The Empress Catherine the Great was the longest ruling female leader in Russian history, and despite her many achievements, one particular rumour refused to fade from historical discourse.
Catherine, born on the 2 May 1729 reigned from 1762 until her death in 1796 at the age of 67.
The circumstances of her death have long stalked the memory of her reign. Rumour had it that she died whilst attempting to have sexual relations with a horse.
Origins of the myth are obscure, but many have postulated that it was members of the French aristocracy who ignited the rumour in an effort to taint her character. France was a rival to Russia at the time, and this would come to a head in 1812, when Napoleon embarked on an invasion of Russia.
No, Catherine the Great did not have sexual relations with a horse.
Professor Simon Dixon, Chair of Russian history at UCL and the author of Catherine the Great, told indy100:
Catherine’s palpitating body was found, barely conscious, on the floor of her dressing room, on the morning of Wednesday 5 November 1796. Her personal physician – a Scot, Dr John Rogerson – diagnosed a stroke. Despite his efforts to revive her, she relapsed into a coma and died at around 9.45pm the following evening.
There is no truth to the story about her relations with a horse. Its origins are obscure, though they fall into much the same category as the stories of sexual excess that plagued the posthumous reputation of Messalina and other powerful women.
Her affairs have been long documented, from aristocrats in her own court to a Polish King. But an equine animal? No.