One of history’s great ironies is that one of Russia’s most successful periods occurred under the leadership of a monarch with not a drop of Russian blood. Catherine II, better known as Catherine the Great, was a minor Prussian princess whose fairly horrible mother set her sights on achieving notoriety through her daughter.
Fortunately for young Catherine (who was born Sophie), Frederick the Great of Prussia had a political project to strengthen ties between his country and Russia, and Russia’s Empress Elizabeth needed her heir, the future Peter III, to find a wife, have babies, and continue the Romanov line. All eyes turned to the 16-year-old from Anhalt-Zerbst.
The marriage went poorly, but the real surprise occurred on the death of Empress Elizabeth in 1762. While crowned as Empress Consort to her husband, Peter III, it was only a matter of months before Catherine deposed her husband, forced him to sign an abdication, and became Russia’s sole ruler, and the longest-ruling Empress in Russia’s history.