Catherine I of Russia (15 April 1684 – 17 May
From working class orphan to Empress regnant of Imperial
Russia, few people have risen as far in life as Catherine I. Catherine’s parents died when she was very
young and she was sent to the home of a noted scholar as a servant. Despite her presence in the home of an
academic, Catherine was never taught to read or write and remained illiterate
for the rest of her life.
As a teenager, Catherine was briefly married to a Swedish
solider before she made her way to Russia to again work as a servant. She worked for Prince Alexander Menshikov and
through him she met her future husband, Peter the Great. Catherine and Peter are believed to have
married in secret in 1707. The couple had
twelve children together, but only two survived into adulthood. Catherine was a devoted traditional
wife. Although her husband was Emperor, Catherine
functioned as a normal housewife living in a three room house while St. Petersburg
was being built.
In 1711, Catherine went on an unsuccessful campaign with
Peter to the Ottoman Empire. Thanks to
Catherine’s generosity and quick thinking, Russian troops were allowed to
withdraw unharmed in exchange for jewels.
Catherine and Peter officially married in 1712. She was crowned and named co-ruler in 1724,
less than a year before Peter’s death. After
some strife, Catherine was named Peter’s successor and ruler of Russia. As a former commoner, Catherine was seen as
an example of a more egalitarian Russia.
Although she was heavily influenced by her advisors, Catherine was seen
as a fair ruler who decreased taxes and reduced military spending. She was the first female ruler of Imperial
Russia and although she died at just age 43, she paved the way for other female
leaders including her daughter Elizabeth and her granddaughter-in-law Catherine