Women Who Ruled: Catherine I of Russia

Catharine I of Russia
Queen of Peter the Great

Catharine I, Empress of Russia was originally a peasant’s daughter. Her original name was Martha Skavranska and her parents lived at Ringen, a small village not far from Dorpt, on Lake Vitcherve, in Livonia. The date of her birth was April 15, 1684. She was left an orphan when she was fifteen years of age and from that time on she was brought up mainly by a Lutheran pastor named Gluck, in Marienburg, Livonia.

In 1702 she married a Swedish horseman. However, Marienburg was taken by the Russians in the same year, and Catharine was made a prisoner. While a prisoner, she became the mistress of Prince Menschikoff. It wasn’t long before she attracted the attention of Peter the Great, and won so much of his affections that he married her in 1711. Some years prior to this, however, she went over to the Greek church, and took the name of Catharina Alexievna.

When Peter the Great and his army seemed entirely in the power of the Turkish army on the Pruth in 1711, Catharine, according to the common account, used skillful bribery and procured the deliverance of the Russians. From this time forth she was received with great favor and was solemnly crowned in 1712.

On the death of Peter the Great in 1725, she was acknowledged Empress and sole ruler of all the Russians. She showed herself worthy of this high station by completing the grand designs which her illustrious consort had begun. The first thing she did on her accession, was to cause every gallows to be taken down, and all instruments of torture to be destroyed. She instituted a new order of knighthood, and performed many actions worthy of a great mind.

She was much loved for her great humanity, but it wasn’t long before she began to yield to the influence of a number of favorites and addicted herself to drunkenness, and lived such a life as could not fail to lead her to an early death.

Catharine died May 17, 1727. After she died, her daughter, Elizabeth, became empress in her place.