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Catherine II of Russia (1729-1796) was one of history's most unlikely rulers.

In 1763, long after their relationship had ended and a year after she had come to power, Catherine successfully threw her support (both military and financial) behind Poniatowski in his effort to become king of Poland.

However, once installed on the throne, the new king, who Catherine and others believed would be a mere puppet to Russian interests, began a series of reforms meant to strengthen his country’s independence. Catherine’s reign was marked by vast territorial expansion, which greatly added to Russia’s coffers but did little to alleviate the suffering of her people.

On July 17 Peter was murdered by Alexei Orlov, the brother of Catherine’s current lover Gregory.

Though there is no proof that Catherine knew of the murder before it happened, it cast a pall over her reign from the start. Catherine faced down more than a dozen uprisings during her reign.

Here are some facts you may not know about Catherine the Great. Catherine the Great’s name wasn’t Catherine, and she wasn’t even Russian.

The woman whom history would remember as Catherine the Great, Russia’s longest-ruling female leader, was actually the eldest daughter of an impoverished Prussian prince.On July 9, just six months after becoming czar, Peter abdicated, and Catherine was proclaimed sole ruler.However, what had began as a bloodless coup soon turned deadly.Initially unconcerned about the rebellion, Catherine soon responded with massive force.Faced with the might of the Russian army, Pugachev’s supporters eventually deserted him, and he was captured and publicly executed in January 1775. Being Catherine the Great’s lover came with huge rewards.Though the young Prussian princess had been imported to produce an heir, eight years passed without a child.Some historians believe Peter was unable to consummate the marriage, while others think he was infertile.The marriage took place on August 21, 1745, with the bride (a new convert to Orthodox Christianity) now bearing the name Ekaterina, or Catherine. Catherine’s eldest son—and heir—may have been illegitimate.Catherine and her new husband had a rocky marriage from the start.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.

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