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Catherine the Great, the extraordinary leader of Russia, was not originally Russian; she came from Germany and her birth name was Sophie Freiderike Auguste. Let’s dive into Catherine’s family history and explore her diverse lineage that reaches far beyond Russia. This is the story of her family tree.

Ancestral roots: Kings of Denmark and Queen of Sweden

Catherine’s mother, Johanna, had strong connections with Holstein, Denmark and Sweden. Princess Frederica Amalia of Denmark, Catherine’s great-grandmother, and King Frederick III of Denmark and Norway, her great-great-grandfather, are part of her impressive lineage. Catherine’s family had a rich royal history and close ties to these northern European regions.

Maternal grandparents: Holstein-Gottorp and Baden-Durlach

Catherine’s maternal grandparents, Albertina of Baden-Durlach and Christian August of Holstein-Gottorp, were of noble origin. Johanna Elizabeth, Catherine’s mother, was one of their 12 children. Adolphus Frederick, one of Johanna’s brothers, even became King of Sweden.

Paternal grandparents: Anhalt-Dornburg and Zeutsch

Catherine’s paternal grandparents, Johann Ludwig I, Prince of Anhalt-Dornburg, and Christine Eleonore von Zeutsch, came from Germany. Johann Ludwig worked diligently to secure his family’s inheritance. His son, Christian August, was Catherine’s father and inherited the title of Anhalt-Zerbst.

Her parents: Christian August and Duchess Johanna Elisabeth

Catherine’s mother, Johanna, had family ties to the Dukes of Holstein, which helped arrange her daughter’s marriage to the future Russian heir Peter III. Although Johanna was not very involved in Catherine’s life, she played a key role in facilitating the match. Catherine’s father, Christian August, was a lesser-known German prince.

Siblings: Auguste, Elisabeth, Friedrich and Wilhelm

Unfortunately, only one of Catherine’s siblings survived to adulthood, her brother Friedrich. He became the last ruler of Anhalt-Zerbst. The other three siblings, Auguste, Elisabeth and Wilhelm, died young. Elisabeth died tragically at the age of 3. After Catherine’s expulsion from Russia in 1745, her mother, Johanna, served as regent for Friedrich until he came of age.

Her husband: Petar III

Catherine’s marriage to Peter III in 1745 was stormy. Peter, heir to the Russian throne, was more loyal to Prussia and his native Holstein than to Russia. His reign was marked by a change in foreign policy and alliances that deeply disturbed the Russian population. Catherine, who planned a coup against him, eventually took the throne after his abdication and the support of the Russian Imperial Guard. Peter III met a tragic end in 1762.

Her children: Paul I. and Ana

Catherine’s only surviving legitimate child, Paul I, had a complicated relationship with his mother. He was initially raised by Catherine’s great-aunt, Empress Elizabeth of Russia. After becoming emperor, Paul introduced reforms and was eventually assassinated in 1801. Anna, Catherine’s daughter, died at the age of 2. There has been speculation that Anna may have been the daughter of Catherine’s lover, Stanislaw Poniatowski.

Other illegitimate children: Aleksej and Elizabeta

Catherine had two possible illegitimate children with men who were not Peter III. Count Alexei Bobrinsky was the son of Katarina and Grigory Orlov, born during a carefully concealed fire. He was engaged in agricultural and scientific studies, including astronomy. Elizabeta Temkina, another potential illegitimate child, appeared in Grigory Potemkin’s household. Although it is suspected that she may be Catherine’s daughter with Potemkin, this remains unconfirmed.

Grandson: Alexander I

Catherine favored her grandson Alexander, who eventually succeeded her as emperor. He married Princess Louise of Baden-Durlach, and his reign saw educational reforms and foreign policy challenges, particularly in dealing with Napoleon Bonaparte. Alexander I played a significant role in mediating throughout Europe and ensuring peace. Later he became religious and died in 1825.

The Romanovs: Catherine’s legacy

The Romanov dynasty, of which Catherine was a part, ruled Russia until the Russian Revolution in 1917. Various family members went into exile, and today the headship is held by Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna of Russia. Catherine’s legacy lives on in this noble dynasty that once ruled the vast expanse of Russia.


Catherine the Great’s family tree is testimony to the rich tapestry of European kings and nobility. Her fascinating background and the historical influence of her family members contribute to her lasting legacy. From her ancestors in Denmark, Sweden and Germany to her own reign as Empress of Russia, Catherine’s story is of extraordinary historical significance.

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