The Russian Cinderella Story

As kids all of us have heard the fairy tales about the magical kingdoms, incredibly handsome  and brave princes and princesses and of course such stories would always share the same good happy ending. One of those fairytales is Cinderella. Cinderella is a short story about a poor girl who meets her prince charming, marries him and becomes a true respected royalty in the end.
If we take a look at numerous monarchs that history is rich of, we would find this tale incredibly fictional. As it is very untraditional for a monarch to marry someone of low descent. Yet there were exceptions, one which is the woman behind the famous Peter the Great Of Russia.

About 300 years ago, in 1684, a girl was born in a family of peasants in the Baltic Region. She was named Marta Elena Skavronska. Little she knew she was destined to become not just a queen, but an empress of one of the worlds greatest empires, the Russian Empire. Unfortunately, at the age of three her parents died, she then was raised by a Lutheran pastor and educator, yet she still remained illiterate throughout her life. Though it is uncertain who exactly her parents were, it is certain that Marta wasn’t of a noble descent. Her only assets were her practical intelligence, charm and her beauty.
At the age of seventeen Marta was married off to a Swedish dragoon, but shortly after her town was captured by Russian forces and she along with the Lutheran pastor that raised her was taken to Moscow. She eventually became part of the household of Prince Alexander Menshikov, who at the time was a good friend of Peter the Great of Russia.
In 1703 while visiting the prince, Peter the Great met Marta, and shortly after she became his mistress. She converted to Orthodoxy and took the new name Catherine Alexeyevna.
In 1712 Peter the Great took her as his wife and in 1724 crowned her empress consort of Russia. Throughout their marriage Marta was known to have had a great influence over Peter the Great. When he died in 1725 without naming an heir, she was proclaimed the empress of Russia. During her rule Marta continued with the modernization of Russia that her beloved husband had started. She was the first woman to rule the Russian Empire, clearing the way for almost a century mainly dominated by women, including her daughter Elizabeth and later Catherine the Great (Catherine II), all of whom continued the modernization of Russian Empire that Peter the Great had started.

Although Marta was beloved and respected by Russian nobility and commoners, her peasant background did have negative consequences for her children. Her daughter Elizabeth was intended to be married to the French King Louis XV, but the French declined the offer as Marta’s background was seen not worthy enough. Later, when Elizabeth was claiming the Russian throne, her birth before the legal marriage of her parents was used to undermine her rights to the throne.

Marta Elena Skavronska died at the age of 43 in 1727.

sources:
1)  Genealogy data about Marta’s descent:
http://genealogy.euweb.cz/russia/skavron.html
2)  N.I Kostomarov  << Peter the Great>> chapter 15>
http://www.magister.msk.ru/library/history/kostomar/kostom46.htm#2
3) Information from Oldenburgs Archive:
http://www.vostlit.info/Texts/Dokumenty/Russ/XVIII/1720-1740/Oldenburg_archiv/text.htm

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