Many legends have grown up about the sexual rapacity of Catherine the Great. While it is true that she shocked the Russian court with the number and age of her lovers, there is no truth in the rumour of her death by stallion. Unhappily married to the Grand Duke Peter, a man who preferred to play with his toy soldiers in the bedroom, they failed to produce an heir, and Catherine turned her attentions to a certain Sergey Saltykov who fathered the future Tsar Paul I. Six months into the reign of Peter III, Catherine, supported by the Imperial Guard, staged a successful coup against her husband and became Empress. It was her ambition to transform a vast but semi-barbaric country with the cultural and political reforms of Enlightenment Europe. In this timely and fascinating biography, Virginia Rounding reveals an extraordinary woman in all her complexity. First published 2006.