Why women in the 18th Century should NOT have stuck to riding side saddle.
“Power without a nation’s confidence is nothing” was once said by a wise woman, who juggled what was rumored to be 12 lovers, and ruling, what at the time was considered to be a tremendously grand empire.
Catherine the Great, born to an impoverished Prussian prince in 1729, as Sophie von Anhalt-Zerbst, became one of Russia’s greatest and history’s most unlikely rulers. Her reign that lasted for 34 years, after she overthrew her husband Peter III, was coined Russia’s golden age. She had diplomatic prowess, military might and grace – she was the real deal. But what made this Empress tick has been discussed in depth, so much so, that it has, in time, overshadowed her achievements.
250 years later and Catherine’s love affairs are discussed in more detail than her historical impact on Russia. During her reign she expanded Russia’s borders and changed the world’s view of Russia. Russia was no longer to be considered a ‘backwards’ country, she set the foundation for westernizing Russia. The educational system was revolutionized by Catherine, she opened a girl’s boarding school and wrote educational reforms. She expanded the arts across the country and recognized herself as an enlightened ruler. Her colorful reputation meant that she could not be referred to as Patron Saint of the Arts. Her ‘sainthood’ had been tarnished by her desire for the ‘vremenshchiki’ (men of the moment). Once she told her longest lasting lover, Grigory Potemkin, that she ‘needed a virile young man in the Imperial bed for the sake of her health’. Did Catherine have it all figured out all those years ago? She wasn’t a hopeless romantic, but she enjoyed male company and attention and she knew how to get it.
Catherine was a great lover, she was a real gentleman. She treated her conquests with gifts, titles and land. It was an honor to be able to spend time with Catherine between the sheets and you needed to work hard to get there. After their spark faded, Potemkin procured young men for Catherine who needed to be ‘tested’ before they were allowed to enter the bed of the Empress. Her lovers would stay as long as they satisfied her, when she decided she wanted someone new they would part on good terms and she would find a new beau. She needed to satisfy her sexual appetite in order to rule successfully and she was not ashamed of it. Why should she be? She is today’s career woman who knows what she wants.
Her reign in itself is impressive, but it is even more important because she is a woman. She was a strong, smart, independent woman, who didn’t let her heart rule her head. She didn’t need a man to tell her how great she was and the man with whom she spent years being in a relationship with and afterwards kept close contact with was no ordinary Joe, Dick or Harry. Catherine cared greatly for Potemkin, the one eyed military leader and nobleman, and many claim their love story is one of the greatest ever told. They had a wildly passionate love affair and a successful political partnership – they were the less hopeless, outrageously sexual Romeo and Juliet, lifelong lovers and equal partners. They swept each other off their feet.
Catherine’s love life caught the public’s attention early on and this led to various rumor and stipulations about her death. Some say she died attempting to have coitus with a horse, but according to Tony Perrottet, it was ‘simply a leap of the imagination’. Catherine was a fine horsewoman and rather than being complimented on her skills, she was scrutinized for her private life.
Catherine believed that “Happiness and unhappiness are in the heart and spirit of each one of us: If you feel unhappy, then place yourself above that and act so that your happiness does not get to be dependent on anything.” We should all follow in her gallop, learn to make yourself happy, don’t wait for someone else to do that for you.
Girls, stop riding side saddle and straddle a horse like Catherine!