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The life of Empress Catherine I (1684–1727) was like a Cinderella story. A commoner doing laundry and kitchen work, she took her lucky chance to ascend the Russian throne. An orphan early, Martha Skavronska was a servant at the Lutheran pastor Ernst Glück’s house in Marienburg (now Alūksne, Latvia). At the age of seventeen, she was married off to a Swedish dragoon, but only for eight days until the town was captured by Russian forces during the Northern War. In 1705, while visiting his favourite Menshikov’s house, Peter the Great met Martha, and shortly after, he took her as his own mistress. She converted to Orthodoxy, changed her name to Yekaterina Alexeyevna, and soon became Peter’s closest partner. They officially married in 1712. Catherine became Peter’s second wife, while his first one, Eudoxia Lopukhina, who did not understand his reforms and rejected them, had been forced by Peter to become a nun back in 1698. After Peter’s death in 1725, Catherine was the first woman to rule Imperial Russia. The real power, however, lay with His Serene Highness Prince Menshikov, who dominated the Supreme Privy Council, an executive innovation. Catherine I’s reign did not last long. She died in 1727, just two years after Peter.

Catherine I owned Tsarskoe Selo for 16 years and turned this small farmstead into a comfortable estate.