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 Dutiful daughter, frustrated wife, passionate lover, domineering mother, doting grandmother, devoted friend, tireless legislator, generous patron of artists and philosophers - the Empress Catherine II, the Great, was all these things, and more.  Her reign, the longest in Russian Imperial history, lasted from 1762 until her death in 1796; during those years she built on the work begun by her most famous predecessor, Peter the Great, to establish Russia as a major European power and to transform its new capital, St Petersburg, into a city to rival Paris and London in the beauty of its architecture, the glittering splendour of its Court and the magnificence of its art collections.  Yet the great Catherine was not even Russian by birth and had no legitimate claim to the Russian throne.

This is the story of Catherine the woman, whom power alone could never satisfy, for she also wanted love, affection, friendship and humour.  She found these in letter-writing, in grandchildren, in gardens, architecture and greyhounds - as well as in a succession of lovers which gave rise to salacious rumours throughout Europe.

Using many of Catherine's own words from her voluminous correspondence and other documents, as well as contemporary accounts by courtiers, ambassadors and foreign visitors, Virginia Rounding seeks to penetrate the character of this most powerful, fascinating and surprisingly sympathetic of eighteenth-century women.


 Frances Wilson in The Telegraph: "Catherine the Great is a thumping great triumph of a book, packed with details about a world in which detail - of dress, manners, rank - was everything...  Rounding is able to picture for us, through dozens of letters from Catherine to her various male correspondents, the richness of her private life and the roundness of her character. The woman who strides through these pages is a contradictory colossus with a determination to drink life to the lees."  Read the rest of this review here.

Lucy Hughes-Hallett in The Sunday Times: "Rounding vividly evokes the transitional world - at once exotically archaic and bracingly modern - through which her subject moved. There is little here about the partition of Poland or the condition of the serfs: this is a biography, not a history book. But Catherine was not only the holder of great power, she was a person of immense ambition and appetite, and this book is written with vigour and intelligence enough to do justice to its prodigious subject."  Read the rest of this review here.

John Lloyd in The Financial Times: "For a sense of Catherine's intimate life, sexual appetites, preoccupations, ruthlessness, intellectual scope, sentimentality and dedication, this is a great piece of work."  Read the rest of this review here.

Catherine the Great: Love, Sex and Power was published by Hutchinson in March 2006.  Click on the link below to order it from Amazon.


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