Born a princess in Germany, Catherine the Great converted to Orthodoxy and was married to the heir to the Russian throne, the Grand Duke Peter of Holstein, grandson of Peter the Great. Though Catherine the Great had the support of Peters mother, the Empress Elizabeth, she disliked her husband and helped engineer his removal from the throne. She took power as Tsarina or Queen, calling herself Catherine II. Soon after, she may have been behind Peters death.
During her reign, Catherine the Great expanded Russias borders to the Black Sea and into central Europe. She promoted westernization and modernization though within the context of her autocratic control over Russia and increasing the control of landed gentry over serfs. Catherine the Great promoted education and the Enlightenment among the elite. She kept up a correspondence with many figures of the Enlightenment in Europe.
Catherine the Great is often remembered for her many lovers. She came to the throne with her lover Count Gregory Orlovs active support; while remaining committed to him she also took many other lovers.
Catherine the Great died in 1796, and her son Paul succeeded her to the throne.