Star of the North
Catherine II the Great was the most renowned and the longest-ruling female leader of Russia, reigning from 9 July 1762 until her death in 1796 at the age of 66. Her reign was called Russia’s golden age. She was born Sophie Augusta Fredericka in 1729, a German princess who was sent to Russia in a diplomatic Prussian intrigue and grew more popular than the man she married, the Grand Duke Peter – later Peter III. After his death she became empress, extending the Russian empire south and westwards.
Elizabeth died in January 1762, and her nephew succeeded to the throne as Peter III, with Catherine as his consort. Eager to put his own stamp on the nation, he quickly ended Russia’s war with Prussia, an act that proved deeply unpopular to Russia’s military class. These unhappy factions turned to Catherine, who was also fearful of Peter’s intentions. As tensions mounted, a plan to overthrow Peter took root. When the conspiracy was uncovered in July 1762, Catherine moved quickly, gaining the support of the country’s most powerful military regiment and arranging for her husband’s arrest. On July 9, just six months after becoming czar, Peter abdicated, (He was dethroned, said the Prussian Frederick the Great, “like a child being sent to bed”) and Catherine was proclaimed sole ruler.