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Dresses of Catherine the Great

Dresses of Catherine the Great


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How many dresses did Catherine the Great have in her wardrobe just before she died. I have a clue that one of their lovers took notes. I'm still researching and I will post if I find something.


Hulu’s “The Great” offers an irreverent, ahistorical take on the Russian empress’ life. This is the real history behind the period comedy

Catherine the Great is a monarch mired in misconception.

Derided both in her day and in modern times as a hypocritical warmonger with an unnatural sexual appetite, Catherine was a woman of contradictions whose brazen exploits have long overshadowed the accomplishments that won her “the Great” moniker in the first place.

Ruler of Russia from 1762 to 1796, Catherine championed Enlightenment ideals, expanded her empire’s borders, spearheaded judicial and administrative reforms, dabbled in vaccination, curated a vast art collection that formed the foundation of one of the world’s greatest museums, exchanged correspondence with such philosophers as Voltaire and Dennis Diderot, penned operas and children’s fairy tales, founded the country’s first state-funded school for women, drafted her own legal code, and promoted a national system of education. Perhaps most impressively, the empress—born a virtually penniless Prussian princess—wielded power for three decades despite the fact that she had no claim to the crown whatsoever.

A new Hulu series titled “The Great” takes its cue from the little-known beginnings of Catherine’s reign. Adapted from his 2008 play of the same name, the ten-part miniseries is the brainchild of screenwriter Tony McNamara. Much like how his previous film, The Favourite, reimagined the life of Britain’s Queen Anne as a bawdy “period comedy,” “The Great” revels in the absurd, veering from the historical record to gleefully present a royal drama tailor-made for modern audiences.

“I think the title card reads ‘an occasionally true story,’” McNamara tells the Sydney Morning Herald’s Michael Idato. “And yet it was important to me that there were tent poles of things that were true, [like] … her being a kid who didn't speak the language, marrying the wrong man and responding to that by deciding to change the country.”

Featuring Elle Fanning as the empress and Nicholas Hoult as her mercurial husband, Peter III, “The Great” differs from the 2019 HBO miniseries “Catherine the Great,” which starred Helen Mirren as its title character. Whereas the premium cable series traced the trajectory of Catherine’s rule from 1764 to her death, “The Great” centers on her 1762 coup and the sequence of events leading up to it. Here’s what you need to know to separate fact from fiction ahead of the series’ May 15 premiere.

Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult in "The Great" (Courtesy of Hulu)


1. She was a nymphomaniac

History loves to punish a woman who enjoys sex. While Catherine did take on lovers over the course of her reign, it was within reasonable measures. There are about 12-20 recorded lovers, and most of her affairs lasted a few years. The only thing she was guilty of was being a romantic, once writing in her journal: “The trouble is that my heart is loathe to remain even one hour without love.” Since her husband was a violent alcoholic and having lovers was common practice at the time, you’d be hard pressed to claim that she was a sex freak.

Our ruling: Exaggerated, at best.


Costumes Fit For A Queen: Designing the Gowns For ‘Catherine the Great’

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 20: Costume designer Maja Meschede attends the Costume Designers Guild . [+] Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 20, 2018 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for JumpLine)

Getty Images for JumpLine

Costume designer Maja Meschede knows how to design for a queen, or Helen Mirren in this case (the two are interchangeable). Mirren is set to tackle the role of the Russian monarch, Catherine the Great, in a four-part miniseries debuting on HBO tomorrow. In anticipation of the series, and the gowns that will have everyone gushing, Meschede sat down to discuss her role on the series and what goes into designing something Helen Mirren will love.

What attracted you to the project?

Maja Meschede: When Phillip Martin, the director, approached me he's an amazing guy. I will work with him on any project. It's about Catherine the Great. It's 18th-century Russia. The Russian court was this really exceptional [and] wonderfully decadent compared to the French and Russian or English courts at the time. That really attracted to me, it's history. The way the ladies dress at the court when Catherine the Great became empress was also very different.

What's the entry point with your research?

I tried to find the authenticity to start off with. I was reading biographies about Anna Petrovna of Russia who was Catherine the Great’s mother-in-law. I read two biographies, one by [Robert] Massie, by Catherine the Great herself to find out about the people who are close to her and her history. She was German and that stuff's very important for her character and the way she was a politician and empress. Then I went to Russia to the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. I'm very lucky I was able to see some of her original dresses, see some jewelry, which was really wonderful.

Can you talk about subverting or preconceived notions about how Catherine the Great or how Russia would look?

When I think about Russia I think of how cold it can be, right? When we were filming we really did feel the cold. How people kept warm is by using fur and when we make fur, of course fake fur, it's made to really look Russian. If you look at portraits of French court painters or the English ones there's less fur involved. I thought that was a big part in actually making Catherine and the aristocrats and the peasants look more Russian.

How did you decide on the color palette?

I started research especially looking at portraits of painters who moved to Russia to live at the court with Catherine and to paint portraits of the aristocrats who looked Russian. One of my favorite paintings, it’s this beautiful portrait of young farm girls and servants and the use of color and color combination, all these portraits are so specific and that's what I pick up on. I went fabric hunting in Italy and looked for these specific kinds of color coordination to really make it look Russian.

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One other thing that's really important is, when Catherine is younger in the first and second episode it is the kind of pastel blue shade, very warm gold colors and pink, powder pink. It's softer and flowery. Then she gets older [and] to show off her deteriorating mental health the colors get darker, like a dark violet and more gold tones and silvers and dark green, cold green and cold blue.

Can you talk about designing an outfit and the balance between comfort for the performer and authenticity?

We talked about it. When we have the first costume meetings every single one of Catherine's dresses can be up to 15 meters [almost 50 feet] up, a blockade of silk fabric, and about 15 meters of fabric in your hands. It is really heavy. But I chose deliberately to help Helen Mirren and all the other actors. We make very comfortable corsets with elastic elements and Helen had a zipper in her corset and she could put it on fast. We use the lightest materials possible to help make them lighter because if you look at original boning with the corsets, that becomes even more heavy so we used a lot of tricks and safety pins instead of a cage. And whenever possible we got Helen out of the corset for a moment or out of the skirt just to help every day. But Helen was amazing. She never complained.

Did Helen or Jason [Clarke] have any input into their costuming?

I met Helen I think three times in one day and then we had our first fittings. We met twice for her to see all the fabrics and their stylings so she could tap into the character. She basically said in the second meeting “Maja, I give it to you. But, of course, if I think that something is really important to me then I’ll let you know.” We met in her trailer and I said this whole conversation about what's important for a specific scene and I always made sure I would incorporate that. She's amazing and so inspiring.

There's a scene where the women are dressed up as men and the men are dressed up as women. Can you talk about the androgyny in the series?

If you look at portraits of Catherine from 1745 onwards there's a real change in the sense of style. She invented not a uniform but a kind of court dress for herself. Catherine used elements of her colored dresses, or, farmers Sunday dress, that's the braids and the center front of the pockets going down the skirt. And very specifically the ruched sleeve that's taken from having Sunday dress. She wanted to simplify because she only wanted them honoring her face because everybody wants to see that in person in court.

How about designing for the male characters in a way that they don't overshadow Catherine, but they have that distinct style?

It was so interesting in Russia and you can see it is the same in the French school. The men were most splendidly dressed than in any other court in Europe at the time. Look at portraits of Grigory Potemkin. [He] has diamonds embroidered onto the jacket or breeches. It's a nice journey, Potemkin's costume development. We first see him at the court but it's a very simple uniform, green and red, no jewelry. And then at the end of the series he's become a prince, very successful and is decorated with gold and gold pocket embroidery and embroidering it with the crispest hand. If you look at the Hermitage Museum portraits it's amazing what they've embroidered and the fur was incorporated, and some even had fur or lined coats. I mean, how crazy is that?

How much freedom do you have for the costumes?

Philip Martin and the production designer, Thomas Burton and I had weekly meetings about the color palette. Then I go back to my studio and take all of it in and start working, start making sketches and drapes from fabrics on the stand to see how I can incorporate Philip's ideas into my designs. It's really important to work closely with the production designer so that the costumes don't look out of place. It's all in harmony and it all is just believable.

Helen Mirren in 'Catherine the Great'

Can you talk about creating individual personality through the costumes?

I tried to find out as much as I possibly can by reading about the characters. There's always the element of time so I find out if someone is practical and how would this person dress because he's practical? What would this gentleman wear because he's in the army? Would he live in his uniform? Would you think about his costume? Would he decorate it or would you just not care? Would you look messy all the time? Or what is the mood of the character in this specific situation? I'm quite mad about detail.


Catherine the Great’s Husband

Peter III — From my skimming history, the jury is out as to whether he was crazy or has just gotten a bad rap. In Young Catherine, he’s flat-out insane: He starts as a giggly 10-year-old in a 20-plus-year-old’s body, then degenerates through smallpox and domineering aunts and bad mistresses. He’s obsessed with the military but as his playthings. He’s only into sexytimes if they include military role-playing. He starts off being okay with Catherine, but very quickly decides she’s the root of all that is un-fun.

“Let me introduce you to my nephew! He’s FABulous!”

“Let’s torture a rat, shall we?” says Young Catherine‘s Peter (Reece Dinsdale).

On the other hand, Catherine the Great‘s Peter is an overly sweaty jerk who has a tacky mistress and is overly excited by fires, but otherwise he seems comparatively sane. He’s also not around for TOO much time before he’s couped and then killed.

Catherine the Great’s wedding scene, with sweaty Peter (Hannes Jaenicke) on the left.

As a side note, both productions include the fact that he had phimosis (or an overly-tight foreskin, making sex impossible) — what IS it with 18th-century monarchs and their foreskins. Louis XVI (Marie Antoinette‘s fella) may have had this, I guess Peter had it, apparently there were a lot of enthusiastic foreskins in this era!


4. Alexander Vasilchikov

Vasilchikov was another aristocrat and soldier who was strategically placed in Catherine’s eyeline as a means of removing Orlov from her bed.

Whilst he was awarded all the privilege and prestige expected by the empress’ lover, he was also a virtual prisoner: Catherine forbade him from leaving the palace without her permission, and he was expected to be available to her at all times. In his later writings, Vasilchikov described himself as ‘nothing more to her [Catherine] than a kind of male cocotte’.

The affair with Vasilchikov was relatively short-lived: in a letter to a friend, Catherine described him as a ‘well-meaning but extremely boring bourgeois ’ . Despite this, Catherine gave Vasilchikov a handsome pension and several properties – he never married, and lived out the rest of his days in Moscow.


Meeting the Future Emperor

Princess Sophie Augusta first met the young man who was to be her future husband in 1739, when she was only ten years old. He was her second cousin, Duke Karl Peter of Holstein-Gottorp and only one year older. Young Duke Karl was certainly in a more prosperous position in the noble world as his father was the nephew of the childless Swedish King Charles II. Although Karl Peter’s chances of becoming the next king of Sweden increased when his father died, that was not the most important branch of his family tree. His mother, Anna Petrovna, was the daughter of late Russian Emperor Peter I (Peter the Great, 1672-1725). In 1742, this young Duke was proclaimed the heir to the Russian throne.

Coronation portrait of Peter III by Lucas Conrad Pfandzelt ( Public Domain )

The young princess’ parents sprang into action and worked on strengthening the connection between Sophie Augusta and Duke Karl Peter, who was now known as Emperor Peter III. She began studying the Russian language, and her portrait was sent to the Russian court in order to rekindle the flame in young Peter. Soon after, the princess journeyed to Russia, determined to do anything that was asked of her in order to qualify for the royal position. She converted to Eastern Orthodoxy while suffering a serious bout of pleuritis, and soon after received the new Russian name of Ekaterina Alekseyevna (Catherine, daughter of Aleksey). On 29 th June 1744, she was formally betrothed to Peter III. The marriage, which was a long planned dynastic union, happened soon after on 21 st of August 1745, when Catherine was just 16 years old.

Catherine wrote in her memoirs that as her marriage progressed, she grew increasingly bored with her husband who was inclined to read Lutheran prayer books. She devoted her time to reading Voltaire and many works of classic literature. She cited Tacitus as causing a “revolution” in her, as she understood from his works what power politics truly were. Furthermore, she had not consummated her marriage with her husband, but wrote that her virginity was lost to a chamberlain, Count Sergei Saltykov, her first lover.

Soon after, rumor of Catherine’s promiscuity began to circle, as she was known to have several lovers , including prominent counts and nobles like Grigory Potemkin, Stanislaw Poniatowski, Grigory Orlov, and several others. Catherine stated in her memoirs that her son, Paul I of Russia, was in fact the son of Sergei Saltykov and not of Peter III as was believed.

Portrait of Count Sergei Saltykov , 1726- 1765 (Public Domain )

As a result of these rumors, Peter III became increasingly agitated and abrasive towards his wife and everyone else in the court. He confronted his wife about her promiscuity and suspected that his son was not truly his.


The reign of Catherine the Great (1762–96)

Catherine the Great was crowned on 28 June 1762.

What Catherine would do for her kingdom would give her the title “the Great”, a title that no woman have ever held. First we are going to cover her foreign campaigns and later her domestic reforms and reorder of the kingdom.

Russian Turkish War

The Baltic Sea and the Azov Sea offered a huge economical and military benefit for Russia. If they could control these areas, they could become a key player in Europe. Catherine would gain huge portions of land both north and south and would give Russia huge control over the seas.

The war against the Ottoman Empire started in 1768 and lasted until 1774. The Ottomans held huge lands and had amazing power, but Catherine started defeating the Turkish armies and pushed them South.

There was a treaty signed called Kucuk Kaynarca in 1774, where Russia gained Azov, Kerch, Yenikale, etc. They now had control over the Azov sea. This was the old Crimean Khanate.

As Russia advanced south, the other powers saw that it could take over a lot of territories.

In order to resolve this Fredrick the Great made a plan. Have a look at this map:

As you can see, the resolution was to split Poland. Poland was currently a puppet of Catherine, it was ruled by one of her lovers. They made three deals as you can see and split Poland three times.

Prussia connected its territories and Russia got huge sea territories. As you can see, Russia now had good control over the Baltic sea and could start with their dominance.

Nobody asked Poland about this, the country was split three ways – three times. There was a revolt but it was instantly crushed by Russia.

Catherine the Great’s War Against the Persians

Russia had a pact with the Georgians signed in 1783. The Russians made a promise to them for protection as a fellow orthodox country against invaders.

Catherine started a war against the Persians in 1796 after they invaded Georgia. Russia’s goal here was to overthrow the current king and replace him with a puppet one for control. He would play as a defense zone for Russia and a fellow ally.

A good portion of Russian troops stormed in Persian territory. There wasn’t much resistance and they took the three main cities. But Catherine passed away, and her successor, King Paul retreated the troops from Persia.


The strange story about Catherine the Great and her horse

by VxMag

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T here is a well-known legend surrounding Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, and it involves a horse. The myth is that Catherine was crushed to death by a horse while attempting to have sex with it. Usually, the collapse of a harness or lifting mechanism is blamed. This would be bad enough, but there’s a second myth that’s often added when debunking the first. The second myth is that Catherine died on the toilet.

But, what’s the truth? The truth appears to be that Catherine died in bed of illness. There were no equines involved, and a Catherine with horse nexus was never attempted. Catherine has been slandered for several centuries.

Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great was Tsarina of Russia, one of the most powerful women in European history. So, how did the idea that she died while attempting an unusual practice with a horse become one of the most virulent myths in modern history, transmitted by whispers in school playgrounds across the western world?

It’s unfortunate that one of history’s most interesting women is known to most people as a beast, but the combination of perverse rudeness and the relative foreignness of its subject makes this a perfect slander. People love hearing about sexual deviance, and they can believe it of a foreign person they don’t know much about.

Catherine the Great

So if Catherine didn’t die while attempting sex with a horse (and just to reiterate, she absolutely, 100% didn’t), how did the myth arise? Where did the fireless smoke come from? During past centuries the easiest way for people to offend and verbally attack their female enemies was sex.

Marie Antoinette, the hated queen of France, was subjected to printed myths so deviant and obscene they would make spam emailers blush and certainly can’t be reproduced here.

Catherine the Great

Catherine the Great was always going to attract rumors about her sex life, but her sexual appetite, while modest by modern standards, meant that the rumors had to be even wilder to make up the ground.

Historians believe the horse myth originated in France, among the French upper classes, soon after Catherine’s death, as a way to mar her legend. France and Russia were rivals, and they would continue to be on and off for a long time (particularly thanks to Napoleon), so both slated the citizens of the other.

Catherine the Great

Catherine II was the Empress of Russia from 1762-1796. In 1745, she converted to Russian Orthodoxy and married Grand Duke Peter of Russia. As Empress, she became known as Catherine the Great, and in the role she expanded and modernized the Russian Empire. Catherine the Great was born Sophie von Anhalt-Zerbst to an insolvent Prussian Prince.

She changed her name to Ekaterina (Catherine) when she converted to Russian Orthodoxy immediately prior to her marriage. Catherine’s mother had strong bloodlines, and that gave her good prospects for marriage. When she was 15, her mother got her an invitation to meet the Empress Elizabeth, who was searching for a bride for her nephew and heir Peter.

Catherine the Great

Growing up, Catherine was educated by tutors in subjects of religion, history, and languages. She learned German, French and later Russian, which came in handy when she met the Russian Grand Duke Peter. Catherine spent much of her early married life riding her horse. She refused to ride side-saddle, and wrote “The more violent the exercise, the more I enjoyed it.”

During her reign, Catherine faced more than a dozen uprisings. The most dangerous uprising was in 1773, when a group of armed Cossacks and peasants led by Emelyan Pugachev rebelled. Pugachev claimed that he was in fact a returned (and still alive) Peter III, and therefore the heir to the rightful throne. Catherine responded with massive force, and he was publicly executed in 1775.

Catherine the Great

Catherine considered herself to be one of Europe’s most enlightened rulers. She wrote several books, pamphlets, and educational materials aimed at improving Russia’s education system, and she was a great champion of the arts. She created one of the world’s foremost art collections, housed at the Winter Palace (now the Hermitage Museum) in St. Petersburg.

After declaring herself the Sovereign ruler of the Russian Empire, Catherine successfully led Russia against the Ottoman Empire, securing Russia’s status as one of the most dominant countries in Europe. She also defeated the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, leading to the partitioning of Poland and the division of its territory between Russia, Prussia, and Austria. By the end of her reign, the Russian Empire had expanded by both conquest and diplomacy, adding about 200,000 square miles to its territory.

Catherine the Great

Catherine’s relationship with her eldest son Paul was a difficult one. He was taken away from her as a child and raised by Empress Elizabeth, and then, as an adult, he was kept away from matters of state. Catherine raised Paul’s son Alexander, and considered him to be a more suitable heir than his father.

She died before she could make it official, and Paul succeeded Catherine to the throne. Paul’s policies were unpopular, and he was assassinated five years into his reign. Alexander succeeded him and ruled until his death in 1825.

Catherine the Great

In 1785, Catherine issued an edict known as the Charter to the Nobility or Charter to the Gentry, which greatly increased the power of the nobility and the upper-classes, and forced much of the population into serfdom (servitude).

In doing so, she inadvertently fostered ill-will between the old aristocracy (titles received through family lines), and new gentry (those given their status as reward for service to the state). Catherine was extremely generous towards her lovers. She would gift them with titles, lands, palaces, and even people, once giving a lover 1,000 serfs. But becoming a lover of Catherine the Great was no easy task.

Catherine the Great

According to several historical records, in order to become a lover of Catherine the Great, there was an intimate test. Before being welcomed into Catherine’s bed, prospective suitors had to first satisfy Catherine’s lady-in-waiting (personal assistant), Countess Praskovya Aleksandrovna Bruce. It’s unclear how much truth there is to this story because Catherine’s enemies spread many rumors about her postmortem. However, this claim is documented in several historical manuscripts.

Catherine the Great

It is widely reported that Catherine and Countess Praskovya Aleksandrovna Bruce’s relationship didn’t end well. In 1779, an advisor led Catherine into a room where Catherine’s latest lover, Ivan Rimsky-Korsakov, was having intercourse with Bruce. The lover was sent into exile, and Bruce followed him. Bruce was relieved of her duties as lady-in-waiting shortly after.

There is just as much misinformation (or unprovable claims) as information on Catherine II. Some juicy wish-they-were-true examples: that she kept her hairdresser in a cage to keep her wig a secret and that she advocated for having sex at least six times a day, claiming that it helped her relieve her insomnia. Neither of these claims have been verified by historic record.


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