The Morris Chair

Catherine II of Russia was a woman whose reputation was mired in controversy. Legend has it, or so one my college professors once said, that she was so insatiable that it led to her death. As the story goes, she died when a stallion that had been harnessed to a hoist above her bed snapped the harness and fell on her. Another story was that when she married her young husband, he spent his time in bedroom with her, under the covers, playing with toy soldiers.

The story about the toy soldiers is true. The story about the horse, not true. Like all legends, it has is genesis in fact: she, like the empress Elizabeth before her, enjoyed men. Catherine had at least 12 lovers in her lifetime, and would probably have been diagnosed as promiscuous. But she, like so many fascinating women monarchs, was defined more by strength of…

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