November 01, 2021

Debunking a Myth

Debunking a Myth
Equestrian Portrait of Catherine II in Guards Uniform on her Horse Brilliant. From the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen. Portrait by Vigilius Erichsen (Eriksen)

If you know your European history, you may have already guessed what’s being referenced here. Like Marie Antionette’s “Let them eat cake,” Catherine has an untrue yet persistent myth attached to her name, that she – Catherine, not Marie Antoinette – died while committing a carnal act with her horse.

It’s a blatant lie. Empress Catherine the Great did not die this way. She passed away on November 6, 1796, following a debilitating stroke. She was sixty-seven.

It was a typical though no less tragic death, almost expected for such a chronically overworked individual. Catherine was found the day before by her attendants, alone and unconscious on the floor of her bedchamber water closet. Her last conscious act as tsarina was to reply to some correspondence at her writing desk.

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