Bad Girls Throughout History: 100 Remarkable Women Who Changed the World - Ann Shen (2016)
Catherine the Great
Catherine the Great (1729-1796) became the longest-ruling empress of Russia through a series of lucky coincidences, but she grew into a legendary ruler through her own actions. Born a German princess, Catherine was recruited by the reigning Russian Empress Elizabeth to be a wife for her nephew and heir- apparent, Peter III. The marriage was an unhappy one, and when it was Peter’s turn to rule, he was so cruel and unpopular that Catherine had no trouble leading a bloodless coup that instated her as the sole ruler of Russia. (Well, a little blood was shed after Peter was murdered by one of her lover’s brothers, but it’s unknown whether she had any role in that.)
A confident and charming ruler, Catherine was credited with modernizing her country by ushering in the Russian Enlightenment. She expanded Russia’s borders with aggressive military force. Additionally, she reeled back the Orthodox Church’s power in the state and passed an act that allowed religious freedom. Catherine was a strong supporter of the arts and education, and she established the first state-funded schools for girls. The empress never remarried, and she was as famous for her many lovers as she was for her power, with at least twenty- two documented affairs. Never one to hold a grudge, she often rewarded her men with power and jewels before sending them off to bring her the next one; she even made one of them king of Poland.