Catherine the Great Died Like Elvis
Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great (1729 – 1796), was Tsarina, or empress, of Russia from 1762 until her death. A German born princess, she ascended the throne after she had her husband, Tsar Peter III, assassinated. She continued the westernization work begun by Tsar Peter the Great, and by the end of her reign, Russia had fully joined the mainstream of European political and cultural life. Her regal reign was not to be matched by a regal and dignified death.
She was born Sophie Friederike August von Anhalt-Zerbst into a minor German aristocratic family. At age 14, she was married to the grandson of Tsar Peter the Great and heir to the throne, Grand Duke Peter. The marriage proved a disaster, as Peter was extremely neurotic, mentally unstable, and probably impotent. The following 18 years were full of humiliations and disappointment.
She took a series of lovers, and strongly hinted that none of the children born during her marriage were Peter’s. When her husband became Tsar in 1761, he quickly alienated his court and nobles by making little effort to hide his contempt for Russia, and his preference for his native Germany. When he started making moves to rid himself of Catherine, she beat him to the punch, and joined a conspiracy which staged a military coup in 1762. Peter was seized and forced to abdicate, and 8 days later, was murdered.
Catherine was then crowned Empress, and ruled Russia for the next 34 years. During that period, the Russian Empire expanded rapidly with a combination of conquests and diplomacy. To the west, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was partitioned with Austria and Prussia, with Russia getting the lion’s share. To the south, successful wars against the Ottoman Turks led to the conquest and annexation of the Crimean Khanate. The territories of Novorossiya – the Russian speaking parts of today’s Ukraine – were colonized by Russians. Colonization also stretched far into the east, including Alaska and the foundation of Russian America. Domestically, she reformed the laws and administration of the Russian Empire, bringing them closer to contemporary European standards.
After a long and successful reign, her death came in an undignified manner. Rumors circulated that the insatiable Catherine had died after sustaining injuries from having sex with a horse. The truth was less scandalous, but embarrassing all the same for her imperial majesty. The empress had been feeling constipated, and during a heroic effort to force relief on the toilet, she overstrained herself and suffered a fatal stroke.
When her loud gruntings ceased, her maids waiting outside assumed that her majesty had finally found relief. They started getting nervous, however, as the minutes dragged on without Catherine emerging or summoning them. Eventually they delicately inquired if all was well. Hearing no answer, they took a peak, and found the Empress of All the Russias dead on the toilet.