Author Topic: Empress Catherine II  (Read 152852 times)

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Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Empress Catherine II
« Reply #135 on: December 18, 2006, 02:04:27 PM »
Well, they did  throw a big tercentenary bash for the Romanov dynasty in 1913.  It would be somewhat embarrassing to acknowledge the dynasty had lost its last trace of Romanov blood around the halfway point.  In fact, even assuming Russian paternity for Paul (be it by Peter, Saltikov, or some other nobleman), it has been calculated that Nicholas II was only 1/80th Russian.  In fact, he was overwhelmingly German in lineage . . . and quite possibly no Romanov at all.

The whole mystique of the House of Romanov, Autocrats of Russia by the Will of God -- which the Orthodox Church is trying to buff to a high polish these days -- is actually built over a bramble thicket of 18th-century palace coups and adultery.  I know God is said to work in mysterious ways, but this is one round-about route for Him to have taken.

helenazar

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Re: Empress Catherine II
« Reply #136 on: December 18, 2006, 02:16:22 PM »
Well, I can certainly understand their reticence about the subject while the Romanov dynasty still existed, but now?? While I was in Russia, I tried to engage a few guides in a conversation about this very real possibility, but none of them would "bite". Each of them got very uncomfortable, even annoyed with me, when I brought it up. It was almost as if they did not even want anyone asking such questions, i.e. whether it was possible that Catherine's son may not have been Peter the Great's's biological grandchild... I would have thought it would have been a fun topic to discuss, especially since the Romanov dynasty is no more...But they always did love Peter the Great, even after the revolution, so maybe it has something to do with that. And perhaps the Russian people are just very tired of having their history rewritten over and over and over....  ;)

Offline Romanov_fan

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Re: Empress Catherine II
« Reply #137 on: December 18, 2006, 03:18:41 PM »
Most biographies of her mention this, and seem to say he wasn't Peter's child. This is a very central argument in them, but when it comes to reality, perhaps it is harder to say, and speak about. I really don't know myself, because Paul resembled Peter in some ways, and not very much in others. Also, circumstances at the time of his birth make it likely that he was S. Saltykov's child, but then again, it is said that Peter III was maybe the father for other reasons. Peter III always regarded him as his son ( maybe because he had to?), and Paul most defintely thought Peter was his father.

Tsarina_Liz

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Re: Empress Catherine II
« Reply #138 on: December 18, 2006, 05:24:25 PM »
How would it have looked if Peter hadn't accepted Paul?  The court would have regarded him as a cuckold, his wife as a whore and Elizabeth would have been infuriated.  Peter was doubtless an idiot, but even he realized that it was in his best interest to recognize the boy. 

Catherine would probably have relied on Peter to play along.  Sure, she was better liked than her husband - but she was still a foreigner and forever dancing on thin ice.  Remember, too, that she had Elizabeth's implicit permission to sleep with Saltykov and an implied guarantee the child would be regarded as legitimate.  What purpose would she have to sleep with Peter any longer?   
« Last Edit: December 18, 2006, 05:26:46 PM by Tsarina_Liz »

ilyala

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Re: Empress Catherine II
« Reply #139 on: December 19, 2006, 02:12:13 AM »
wouldn't the same logic apply to the following children?  ::)

Offline CountessKate

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Re: Empress Catherine II
« Reply #140 on: December 19, 2006, 04:22:47 AM »
We only have Catherine's assertion, long after the event, of Elizabeth's (and indeed, Peter's) implied consent to her adultery.  While Elizabeth would not have been keen on a scandal, she was proud of her heritage as the daughter of Peter the Great and I have always had some doubts as to whether the situation between Catherine and Peter seemed so genuinely desperate at the time that Elizabeth would have agreed to see the child of a fairly low-level courtier and a princess of Anhalt-Zerbst as heir to the throne. Would Peter's failure to have children with his wife or his mistresses at that stage have seemed a good reason to allow his wife to be impregnated by someone else?  Catherine's implication in her memoirs that Peter was not Paul's father served the argument that (1) she was not doing him out of his rights to the throne and (b) she didn't allow her son's father to be murdered.  I suspect that at the time, she covered her bases and Peter had some reason for believing Paul to be his son.  After all, there were plenty of examples in the past of royal wives who had been punished severely for adultery - Sophia Dorothea of Celle springs to mind - and however much Catherine was in love with Saltykov, she simply couldn't afford to give the Empress or her husband a clear reason to repudiate her later on.  My feeling is that the 'permission' from Elizabeth and the actual fathering of Paul are much more ambiguous than Catherine portrayed.  Later on, when Paul's position was firmly established, and she and Peter had come to a modus vivendi with their various lovers, Catherine could take a risk and have Anna publically, acknowledged as Peter's child - but an illegitimate child when she and Peter were at odds and he had the power to behave in a very ugly manner indeed, was a risk she couldn't run (and besides, it put her in a poor light as contender for the throne). 

Offline Romanov_fan

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Re: Empress Catherine II
« Reply #141 on: December 19, 2006, 09:34:55 AM »
Indeed, it is very hard to say. Peter never had any children with his mistress Elizabeth Vorontsova. He loved her very much, despite the fact she was really ugly, and he wanted to get rid of Catherine to marry her, and then ascend the throne. Surely it might have been useful to have children with her, because that child would be undoubtedly his, even if not legitimate. It would prove he could beget children. But, perhaps he saw that as a threat to Paul, when there were doubts as to whether he was legitimate or not. He knew Paul kind of kept his position with his aunt Empress Elizabeth stable. Paul was the heir, therefore there was no pressure on Peter to have anything to with a wife ( Catherine) whom he destested. Having an illegitimate child of his own with Elizabeth Vorontsova might have challenged Paul, and therefore his own position. There might have been more doubts about Paul's legitimacy. Or maybe that's far fetched. I agree that Catherine did have reasons for how she portrayed Paul's paternity in her memoirs, we just don't know if those reasons outweighed the truth or not.

Tsarina_Liz

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Re: Empress Catherine II
« Reply #142 on: December 19, 2006, 12:04:18 PM »
There's more evidence than simply Catherine's memoirs.  Specifically, Elizabeth's actions and reactions.  She was no idiot when it came to Peter and his inability to fulfill his relationship with Catherine.  She also detested him and probably took pity on Catherine.  Any female ruler is in peril when she lacks a legitimate heir, Peter was not truly legitimate because he was not Russian born.  But "his" son, born and raised in Russia by the Empress, would have served to secure not only Elizabeth's position but also Peter's.  And Elizabeth probably realized this needed child would not biologically come from Peter.  Besides, even at that time Catherine was considered a better potential ruler than her husband.  Any child that came from her would have been valued.  Furthermore, Elizabeth had an iron grip on her court and kept an absurdly close eye on Peter and Catherine.  She (and indeed the whole court) would have known if Catherine was sleeping around and if Elizabeth had been displeased (or had she wanted an heir only from Peter), she undoubtedly would have continued locking Peter and Catherine together.  The fact that she removed her spies from Catherine's circle and stopped forcing Peter and Catherine together is proof, in my opinion, that she approved of the adultery.  Remember, too, that Elizabeth was highly strung and not afraid to punish those who went against her.  If Catherine had been having an affair Elizabeth considered illicit or damaging, Catherine would undoubtedly have incurred the royal wrath and paid heavily.

As for Elizabeth's pride in her Romanov heritage, while she loved being the daughter of Peter III if she had any sincere intention of preserving her father's line she would have married and produced her own heir instead of plucking a distant relative out of obscurity.  She willingly and knowingly did not produce her own biological heir.  By the time Catherine started sleeping with Saltykov, Elizabeth probably realized the true Romanov line would end with her because of her poor decision - making Peter her heir.  It would have been enough for her to have been the last blood Romanov (she probably got some kicks and pride out of it), because in spirit the Romanov line would always continue.  And that seems to have mattered most.

And then look at Peter's actions.  He never struck out at any of Catherine's lovers, never sought to humiliate them or have them removed (at least until they had served their purpose and gotten him another heir).  He could even be friendly with them, and indeed they were good and well liked men regardless of rank (some were even quite popular, much more so than Peter).  And Catherine never flung them in Peter's face, never actively sought to cuckold him.  Catherine and Peter seemed to have worked out a truce, realizing that while they could not have children together, they could at least create a makeshift, stable family for the sake of the empire. 

There were no secrets in the Russian Court.  Everyone would have known Saltykov was Paul's father.  But there was no opposition or scandal.  Only acceptance.         

Offline Romanov_fan

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Re: Empress Catherine II
« Reply #143 on: December 19, 2006, 04:41:29 PM »
Indeed, Eilizabeth's reactions do point to the fact she accepted the sitiuation of Catherine and her lovers. It also says that she was willing to accept any children of Catherine's by lovers as Peter's children. Of course, this would have to be done anyway, for Catherine's reputation. But, Elizabeth did basically say that she could have lovers. By the time Catherine and Orlov were involved, before Bobrinsky's birth, Peter was on the throne was he not? Therefore, she didn't have Elizabeth's protection anymore, hence the need for secrecy. By that time, Peter detested her, and did not hide it. He might have not liked her earlier lovers, I feel, because he he wasn't in a position were he could say anything against them, so maybe he just put on a  good face. He pretty much had to accept Paul's legitmacy for his own position, and therefore the rest of it as well. Paul never understood the complex circumstances that he and the rest of the Romanov dynasty from then on were born in. He thought Peter was his father, or perhaps wanted to believe it was so, because it made things less complicated.

Tsarina_Liz

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Re: Empress Catherine II
« Reply #144 on: December 19, 2006, 09:19:55 PM »
Certainly the first couple of affairs Catherine had were condoned, but you are right to point out some of her liasons took place after Peter took the throne.  Perhaps, by this time, she had grown rather indifferent and stubborn (which, given her personality, is not out of the question).  Peter, also, peaked in cruelty towards her and Catherine was under intense psychological and occasional physical abuse.  Affairs, while dangerous, may have been a form of release.  Personally, I see them as a sign that Catherine knew how secure her position really was.  Peter may have huffed and puffed but Catherine, while rightly terrified, had to realize how popular she and her children were and that Elizabeth kept her with Peter for a reason - to act as the real ruler.  Had Peter acted to remove Catherine upon taking the throne, she may have risen up against him much earlier than she did.  Certainly many courtiers would have been outraged, and maybe even appalled at the thought of Peter ruling without Catherine as consort. 

Could, then, her affairs as consort have been (at least partly) attempts to flip the switch for her coup?  A little out there, but I don't think it's an impossible possibility.

I also think Paul knew about his paternity, some one would have inevitably whispered it in his ear, but it was politik to recognize Peter.  And it certainly helped that recognizing Peter incensed Catherine (no love lost between mother and son).         

gogm

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Re: Empress Catherine II
« Reply #145 on: December 19, 2006, 10:50:12 PM »
I'm a late poster to this interesting thread!

In reading this board, I came to realize just how German the Romanovs were, especially Hessian. I believe this was used by the Bolsheviks against the IF, especially Alexandra. It is very interesting to think that every "Romanov" from Paul onwards wasn't Romanov at all and, of course, very German.

The Turner movie about Catherine emphasized her strange husband, but made no mention of her authorized liaisons. In fact the movie portrayed her as being brought to Russia to function as a brood mare and nothing more. Catherine had to act because she had no biological role. Apparently she did have some other roles than brood mare and Elizabth appreciated Catherine more than Turner's movie suggested. Catherine must have been very impressive!

Offline Romanov_fan

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Re: Empress Catherine II
« Reply #146 on: December 20, 2006, 12:20:02 PM »
Catherine I think at this point knew that it was okay to have affairs, and that she could. Maybe she had them as a form of defiance, I don't know. I think it was more that she knew she could have them, that it was okay, because earlier, before the birth of Paul, she and Peter had been watched over with an eagle eye by his aunt Elizabeth. They were supposed to be concieving an heir, and there were years of bareness, then it was okay for her to have an affair with S. Saltykov, and shortly thereafter, she was pregnant. However, it is said around the same time that Peter was gotten over his inhibitions as it were, and thus was ready to try to concieve an heir with Catherine. Perhaps he did, who knows? But, he never had any other kids, so one wonders. As for Paul, I think that he did want to believe that Peter was his father, although he had heard the rumours.He may have insisted the more on Peter being his father, perhaps just because doubt existed.

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Empress Catherine II
« Reply #147 on: December 20, 2006, 05:55:32 PM »
There's more evidence than simply Catherine's memoirs.  Specifically, Elizabeth's actions and reactions.  She was no idiot when it came to Peter and his inability to fulfill his relationship with Catherine.  She also detested him and probably took pity on Catherine.   

I think your whole premise of Elizabeth's understanding of Catherine's predicament and tolerance of her behavior is spot on.

Elizabeth herself was born out of wedlock to a peasant woman who only later was to marry Peter the Great.  And this peasant woman succeeded Peter as ruler of Russia, based not on her birth, but on her ability and on the exigencies of the situation at the time Peter died.  So I think it quite likely that Elizabeth had a very good understanding that the effective wielding of power is much more about ability and circumstance than about birth.  A passionate woman who wore her feelings on her sleeve but was yet capable of great subtlety of thought, Elizabeth does not strike me as the sort to get all uptight about the fine points of blood lineage when there is real work to be done.  (Remember that her father quite likely caused the death of his son and heir in order to prevent him from reversing Peter's westernization policies and instead passed his throne to a Lithuanian peasant woman whom he felt would preserve his legacy.)

Also, Catherine II was the niece of the man who had gone to Russia to marry Elizabeth but who was carried away by smallpox before the wedding took place.  So, far from being an obscure princess of inconsequential birth, Catherine was brought to Russia by an Empress Elizabeth who knew her family personally and apparently was prepared to like and support her from the beginning.

Put all this together, and the picture you paint of Elizabeth's and Catherine's mutual understanding of each other has a compelling logical coherence.

This is the core of the contrast between the great rulers of Russia of those who failed to grasp their mission.  Peter, Elizabeth, and Catherine II all understood that it takes talent and fortitude to run an empire -- and when the bloodline doesn't produce those traits, other measures must be taken.  Compare that to Nicholas II and Alexandra, who were fatally determined that their hopelessly-ill son Alexei must rule Russia and that any political risk was warranted to ensure that none but the direct male descendant of the tsar be the next to sit on the throne.  By putting the empire in the service of the dynasty rather than by putting the dynasty in the service of the empire, Nicholas contributed to the destruction of both empire and dynasty.  It is a mistake that none of his great 18th-century forebears would have made.

Tsarina_Liz

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Re: Empress Catherine II
« Reply #148 on: December 20, 2006, 08:17:33 PM »
Tsarfan - thanks for bringing up Elizabeth's mother because she obviously played an important role in this drama.  I know Elizabeth was extremely proud of her (maternal) peseant heritage, do you think this played a part in her acceptance of the similarly low-born Catherine as well?  Perhaps created a sense of solidarity?   

Also, I am unfortunately far from well informed about Elizabeth.  Was she ever legitimized by Peter?   

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: Empress Catherine II
« Reply #149 on: December 21, 2006, 07:13:06 AM »
The Turner movie about Catherine emphasized her strange husband, but made no mention of her authorized liaisons.

If you mean the made-for-TV movie Young Catherine, there is actually a wonderful scene filmed (albeit anachronistically) on the terrace of the Cameron Gallery where Catherine is seeking the advice of her friend and counsellor, the British Ambassador Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams (perfectly played by Christopher Plummer).

Catherine and Peter were being held under virtual house arrest by Empress Elizabeth in an attempt to produce a pregnancy.  With that prospect fading into hopelessness, Catherine's noble "hostess" begins to hint at "other means" for begetting a child.  Perplexed, Catherine approaches Sir Charles to see if he reads the signals the same way.  Sir Charles summarizes the possibilities:  either Elizabeth has given up on getting an heir from Catherine and is now looking for an excuse to banish or imprison her, or Elizabeth is so desperate for an heir that she will provide the air cover for Catherine to get impregnated by someone other than her husband.  Quickly tallying the pros and cons, including the growing recognition that Catherine's obvious abilities have given her a popular reputation as a necessary counterweight to a very flawed Grand Duke Peter, Sir Charles guesses that Elizabeth wants an heir . . . and that she wants it from Catherine more than from Peter.  He so advises the delighted Catherine, who scampers off to find her gorgeous Count Orlov.  (It's a great scene from a woefully-underrecognized movie that only gets the possible lover wrong.  In fact, for dramatic and time reasons, the movie compresses Catherine's several affairs from that period of her life into the one character of Count Orlov.)