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Drunk Peter Snubbed Catherine the Great for Dolls: Lewis Lapham

February 03, 2012

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Interview by Lewis Lapham

Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) -- It was the culmination of the Empress Elizabeth’s plan to put the right heir on the Russian throne.

Bedecked with diamonds, both wearing white with silver lace, on Aug. 21, 1745, the bridal couple rode with her in the state coach from the Winter Garden to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

Peter was slight and sickly. At 17, he still enjoyed playing with dolls and toy soldiers and showed little interest in his smart, blue-eyed wife.

Anxious about her wedding night, Catherine had asked her mother about what might transpire but was reprimanded for displaying such indecent curiosity. When Peter finally slid into the bed beside her, he reeked of alcohol and tobacco, laughed nervously and promptly fell into a deep stupor.

Catherine slept beside him, untouched, for the next nine years. She began affairs with a series of smart men who advanced Russia’s power and also helped to permanently remove the dimwit from the throne.

I spoke with Robert Massie, author of “Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman,” on the following topics:

1. Cultivated Princess

2. Husband Deposed

3. Serf Dilemma

4. Big Love: Gregory Potemkin

5. European Culture

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

--Editors: Zinta Lundborg, Jeffrey Burke. Producer: Paul Goguen.

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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