Catherine I. The First Russian Autocratrix

15 April 2020

Ekaterina Alekseevna Mikhailova (before christening into Orthodoxy Marta Skavronskaya), future All-Russian Empress Catherine I, was born on April 5 (new style on April 15) in 1684 into a peasant family in modern Latvia, which was part of Swedish Livonia at that time.

An orphan, an illiterate servant of a Protestant pastor, she married at the age of 17 to a Swedish dragoon who was soon missing, Marta became the “military trophy” of Russian soldiers who captured the fortress of Marienburg.

In 1703, at the house of her friend and colleague Alexander Danilovich Menshikov, Peter I noticed her among the maidservants. In 1704, she gave birth to her firstborn, who soon died, like most of her children. In 1705, the tsar sent Ekaterina to his sister Natalya Alekseevna, where she earned universal sympathy. Soon Martha was christened according to the Orthodox rite, taking the name of Ekaterina Alekseevna Mikhailova, because her godfather was Tsarevich Alexey, and Peter himself was called Mikhail when he wanted to keep incognito.

Starting from about 1709, Catherine almost never parted with Peter, accompanying him everywhere, surrounding him with care, calming the tsar’s violent disposition, alleviating the suffering of headaches. Having a great influence on the king, she did not try to interfere in politics.

The Presidential Library’s porta features Peter’s letters to Catherine, published in 1861. Peter calls her “muder” (in Dutch, “mother”), Katerinushka.

In 1712, Peter I officially married Ekaterina Alekseevna, and their daughters Anna and Elizabeth (later Empress Elizaveta Petrovna) received the status of princesses. In 1714, Peter, in honor of the worthy behavior of his wife, who accompanied him in the Prut campaign against the Turks, established the Order of St. Catherine, which she was awarded with.

May 1724 was marked by the solemn coronation of Catherine. The details are reflected at the publication Description of the coronation of her Majesty Empress Catherine Alekseevna (1724), available on the Presidential Library’s portal.

After the death of Emperor Peter the Great in 1725, Catherine, with the support of Prince Menshikov and relying on the guards and the St. Petersburg garrison devoted to her, ascended the throne, becoming the first Russian woman-autocrat in the history of the state.

She immediately announced her intention to continue the undertakings and policies of the late Peter.

According to Professor Alexander Alekseev in his Legend of the Oligarchic Trends of the Supreme Privy Council during the reign of Catherine I (1896), published on the Presidential Library’s portal, Catherine herself was not able to fully realize all the intentions. “Catherine received a heavy legacy from her predecessor, which she could figure out only with the assistance of Peter's employees, people more experienced and more experienced than she was

In February 1726, a Decree on the establishment of the Supreme Privy Council, an advisory body that practically took control and resolved the most important state issues was issued.

During the reign of Catherine I from 1725 to 1727, the First Kamchatka expedition of Vitus Bering was finally organized and sent, the Academy of Sciences was opened according to the project of Peter and the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky was established. In foreign policy, Russia actively pursued diplomatic activities during these years, and only in Transcaucasia did a separate corps fight for the Persian territories.

Ordinary people loved the good empress because she sympathized and willingly helped all needy petitioners.

On May 17, 1727, Empress Catherine I died of lung disease. She was buried in the tomb of Russian emperors in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.