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Famous Affinities of History — Volume 2 The Romance of Devotion   By:

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FAMOUS AFFINITIES OF HISTORY

THE ROMANCE OF DEVOTION

BY

LYNDON ORR

VOLUME II of IV.

CONTENTS

THE EMPRESS CATHARINE AND PRINCE POTEMKIN MARIE ANTOINETTE AND COUNT FERSEN THE STORY OF AARON BURR GEORGE IV. AND MRS. FITZHERBERT CHARLOTTE CORDAY AND ADAM LUX NAPOLEON AND MARIE WALEWSKA THE STORY OF PAULINE BONAPARTE THE STORY OF THE EMPRESS MARIE LOUISE AND COUNT NEIPPERG

THE EMPRESS CATHARINE AND PRINCE POTEMKIN

It has often been said that the greatest Frenchman who ever lived was in reality an Italian. It might with equal truth be asserted that the greatest Russian woman who ever lived was in reality a German. But the Emperor Napoleon and the Empress Catharine II. resemble each other in something else. Napoleon, though Italian in blood and lineage, made himself so French in sympathy and understanding as to be able to play upon the imagination of all France as a great musician plays upon a splendid instrument, with absolute sureness of touch and an ability to extract from it every one of its varied harmonies. So the Empress Catharine of Russia perhaps the greatest woman who ever ruled a nation though born of German parents, became Russian to the core and made herself the embodiment of Russian feeling and Russian aspiration.

At the middle of the eighteenth century Russia was governed by the Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great. In her own time, and for a long while afterward, her real capacity was obscured by her apparent indolence, her fondness for display, and her seeming vacillation; but now a very high place is accorded her in the history of Russian rulers. She softened the brutality that had reigned supreme in Russia. She patronized the arts. Her armies twice defeated Frederick the Great and raided his capital, Berlin. Had Elizabeth lived, she would probably have crushed him.

In her early years this imperial woman had been betrothed to Louis XV. of France, but the match was broken off. Subsequently she entered into a morganatic marriage and bore a son who, of course, could not be her heir. In 1742, therefore, she looked about for a suitable successor, and chose her nephew, Prince Peter of Holstein Gottorp.

Peter, then a mere youth of seventeen, was delighted with so splendid a future, and came at once to St. Petersburg. The empress next sought for a girl who might marry the young prince and thus become the future Czarina. She thought first of Frederick the Great's sister; but Frederick shrank from this alliance, though it would have been of much advantage to him. He loved his sister indeed, she was one of the few persons for whom he ever really cared. So he declined the offer and suggested instead the young Princess Sophia of the tiny duchy of Anhalt Zerbst.

The reason for Frederick's refusal was his knowledge of the semi barbarous conditions that prevailed at the Russian court.

The Russian capital, at that time, was a bizarre, half civilized, half oriental place, where, among the very highest born, a thin veneer of French elegance covered every form of brutality and savagery and lust. It is not surprising, therefore, that Frederick the Great was unwilling to have his sister plunged into such a life.

But when the Empress Elizabeth asked the Princess Sophia of Anhalt Zerbst to marry the heir to the Russian throne the young girl willingly accepted, the more so as her mother practically commanded it. This mother of hers was a grim, harsh German woman who had reared her daughter in the strictest fashion, depriving her of all pleasure with a truly puritanical severity. In the case of a different sort of girl this training would have crushed her spirit; but the Princess Sophia, though gentle and refined in manner, had a power of endurance which was toughened and strengthened by the discipline she underwent.

And so in 1744, when she was but sixteen years of age, she was taken by her mother to St. Petersburg. There she renounced the Lutheran faith and was received into the Greek Church, changing her name to Catharine... Continue reading book >>


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