by Jennifer Eremeeva
Russia’s greatest ruler was never destined to sit on the Imperial throne.
But Catherine the Great firmly believed that destiny was a thing to be harnessed. She was born Princess Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst, a minor German backwater, and might well have become a mere footnote of history had she not caught the eye of Empress Elizabeth of Russia.
Elizabeth was the daughter of Peter the Great, the tsar whose legendary rule completely transformed Russia from an isolated, medieval, semi-Asiatic state into a powerful Western European empire and maritime superpower. After her father’s death in 1725, Elizabeth endured 11 uneasy years during the reign of her cousin, Empress Anna, when her life was in constant danger. With the help of her father’s loyal regiments, she seized power from Anna’s successor, the infant Ivan VI, in a bloodless coup in 1741 and resolved to rule Russia in the spirit of her illustrious father. The beautiful and passionate Elizabeth was energetic and exorbitant, owning more than 5,000 dresses and dazzling jewels. She loved masked balls, the thrill of the chase both of quarry and handsome men; many a noble Russian family could date its ascent in society back to a handsome member catching Elizabeth’s eye. Her most lasting affair was with a handsome Ukrainian singer, Alexei Razumovsky, who wisely stayed away from all intrigue…