The Order of St. Catherine was established in the memory of an unsuccessful Pruth march in 1711 when a small and poorly equipped Peter’s army was encircled by the enemy’s superior forces. According to the legend, the future wife of Peter I the Great, Catherine Skavronskaya, who shared with the emperor all the burden of the field life, bribed the Turkish pasha with her jewels. Owing to a successful battle and the bribe of the Turkish commander, the tsar and the army were saved.
In the Order’s statute published back in 1713 on behalf of Catherine it was noted that the award had been established in gratitude to her patroness, the saint great martyr Catherine, for liberation from a possible Turkish captivity. On the day of this saint, November 24 (December 5), 1714 Peter I decorated with his own hands the future empress with the just established order of Saint Catherine or Liberation.
The Order of St. Catherine became the highest decoration for women in Russia. During Peter I lifetime Catherine was the only holder of the order. When she took the throne after her husband’s death, she started to grant the award to the highest nobles. The first to receive the order were Peter’s daughters Anna and Elisabeth followed by seven more women. In total during 200 years of the order’s existence it was awarded 734 times.
The Order was of two classes – big cross and a smaller or dame cross. The big cross was awarded to the ladies of the emperor family, other state families and 12 dames of the empress closest milieu; the smaller cross could be hold by 94 dames. The order of the First Class was worn on the white ribbon put over the right shoulder accompanied with the eight-point star covered with diamonds. The dames wore the award on the white bow embroidered with the devise: “For love and fatherland”.
On February 5 (16) 1727 the order of St. Catherine was awarded to the only male, a young count A.A. Menshikov who was very shy.
In 1797 Paul I legalized the tradition according to which every new born grand duke became a holder of the St. Andrew the First-Called and every new born great duchess received the order of St. Catherine. After the christening the child was girdled with a blue Andrew’s ribbon or a scarlet Catherine one.
Lit.: Дуров В. Ордена России. М., 1993; Кучумова Л. Орден Святой Екатерины // Независимая газета. 1999. 4 дек. (№ 228 (2044)); Симонов А. А., Закатов А. Н. Императорские Ордена России (1698-1997). М., 1997.
Based on the Presidential Library’s materials: