Peter the Great: Emperor of All Russia

By Ian Grey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XX
Catherine

THE ancient fortress town of Marienburg had resisted stubbornly and had capitulated only after storming. The prisoners included many of the Swedish garrison and the citizens of the town with their wives and children. Among them was a seventeenyear-old Livonian girl of humble origin, called Catherine Skavronskaya, destined to become the Tsar's mistress, then Tsaritsa and Empress and, finally, Catherine I, Empress of All Russia.

Catherine was born in 1685, in the village of Ringen in the Dorpat region of Livonia. She belonged to the family of the peasant Samuel Skavronsky, but was probably illegitimate. Her mother died three years after her birth, apparently leaving her alone and destitute, and the local pastor gave her shelter in his house. But he was a poor man with a large family of his own. Two years later, when the Lutheran pastor of Marienburg, Ernst Gluck, was passing through Ringen, the local pastor complained that he could no longer afford to keep her.

The little foundling attracted Gluck, who took her with him to Marienburg. Although he, too, was burdened with a large family, she lived in his house, helping with his children, and sharing the domestic work. From Gluck she received some education, but it was very scanty, for she could not read or write. It is surprising that he did not teach her more for he himself was a learned man. But, if he did not worry about the foundling's education, at least he gave her the security of a home.

Catherine was just seventeen years old when a Swedish dragoon, who had watched her in church and had fallen in love with her, asked her hand in marriage. She was willing. The pastor gave his approval,

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