had a son, and then much later another son and daughter. Sophia grew up in a home where she was pushed aside, because of her mothers adoration of her brother eighteen months younger than her. Yet, Sophia was lovely and had a bright and quick mind. When Sophia was fourteen she and her mother were summoned by Empress Elizabeth of Russia. Sophia's mother instinctively knew why the had been summoned. She quickly went to work in trying to control every extravagant aspect of their trip, her focus primarily on herself. At the age of fourteen Sophia was betrothed to the future Tsar Peter III of Russia. The Empress Elizabeth changed Sophia's name to Catherine. Peter was the nephew of Empress Elizabeth, she did not have children of her own, and he was her proclaimed heir. In order for lineage to continue through Peter he must have a bride, and they must produce an heir. Young inexperienced Catherine was eager to meet this challenge and future life. Catherine and Peter's wedding was a golden jeweled elaborate display of royal wealth and extravagance. Catherine left her Lutheran church behind and embraced The Orthodox Church. She also embraced whole-heartedly Russia. Catherine would produce one heir to the throne, Paul. She would become Catherine II, The Great Empress of Russia.
This is a narrative biography, borrowing much from a diary Catherine kept, as well as letters and diaries from those that knew her--both friends and enemies.
During her reign we are shown her achievements and disappointments, her heart-aches and fears.
The reader is given a great history lesson in seventeenth century Russia.
Weaved in to Catherine's story is the history of Cossacks, smallpox and plague outbreaks, intermarriage of royal families in Europe, political intrigue, campaigns, wars, and the extreme polarity of wealthy upper class landowners and or noble families versus the poor serfs and peasants.
We read about a man named Pugachev that in-resurrected an uprising of serf's, peasants, and other malcontent's that had hatred for the wealthy land-owner's and royal family. Their vile cruel terror in the outer area of far Russia miscalculated the Catherine and the Russian army.
I loved this book! It is wonderfully written, it swept me away and I had a difficult time putting it down.
This book is number 6 on the New York Times hardcover non-fiction best seller list.
Published by Random House November 2011
Non-Fiction/Narrative Biography/Russia/Royalty/Eastern Europe/Prussia/18th Century