Catherine The Great - How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

How She Came to Power

Shortly after 4pm on Xmas Day 1761, the doors from the bedchamber were flung open. The Prince Nikita Trubetskoi, one of the oldest senators, appeared in the doorway. He was in tears, as were all present, and then, controlling his emotion, he announced the death of the Empress, Elisabeth, and proclaimed the new sovereign. Emperor Peter III.

Catherine was at least nearing her goal. Eighteen years had passed since as a young girl she had first arrived in Russia, ambitious to make a glorious career for herself. Those years had passed for the most part in boredom and isolation, from which she had escaped into books and riding. She was now thirty-four years of age, but neither her difficulties at court, nor the hostility of her husband had broken down her determination, and, like most people driven by high ambition, she had drawn strength from sense of destiny, and the conviction that she was not doomed to pass her life in the shadows.

Now that he was Emperor, Peter believed that he could do as he wished, and his behavior became increasingly capricious, irresponsible, and at times imbecilic. By some incidents during the first weeks of his reign, Peter could not have done more to affront the anger of his people, or to show to greater advantage the dignified conduct of his wife. Moreover, inspired by sadism or malice, he humiliated her frequently at court and

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

talked loudly of his intention of divorcing or shutting her away in a nunnery so that he could marry his mistress, Elizabeth Voronstsova.

It was not only his personal behavior, but even more his disregard and contempt for Russian prestige, interests, and traditions that antagonized the nation. He demonstrated this attitude particularly in his treatment of the army and the church, the two powerful forces on which the very security of his throne rested. But Peter, twisted in character, and feeble in health and intelligence, could never understand this nation over which a fate had set him to rule.

Panin, fearing that Peter Ill's rule would be disastrous for Russia, was now actively planning his overthrow. His proposal was to arrest Peter when he returned to St. Petersburg to witness the departure of the guards for the Danish campaign. It was a sound plan, for the army was consumed with sullen anger as this campaign approached, and it would need little to touch off an explosion among officers and men. At the same time Panin did not see in Catherine the saviour of Russia and he had no thought that she would ascend the throne; his idea had always been that her son the Grand Duke Paul should be Emperor, while she would merely act as regent until he came of age, and he still favoured imposing restraints on the autocratic power.

Catherine listened coldly and attentively to him. She did not intend to act as regent or to wield limited powers. But she said nothing of this to Panin, who was a patriotic Russian and a valuable ally. Indeed, she accepted his suggestion that the Grand Duke should not go with her to Peterhof, but remain in the Summer Palace, available in case of need.

It was on the Orlov brothers that Catherine chiefly depended. They had by mid-June won over all the guards officers, with a few minor exceptions, and they were actively sowing disaffection more widely in the army. In earlier discussions with them, Catherine may have approved their plan to seize the Emperor in

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

Peter III

his room in the Winter Palace, just as the guards d seized Ivan VI and his mother, and had proclaimed Elizabeth twenty-one years earlier. The departure of Peter for Oranienbaum had thwarted1 this plan, and they had then adopted Panin's proposal to arrest Peter on his return to the capital.

 There was one other conspirator of great importance, Count Kirill Razumovsky, who plotted silently, and without confiding in anyone except Catherine, and she kept his ideas secret, even from the Orlovs. Razumovsky, the Little Russian favourite of Elizabeth, was immensely rich in property and honours, but kindly, good-humoured, and generally liked, although there were those who dismissed him as a gay spoilt child of fortune. He was, however, extremely astute and devoted to his country and, although favoured by Peter, he had long been an admirer of Catherine whom he regarded as the only hope for Russia. As Colonel of the Izmailovsky and a man of considerable influence, he was a necessary ally in any conspiracy, and both Alexei Orlov and Dashkova made independent efforts to win him over, neither realizing that he had made his own plans.


l. To thwart: to oppose successfully or prevent; frustrate.

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

There was thus neither a leader nor a master plan in these preparations to rid the country of its Emperor. Dashkova was to write later of "a disjointed plan dreamt about rather than studied by a group of ill-assorted individuals with little sympathy or understanding for each other." It seems more likely, however, that there were two or three uncoordinated plans. Nevertheless it was not plotting, but a kind of spontaneous combustion among the people that, in fact, gave rise to the revolution which was to burst suddenly on Catherine and her supporters, and sweep them along with it.

Popular anger and discontent mounted sharply during June, as the troops prepared to leave for the Danish campaign. Rumours of every kind concerning the Emperor's apostasy¹, his assaults on Orthodoxy, his favouring of Germans over Russians, his treatment of his wife, whipped public feeling to a danger point. All Russians with few exceptions were united and outspoken in their loathing ²of Peter. Keith, the old English minister, was heard to say to a Russian lady, "Really your Emperor must be mad to behave as he does." In St. Petersburg, Russians and foreigners alike felt that they were living on the verge of an upheaval.

Reaching Peterhof on 17 June, Catherine stayed quietly there with a few servants. She visited Oranienbaum once, on 19 June, to attend a theatrical performance, arranged by Peter, and she returned to Peterhof the same evening. This was the last time that she saw her husband.

In St. Petersburg the tense expectant mood of the people was near to breaking point. Then it happened that a corporal of the Preobrazhenski regiment was interrogated for asking one of his officers when the Emperor would be dethroned. An indirect result of this interrogation was the arrest of a certain Captain Passek on the charge of speaking scandalously of the Emperor. This proved to be the spark that detonated the explosion.


¹ Apostasy: abandonment of one's religious faith, party, a cause, etc.

² Loath: reluctant or unwilling. Hostile.

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

Passek himself was of no special importance. But he was one of the officers who had sworn to oppose the Emperor and to support Catherine; he was also a friend and drinking companion of the Orlovs, and they were restless for action. Grigori Orlov went to see Dashkova whom he found with Panin. She was 'alarmed by Passek's arrest, taking it to mean that their conspiracy was uncovered, but Panin dismissed it as of no importance and calmed her fears. Soon afterwards he returned to the Summer Palace to be near the Grand Duke, while Grigori Orlov went back to barracks. It may well be that the decision to summon Catherine to the city had already been taken by the Orlovs and that Grigori had come to tell Panin and Dashkova. Certainly it would seem that Grigori Orlov knew what was about to happen.

However it was, Alexei Orlov prepared to ride to Peterhof, while his brother, Feodor, went to Kirill Razumovsky and told him openly what was planned. Razumovsky listened and made no comment. But, as soon as Feodor had gone, he sent for Tauben, the keeper of the printing press of the Academy of Sciences of which he was the president. He told Taubert to go down to the cellars of the Academy where he would find printers waiting with plates ready for printing overnight a manifesto on the overthrow of the Emperor and the accession of the Empress, and he was to supervise this work. Taubert asked to be excused from such a dangerous task, but Razumovsky brusquely said to him, "You already know too much. Now your head as well as mine is at stake. Do as I tell you."

Shortly after midnight on Friday, 28 June, Alexei Orlov with a brother officer, Vasili Bibikov, set out from the city and at 6 a.m. they reached Peterhof. As usual there were no sentries posted at the gates and Alexei went straight to Monplaisir where Catherine was asleep. Her trusted chambermaid admitted him and, going to her bedside, he said: "It's time to get up. All is ready for you to be proclaimed." She asked what had happened, and he told her of Passek's arrest. Realizing that the Orlovs had acted and that there could be no turning back, Catherine did

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

not hesitate. She quickly put on her black dress and walked across the garden to the road where Bibikov was waiting with a carriage. With her maid at her side, she set off on her momentous journey to St. Petersburg.

A few miles from the city, Grigori Orlov met them. Catherine transferred to his light carriage and continued the journey at a sharper pace. Nearing the village of Kalinkina, where the quarters of the Izmailovsky regiment began, Grigori mounted his horse and galloped ahead to alert his colleagues. Catherine remained in the carriage which now at a slow walk approached the regimental headquarters. For her these were minutes of terrible excitement and apprehension, for this was the first of the guards regiments on whom her fate depended.

Gregori Orlov, by Rokotov, c. 1762

Gregori Orlov, by Rokotov, c. 1762

Reaching the parade ground, Catherine could see a few men rushing from their barracks, and then she heard a drummer sounding the alarm. She dismounted from the carriage and stood alone, a poised and appealing figure in black. At once the troops rushed to her; some kissed her hands and her dress, others shouted, "Hurrah, for our  little mother,

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

Catherine!" A crowd of officers and men quickly gathered around her, but then is though acting instinctively, they drew back, leaving clear an approach to her for the beloved padre of the regiment, Father Alexei, who was coming across the ground, bearing a crucifix in his hands. There and then the whole Izmailovsky regiment swore the oath of allegiance to their new Empress and autocrat, Catherine the Second. Soon afterwards their colonel, Razumovsky, arrived and respectfully knelt to kiss her hands.

This reception had presumably been planned in advance by the Orlovs, and Grigori had ridden ahead to ensure that nothing went wrong, and in particular that no one proclaimed Grand Duke Paul. But it had only needed one or two voices to be heard for the regiment to rise to a man to proclaim her, and now both officers and men were wild with enthusiasm, delighting especially in the fact that she had come first to them for protection and support.

Catherine returned to her carriage and, accompanied by Father Alexei and Razumovsky, and with an escort of the whole regiment, she set out for the Semenovsky barracks. The news was already beginning to spread and townspeople were joining the procession. The Semenovsky regiment, too, without one dissenting voice, welcomed her rapturously and swore allegiance. Among the Preobrazhenski, however, there were certain officers who knew nothing of the conspiracy, and who tried to hold their men to their oaths to Peter, but the troops swept them aside. The disorderly procession was moving noisily along the broad Nevsky Prospekt, when the first groups of Preobrazhenski guards rushed up breathlessly to explain their delay and to hail her as Empress.

The exulting crowd of guards, escorting Catherine, was now advancing into the city, and in increasing numbers the townspeople, hurrying from their houses, joined in welcoming her. The high enthusiasm of the crowd was infectious and they constantly shouted and cheered Catherine, who in her gracious acknowledgements of their ovations impressed-them as

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

being truly their Empress.

About 9 a.m. the procession came to a halt before the church of Kazan. Catherine dismounted from her carriage and, with the Orlov brothers, Razumovsky, and a mass of guards officers, entered the church which was already crowded. The priests in a short service pronounced the blessing on her as the "autocrat Catherine the Second" and on "the heir to the throne, Tsarevich Paul Petrovich." As with the guards, there was apparently no attempt on the part of the church to proclaim the Grand Duke other than as heir to the throne.

The procession resumed its triumphal progress, but preceded now by priests. Catherine sat in an open carriage with Grigori Orlov riding on the right footboard and General Vilboa on the left, while Razumovsky, Prince Volkonsky, Count Bruce, and several generals rode close behind her, and the horse guards kept station on either flank. The disorderly crowd which had surged into the city had already become an imperial cortege.

Soon after Catherine had reached the Winter Palace, where the guards, joined by two infantry regiments, posted sentries, Panin hurried to her with the eight-year-old Grand Duke. He had snatched the boy from his bed immediately on learning of the coup. Catherine took her son, still in his nightdress, to the balcony of the palace to show him to the troops and the people crowded in the square below, and they roared their delight.

Within the palace, members of the Senate and of the Holy Synod, officials of the court, heads of the Colleges, generals and officers had begun assembling as soon as the news reached them. Some were still hurriedly making their way to the palace, and the sentries denied admission to no one wishing to swear allegiance to the Empress. All wanted to see her, to kiss her hand, to express gratitude and good wishes to their protectress. For some hours Catherine stood receiving people of every rank, and it seemed that the whole city was bustling into the palace to hail her and swear loyalty.

Here, too, Dashkova joined the Empress. She had been unable to squeeze through the people packed tightly in the

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

square, but, according no her account, some troops recognized her and she was passed triumphantly over their heads, and finally carried into the palace.

In the midst of this excitement and success, a certain calm commonsense reigned among those surrounding Catherine and throughout St. Petersburg. All seemed determined that what had been won should not be lost by any careless failure to take precautions. Mounted sentries guarded the gates to prevent any one leaving, for it was especially important to delay news of the revolution in reaching Peter. Strong patrols of guards moved through the city, but although most of the people were in the streets there was no disorder or rioting. Members of the foreign embassies walked about freely and all reported on the orderly conduct of the crowds.

It was now decided! that Catherine should move from the Winter Palace and set up her court in the old palace where Elizabeth had lived and died. The move began without delay and, when she came out of  the Winter Palace, Catherine found herself wildly proclaimed by the troops assembled in the forecourt. At first she did not recognize them. The quartermasters, acting on their own initiative, had brought from their stores the old army uniforms, introduced by Peter the Great, which were so dear to the hearts of the Russians. The soldiers had at once torn off their hated Prussian uniforms, forced on them by Peter III, and they stood now with great pride cheering their new Empress. It was a small incident, but indicative of the upsurge of national feeling which the revolution had released from bondage to Peter 's Prussian ideals.

Within an hour of moving to the old palace, Catherine with the Senate and the leading men in the city was discussing the further action to be taken. The danger uppermost in their minds was that the troops, assembled in Livonia, ready to march on Denmark, and the navy at Kronstadt, might receive orders from Peter III to quell¹ the revolt in the capital. All had sworn loyalty


¹ To quell: to suppress or beat down (rebellion, disorder, etc.); subdue.

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

to him and it was probably that the army and navy, like Peter himself, still knew nothing of the revolution. The most urgent step was therefore to secure the allegiance of these forces to their new sovereign before Peter could assert his authority.

Officers were at once chosen to ride out with the manifesto, proclaiming Catherine's accession, and with orders to all commanding officers to administer the new oath of allegiance to their men. There was no time to prepare the formal ukaz, usual on such occasions, and Catherine herself wrote out her imperial orders to the commander-in-chief of the army, Count Z.G. Chernyshev, to General Anshef Rumyantsev, and to Brown, the Governor-General of Riga who was responsible for the whole of Livonia. Her fears about these troops were reflected in her instructions to Brown to take all steps to ensure that the popular will, through which by God's help she had ascended the throne, was fulfilled, and to suppress all opposition, no matter how legal, and to accept only orders signed by her.

It was even more urgent to win the navy and the troops at Kronstadt to her side. The road from Oranienbaum to Kronstadt was short and easily travelled, and it was the most obvious step for Peter to take. Admiral Talyzin was appointed to go to Kronstadt, and he carried with him, not an ukaz, but a note in Catherine's hand which read: "Admiral Talyzin has been vested by us with full power in Kronstadt, and what he orders must be carried out. Catherine. June the 28th day of the year 1762." Other precautions were taken, all revealing this practical determination to secure the result of the revolution. It was even decided to arrest Peter III and to imprison him in Schlusselburg and a Major General Savin was sent post haste to the fortress to see that quarters were prepared for him.

About this time the chancellor, Count Mikhail Vorontsov, accompanied by Prince Trubetskoi and Count Shuvalov, arrived from Peterhof as emissaries of the Emperor. Vorontsov was to use his great authority to dissuade Catherine from acting treasonably towards her husband; Trubetskoi and Shuvalov had undertaken to ensure the loyalty of the guards and were

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

Catherine the Great by Vigilius Eriksen, c. 1762

Catherine the Great by Vigilius Eriksen, c. 1762

empowered to kill Catherine, if necessary. By the time they reached the palace, however, all three men preferred to swear the oath of allegiance to her.

More than eight hours had now passed since Catherine, on the summons of Alexei Orlov, had set out from Peterhof, and during that time no news had come of any counter measures taken by the Emperor. But the people of St. Petersburg and all the troops celebrated with joyous relief as though the revolution

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

was over, its result immutable¹, and Peter III already non-existent. Nevertheless Catherine could not rest secure while Peter, dethroned but still Emperor, remained at large. So far she had acted on the guidance of her advisers without asserting her will. But now she decided to go herself to Peterhof at the head of her guards, and about 10 p.m. she penned a directive to the Senate. "Gentlemen of the Senate," it read, "I am now setting put with troops in order to secure, and win further support for the throne, leaving with complete faith to you, as my supreme government, the protection of the fatherland, the people, and my son. Catherine."

On the morning of 28 June, Peter had reviewed his troops as usual and then had set out with his suite for Peterhof to celebrate his nameday as the guest of the Empress. His suite was large and included, in addition to his mistress and his personal attendants, the Prussian ambassador, Goltz, the chancellor, Senator Count R. L. Vorontsov, the father of his mistress, and others.

In a carefree mood and suspecting nothing, Peter and his party halted at the gates of Monplaisir at 2 p.m. Only then did they learn that Catherine had gone to St. Petersburg. This discovery stunned them. All knew that it presaged² disaster.

Peter was at first too dumbfounded to take any action. But then he agreed to the proposals of the chancellor and Shuvalov, who set out at once for the city. About 3 p.m. Peter and the rest of his party made their way to the coast, vaguely intending to have a boat made ready so that, if their worst fears proved correct, they could escape. There they found a barge carrying fireworks with a lieutenant of the Preobrazhenski regiment in charge. When questioned the young lieutenant said that at 9 a.m. when he had set out from St. Petersburg he had noticed great excitement among the troops who were proclaiming the Empress, but he had not stayed as he had had orders to deliver


¹ Immutable: unchanging through time.

² To presage: to have a presentiment of.

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

the fireworks to Peterhof without fail. This was the first direct news that Peter had of what had happened, and, advised by Munnich and others, he at once posted Holstein guards on the St. Petersburg road, and sent Colonel Neelov to Kronstadt to bring a force of 3,000 men by sea to Peterhof.

After giving these orders Peter slumped! into inaction. He did not, however, want for advice. Munnich urged him to go straight to the capital and show himself to the people and the guards, reminding them of their oath of loyalty. But this was a course of action too bold, too courageous for such an abject coward as Peter to consider. The Prussian ambassador advised him to hasten to the troops assembled near Narva. Others advised him to escape to Holstein. Irascible, indecisive, and impatient of advice he allowed time and opportunity to slip by. But then he was persuaded to send General Devier and Prince Baryatinsky to Kronstadt with orders to hold the fortress loyal to him and to countermand2 the earlier orders sent with Colonel Neelov.

Kronstadt was now the key to the success or failure of the revolution. Catherine had already sent Admiral Talyzin to take command in her name, and Peter's couriers were on the way there. Meanwhile in Kronstadt all was quiet, for no news or rumours had yet come from St. Petersburg. Neelov, who himself knew very little, arrived and gave Nummers, the commandant, some inkling of what had happened, and Nummers kept it to himself; when sealed orders reached him from Talyzin, soon after Devier's arrival, he concealed them too, so that Devier, believing that all was well, sent Baryatinsky to report to Peter that the fortress loyally awaited his arrival.

Nummers, however, like everyone else in Kronstadt, was ready to welcome the revolution, and when Talyzin came. soon after Baryatinsky had left, Nummers promptly acted on his


1 To slump: to sink or fall heavily and suddenly.

2 To countermand: a) to revoke or cancel (a command, order, etc.). b) a command revoking another.

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

orders. The garrison and crews of all naval vessels at once swore the oath of allegiance to Catherine, and Talyzin with great energy made preparations to defend Kronstadt against any attempt by Peter to capture it.

It was 1 a.m. when a galley with Peter on board, escorted by a yacht, anchored outside the boom¹ closing the harbour. Peter himself in a boat let down from the galley approached the boom and ordered it to be raised. The midshipman in charge refused. Peter then called out that it was the Emperor giving the order. He was flabbergasted² when the midshipman replied that there was no longer an Emperor, only Empress Catherine the Second, and that, if the galley did not withdraw, he would open fire. Frightened out of his wits, Peter scuttled³ back to his galley which at once pulled away towards Oranienbaum. This incident marked the end of his resistance, for he was a beaten man.

Meanwhile in St. Petersburg, Catherine readied for her expedition to Peterhof. The guards had greeted her decision to march with enthusiasm, and they were overjoyed when she took the rank of colonel of the guards, thus reviving the tradition established by Peter the Great, that the sovereign was their commanding officer. Before setting out, Catherine reviewed them, and she wore a guard's uniform, which she had borrowed from a young officer, and held a sabre in her hand. Mounted on a white horse in this uniform she was a striking figure, and the fervour of the guards reached a new pitch as they marched past her.

At 10 p.m. Catherine led her troops out of St. Petersburg. At her side rode Princess Dashkova, also wearing the uniform of a guards officer and revelling in the drama of the occasion. With them were two fieldmarshals, Trubetskoi and Buturlin, as well as Razumovsky, and Prince Volkonsky and others, while the mounted life guard formed the imperial escort.

Despite the general enthusiasm, however, the little army


¹ Boom: a barrier across a waterway, usually consisting of a chain of floating logs, to confine free-floating logs, protect a harbour from attack, etc.

² To flabbergast: to overcome with astonishment; astound.

 ³ To scuttle: to run or move about with short hasty steps.

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

Empress Catherine II
(Painting by Torelli, circa 1762 -1765)


How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

made slow progress, and on the road to Peterhof, at the inn, troops and horses rested for five hours. But Catherine could not rest. Here she received a report from the Senate on their preparations to meet possible attacks from Kronstadt and Livonia, led by Peter, and she shared the anxiety of her senators. They still had no information on Peter's movements, and for all she knew she might soon be leading the guards into battle.

Shortly after 6 a.m., however, news came that put her anxieties to rest. She had just resumed the march to Peterhof, when she was joined by members of Peter's suite who had deserted him after his faint-hearted attempt to land at Kronstadt. From them, and particularly from the vice-chancellor, Prince Golitsyn, Catherine learnt about Peter's position and his defeated mood. In fact, Golitsyn brought a letter from him in which he acknowledged that he had treated her badly, promised to make amends, and proposed that they rule together in future. She did not bother to reply.

By this time, Alexei Orlov with an advance guard of hussars had already surrounded Peterhof and had disarmed the Holstein guards. Then, learning that Peter was still at Oranienbaum, he had galloped there with a handful of his men and had placed sentries at all gates. About 11 a.m. Catherine entered Peterhof and was saluted by her guards, drawn up to welcome her. There she received a second letter from Peter, who asked her forgiveness, resigned all his rights to the throne, and begged to be allowed to retire to Holstein with Elizabeth Vorontsova. But Catherine could not consider allowing him to live in freedom in Holstein where he would spend his time plotting against her; he must be arrested and kept under close guard at Schlusselburg. The question was how to arrest him without staining with blood the revolution so easy and even joyful up to this point. Finally she sent General Izmailov, who had been close to Peter, with a note demanding first that he write out and sign a statement of abdication¹. Grigori Orlov accompanied Izmailov, who


¹ Abdication: to renounce (a throne, power, responsibility, rights, etc.).

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

found Peter in a collapsed state, ready to agree to anything. He promptly signed the abdication and soon afterwards set out in a carriage with Elizabeth Vorontsova and his adjutant-general, Gudovich, for Peterhof. A strong guard at once surrounded the carriage and escorted it all the way.

On arrival Peter was taken to the quarters he had occupied as Grand Duke and there he was stripped of his decorations, his Russian uniform and his sword. He submitted without a word, a pathetic disheveled¹ figure, at one point near to fainting. Panin came to inform him of the temporary arrangements for his imprisonment and, some years later, he wrote: "I count it the greatest misfortune of my life that I was obliged to see Peter at this time." He gave no details of Peter's behaviour beyond stating that he begged not to be separated from his mistress and asked nothing else, not even for a meeting with the Empress.

Catherine wrote at once to the Senate, sending a copy of the abdication, and stating that she would herself present the original to them. She then chose a guard for Peter of four officers and "gentle chosen soldiers," placing Alexei Orlov in command, and since Schlusselburg was not yet ready, she sent Peter to Ropsha, a country estate given him by Elizabeth, which he had always liked.

With the abdication and arrest of Peter, Catherine's expedition to Peterhof and the revolution itself had ended in complete victory. She was eager to return to St. Petersburg to consolidate her position and to reign. But she was now weary, for she had not rested since early on 28 June when Alexei Orlov had awakened her at Monplaisir, and at a halt on the road back to the capital she snatched a few hours of sleep.

On the morning of June 30, Catherine made her entry into St. Petersburg, and it was a dramatic triumphal occasion such as she could never have dreamt possible. The people crowded along the broad streets of the capital, and at windows and on roofs of the buildings. Their enthusiasm was boundless and their constant


¹Dishevelled: (esp. of hair) hanging loosely.

How She Came To Power

How She Came To Power

shouts and cheers drowned the music of the military bands, but over this noise came the wild pealing of all the bells of all the churches in the city. As the procession approached the shouting mounted in a crescendo which even overtopped the bells.

Catherine herself, riding her white horse and still wearing her officer's uniform, led the Preobrazhenski, and the Semeonovsky and Izmailovsky guards, while artillery detachments, and three regiments of the line followed. The church hierarchy came to welcome and bless their new Empress. Wearing their rich raiment¹ and holding the ikons² and crucifixes, they set the final seal on this welcome, and indeed no sovereign could have been received with more fervent popular acclaim.

It was an extraordinary triumph for Catherine. A German without one drop of Russian blood in her veins, a Protestant convert to Orthodoxy, and a usurper³, she had nevertheless been swept to the throne of the Romanovs on a wave of patriotic feeling by a people, staunchly4 xenophobic 5, especially in their hatred of Germans, fanatic in their devotion to Orthodoxy, and strongly conservative in their traditions. It was, moreover, essentially Catherine's triumph. By a feat of personality she had projected herself into the minds of the Russian people as one of them, and with such force that they were ready and eager to entrust to her the guardianship of Orthodoxy and of everything they treasured in their national life.

* * *


¹ Raiment: Archaic or poetic, attire; clothing; garments.

² Ikon, icon: a representation of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a saint, esp. one painted in oil on a wooden panel, depicted in a traditional Byzantine style and venerated in the Eastern Church.

³ To usurp: to seize,, or appropriate (land, throne, etc.) without authority.

4 Staunch: firm.

5 Xenophobia: hatred or fear of foreigners or strangers or of their politics or culture.

How She Came To Power

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