In 1745, Empress Elizabeth I married her nephew, Peter III to Princess Sophia Augusta of Anhalt-Zerbst, she was his second cousin and a year younger than him. Her name was changed to Catherine when accepted into the Catholic church. Her marriage was not a success, she grew to despise Peter III, he neglected her and lived openly with his mistresses.
In 1762 Peter III succeeded to the throne but only lasted a few months. He immediately antagonized the court, the Orthodox church and the leading elements in the army, due to his lack of social skills. He also planned to rid himself of Catherine. In June 1762 Catherine and the imperial guard, led by her lover Count Orlov, overthrew Peter in a palace coup and Catherine was declared Empress as Catherine II. Orlov's brother, Alexis killed Peter days later. Catherine proceeded to rule Russia for 34 years. She had inherited a militaristic state that was economically underdeveloped and without an efficient administrative structure and was dominated by serfdom.
Catherine was intelligent and patient and had a great deal of personal charm. She awoke at 5am most mornings, lit her own fire and worked alone at her desk for several hours until her secretaries joined her. The rest of her day would be crowded with state interviews, court functions and entertainments, but some days she worked continuously for 15 hours, toiling with her 4 secretaries.
Catherine took at least 20 lovers during her reign, often elevating them to high positions for as long as they held her interest and then pensioning them off with large estates and gifts of money, jewellery and serfs. In her memoirs she says that her first lover, Sergei Saltykov, had fathered her son Paul, however, Paul physically resembled her husband Peter.
Stanislas August Poniatowski
In 1755 Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams arrived at Catherine's court as the new British envoy, he became her diplomatic tutor and helped her develop her political skills. In his entourage was a young polish noble called Count Stanislas August Poniatowski. With the onset of the Seven Years War, as Great Britain was Prussia's only ali and as Britain was now at war with Russia, Hanbury-Williams had to leave Court. Poniatowski was recalled to Poland for a while but returned in 1756 as a Polish envoy. Catherine and Poniatowski then embarked on a passionate love affair and he was besotted by Catherine. A year later in 1757 Catherine gave birth to a daughter, Anna Petrovna, who is assumed to have been the Polish aristocrat's child. Upon the birth the child was immediately removed from her.
In 1763, king Augustus III of Poland died and Catherine supported Poniatowski in the election for a new ruler. A Russian army was sent into Poland in 1764 in order to push of poniatowski's elections. He accepted the throne and put himself under Catherine's control. Frederick the Great warned Catherine that she could not marry Poniatowski and have control of Poland as Europe would oppose…