Love and Conquest
Personal Correspondence of Catherine the Great and Prince Grigory Potemkin
Empress Catherine II of Russia
Edited and Translated by Douglas Smith
2004 Heldt Prize Winner
"Carefully conceived and magnificently executed, this splendid translation allows readers access to an exceptionally instructive and entertaining source."
—Simon Dixon, University of Leeds
"Love and Conquest is an extraordinarily impressive achievement that will be the standard English reference for years to come."—Ronald Vroon, UCLA
Of all of history's great romances, few can compare with that of Catherine the Great and Prince Grigory Potemkin. Their turbulent and complicated relationship shocked their contemporaries and continues to intrigue observers of Russia centuries later. Lovers, companions, and, most likely, husband and wife, Catherine and Potemkin were also close political partners, and for a time Potemkin served as Catherine's de facto co-ruler of the Russian Empire. Their letters offer an intimate glimpse into the lovers' unguarded moments, revealing both ecstatic expressions of love and candid insights on eighteenth-century politics.
In February 1774, the Russian empress took Grigory Potemkin for her lover and, it is now believed, secretly married him a few months later. Particularly in the first two years of their relationship, Catherine was consumed by her passion for Potemkin. The hundreds of letters and notes she dashed off to him between assignations in the Winter Palace during this time attest to the giddy exuberance of the new love that so fully embraced her. Love and Conquest contains the most historically significant and personally revealing of these letters, only a few of which have ever before been translated into English.
Beginning with Potemkin's letter to Catherine written while off fighting the Turks in 1769 and concluding with his farewell note scribbled the day before his death in 1791, the correspondence spans most of Catherine's reign. The letters are at once personal and political, private and public. Many of Catherine's love letters to Potemkin written during their stormy affair reveal the empress's passionate personality. Potemkin's letters provide rare insight into his arrogant and mercurial character, while serving to dispel the myth of Potemkin as little more than a corrupt sycophant.
Love and Conquest reveals the complexity of Catherine and Potemkin's personal relationship in light of dramatic changes in matters of state, foreign relations, and military engagements. After their love cooled, Catherine and Potemkin continued to discuss and debate a wide range of state affairs in their letters, including the annexation of the Crimea, court politics, wars against the Ottoman Empire and Sweden, and the colonization of southern Russia. Together they carried out the most dramatic territorial expansion in the history of imperial Russia, transforming Catherine into a powerful world leader and creating a bond of affection that would never fully fade. Readers will find in the letters new insights on Russia's most famous empress, her passions, and her world.
(2004) 475 pp.
Douglas Smith is author of Working the Rough Stone: Freemasonry and Society in Eighteenth-Century Russia, which won the William W. Reese II Memorial Book Award for 1999–2000. He lives in Seattle.
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Table of Contents
Note on the Translation
1. Ardent Zeal, Sincere Confessions—1769–1774
3. Breaking Up—1776
5. Annexing the Crimea—1782–1783
6. Southern Visions—1784–1787
8. The Siege of Ochakov—1788
9. A Gallant Campaign, the Count's Betrayal, and Blackie
10. One Paw Out of the Mud
11. Death on the Steppe
Appendix I: Maps
Appendix II: Chronology
Appendix III: Table of Ranks
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