No, I’m not referring to The Game of Thrones, but to Catherine the Great & Potemkin. The Imperial Love Affair by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Granted, there are many similar elements here, but the dragons are missing…
Simon Sebag Montefiore
Catherine the Great & Potemkin. The Imperial Love Affair
Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2016, 557 pages
(first published in 2000 as Prince of Princes: The Life of Potemkin)
The book nearly flows over with nearly three-quarters of a century of battles, conquests, annexations, diplomatic missions, political intrigues, plus background information on various historical figures, all interspersed with love affairs. I couldn’t keep track of it all, nor of Potemkin’s seemingly endless parade of mistresses. He became quickly enamored, but apparently grew bored with most of them just as fast, but this didn’t pose a problem as there were more than enough women craving his attentions. Catherine, in turn, had her “favourites” (I lost track of them as well), the last one being only 22 years old (Catherine was 60 at the time!)
Catherine became Empress at the age of 33 in 1762 when she organized a coup and had her incompetent husband, Emperor Peter (not ‘the Great’, but his grandson) assassinated. It had been a miserable marriage anyway… (Their six-year old son, Grand Duke Paul, was actually the rightful heir, but she managed to get around that as well.)
Potemkin and Catherine met that same year for the first time. He was 23 years old and soon became her protégé, and starting sometime around 1774 the two became inseparable until his death in 1791. When Potemkin was away in battle or building new towns, they kept their couriers busy galloping through the empire delivering their letters to each other. And despite the myriad of lovers each one took, they were like soul mates, bound together through love, sex, affection, admiration, respect, intellectual sparring, and a definite fondness for power. Confidants. I suppose it wasn’t easy to find people one could trust absolutely in the Imperial Court. Even though Potemkin was never the tsar, he basically ruled Russia together with Catherine, and definitely did his part in expanding the Russian Empire.
The court intrigues alone, whether political or sexual, rival any modern soap opera and some of the battle scenes described would make the toughest amongst us shudder.
I found this so absorbing, I wouldn’t have minded if it had been even longer than the 557 pages!