I received a missive of late from a gentleman of the continent who wishes to remain nameless as is his mysterious right. He has enjoyed my posts charting the final days of some historical names and asked whether I might do something similar for Catherine the Great. I am always happy to set quill to paper in response to a request so today I present the last days of Catherine II, Empress and Autocrat of all the Russias.
|Empress Catherine the Great by Fyodor Rokotov, 1763|
By 1796, Catherine had known a life of immense successes both personal and professional. Powerful, respected and influential, her reign had spanned more than a quarter of a century and her place in history was assured. By now aged 67 her health was beginning to weaken yet she remained a vibrant and committed ruler, as involved in the affairs of state as she ever had been.
On 15th November 1796 she retired to bed and slept through the night, rising early as was her routine and settling with her usual cup of coffee. she passed the time of day with her maid, Maria Perekusikhina, even commenting on the excellent night's sleep she had enjoyed! Alone, Catherine went through to her study to begin the business of the day and settled with her correspondence, a regular habit for the Empress. That done, at just after 9.00am she went to her dressing room to perform her toilette and it was here that she suffered a serious and, ultimately, fatal stroke.
When Catherine did not leave her closet for some time, her chamberlain, Zakhar Zotov, opened the door a little to enquire as to her wellbeing and found her collapsed on the floor. Her pulse and breathing were so weak as to be barely noticeable and her face was tinged purple, the Empress insensible and, within minutes of her discovery, unconscious. At Zotov's instruction, servants were summoned to lift Catherine and carry her to the bedroom, making her as comfortable as they were able. Within the hour Dr John Rogerson arrived and performed an examination that resulted in the diagnosis that she had suffered a stroke.
The Scottish physician made fruitless efforts to revive his patient and as the day progressed she slipped from unconsciousness into a coma from which she would never awake, experiencing seizures and spasms throughout. On 17th November the Empress of Russia received the last rites, finally taking her final breath at 9.45pm whilst surrounded by her dearest friends.
Catherine the Great was prepared for her magnificent funeral by her closest attendants. She was dressed in silver brocade, her crown placed on her head as befitted an Empress whilst Antonio Rinaldi was summoned to prepare a chamber of mourning. Here she was placed in state on 25th November for a period of official mourning. As the court and people paid their respects, Catherine the Great was laid to rest at the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg, her reign finally at an end.
Life in the Georgian Court, true tales of 18th century royalty, is available at the links below.