Book Review: Five Empresses, Court Life in Eighteenth-Century Russia by Evgenii V. Anisimov

This is book 2 in my Winter Reading Challenge for 2012.

The emphasis of the book is on five Empresses of Russia that ruled during the 1700's. But, the book begins by telling us the story of Peter the Great. It was his strong legacy that these 5 Empresses followed and were thus measured by.

The 5 Empresses, each given a chapter, are as follows:
The Cinderella from Livland, Catherine I
The Poor Relative Who Became Empress, Anna Ioannovna
The Secret Prisoner and Her Children, Anna Leopol'dovna
The Russian Aphrodite, Elizabeth
The Sovereign of the North, Catherine the Great

Peter the Great married his 2nd wife Catherine I, after they'd had children. She was his 2nd wife. She was not beautiful, but rather frumpy and dumpy, and of peasant stock.Yet they were a match, or rather she had the inborn skills to deal with his personality. Peter the Great was demanding, a tyrant, cruel, he had fits of rage which could produce seizures, he had periods of depression. He was gone often on quests and wars. Catherine chose personally his mistresses that he took with him when he traveled. Catherine had several pregnancies, but only 2 lived to be adults. Peter died without leaving a valid will. Catherine took over as ruler of Russia, she was Catherine I Empress of Russia. The author stated that Catherine I reign was humane. Within 2 years Catherine died probably of consumption.

Anna Ioannovna was the middle daughter of Ivan IV the older brother and co-ruler of Peter the Great. She was chosen to be the next ruler of Russia. The year was 1730. Anna had gone to bed a duchess but awoke an empress on the morning of January 19, 1730. She loved operas, shooting wild game, sleigh rides. She could be "vindictive and suspicious." She was not a states-person, not a strong ruler--"she did not want to be disturbed with these kind of problems." She reigned a little over 10 years, dieing in late 1740.

Anna Leopol'dovna  was inadequately trained to be ruler of Russia. She took the throne only to have it taken from her by the next Empress of Russia, Elizabeth. Anna's husband and children as well as herself were basically imprisoned. Her children that lived to adulthood, "all had physical ailments," but each of them were "clever, likable, kind."

Elizabeth was the younger daughter of Peter the Great. Her advantage in usurping the throne was in her popularity with the lower ranking military. She was a majestic horsewoman, savvy, power hungry, expensive taste, arrogant, vain, prideful, obsessive. She could be cruel, selfish, abusive, superstitious, crude. She tried to control all aspects of conversation to what she wanted to talk about. She made time for many, many affairs. She reigned for 20 years, during her reign her interest was in entertainment not in ruling duties over Russia. She had made her nephew her heir. This nephew was child-like, preferring to play with his toys in bed as opposed to co-noodling with his wife. His reign was more than short lived, it was pushed to the side hurriedly by close connections with clout, and done for the sake of the nation of Russia and the next Empress, Catherine the Great.

Catherine the Great had been born in a German province but as a young girl traveled with her star-struck mother to Russia to marry the nephew of Empress Elizabeth. Catherine's job was of course to produce an heir. Catherine more than any of the other Empresses had intelligence in dealing with her boy-husband, and in dealing with the tyrannical Empress Elizabeth. She was not considered a beautiful woman, her voice and presence made people comfortable and instantly like her. She was not religious, but adhered to Voltaire and his teaching. She had a son Paul. Later in life her grandchildren were most precious to her. She reigned 34 years, dieing of a stroke in late 1796.

It would be impossible for me to not compare this book with the previous book by Massie on Catherine The Great. Massie's book is an in-depth, entertaining, educational book on Catherine The Great Empress of Russia.
Anisimov's book should be considered a brief look at each of these 5 Empresses. There was little information I gleaned that I had not already read about in Massie's book.
There were some interesting stories about other women---princesses. These women who had no control on whom they were married to, or what monastery they were subsequently to reside in because they were in the way. Their life was in someone else's hands.
Anisimov wrote a bit of history about court jester's, persecution of Quaker's and Muslim's and Jew's, continuing lengthy wars with Turkey, how music and ballet came to Russia.
What I dislike the most about this book is the price, good grief even the Kindle price is outrageous. If you are interested in reading this book, check the library.

Published by Praeger November 2004
384 pages
Non-Fiction/Russian History/Empresses of Russia/1700's Russia/Biography

Link @ Publisher:
Link @ Amazon:
Hardcover $49.95
Paperback $25.00
Kindle $22.50

Blissful Reading!