He achieved his first successes not thanks to wealth, but thanks to his wits...
Grigory Potemkin was the son of a retired major from the Smolensk province, who died when the future prince was seven years old. Potemkin was raised by his mother, who sent him to a gymnasium school affiliated with the Moscow University.
Below: Moscow University, middle of XVIII century
Having enrolled at the university, he was awarded a medal for achievements in sciences a year later, and joined the university's top dozen best students two years on.
His looks and character contributed to his advancement
Below: Prince Grigory Potemkin, masterpieces's date of creation 1768)
“Being tall, he was of a proportionate build, had strong muscles and a high chest. An aquiline nose, a high brow, beautifully arched eyebrows, nice blue eyes, a beautiful complexion with a delicate blush, soft and curly blond hair, even and dazzlingly white teeth,” this is how his biographer, historian Vasily Ogarkov, described Potemkin in his prime.
Potemkin was not just a good-looking man: he had a real strength and never feared any difficulties. He used to say: “I am aware of difficulties, but I love working with people who overcome them.”
“He is very brave - he stops under gunfire and calmly gives orders… While awaiting danger, he gets very preoccupied, but once in danger, he becomes merry, and when surrounded with pleasures, he becomes bored...
With generals he discusses theology, and with bishops, he talks about war,” Austrian diplomat Count de Ligne wrote about Potemkin.
Austrian diplomat Count de Ligne (23 May 1735 – 13 December 1814)
Right: Prince Grigory Potemkin, masterpieces's date of creation1787
It goes without saying that Potemkin was extremely popular with women - and was in love with the most powerful of them, Empress Catherine the Great.
As it is considered part of the historians, the secret wedding of Catherine and Potemkin took place in 1774 (according to some sources, on June 8) or in the Church of St. Sampson on the Vyborg side in St. Petersburg. There is also an assumption that Catherine and Potemkin had a daughter, Elizaveta Grigoryevna, who received the name of Temkin - with the first syllable dropped, as was customary.
Portrait of Princess Yelizaveta Temkina 1775-1854 (by Vladimir Borovikovsky, Russian Imperial painter)
Among Catherine II's favorites, Grigory Potemkin was the closest to her and the one she herself respected the most. There were very seriouse facts that they were married in secret. Under Russian tradition, an empress could not marry a man who was so much beneath her socially: she was an empress, he was member of high aristocracy
And even though by the mid-1770s, Potemkin was already an adjutant general and owned huge estates, he earned them, rather than gaining them through inheritance. He belonged to the highest ranks of aristocracy, still he had no royal blood in him.
Which meant that the empress could not marry him officially. Yet, for a long time, they lived in the Winter Palace as man and wife. Potemkin’s private chambers were directly above the empress’s bedroom.
He alone could enter the empress's chambers at any time and uninvited. In letters, she addressed him as “my dear husband”, and called herself a wife and a spouse.
Even after he ceased being Catherine's close man, they remained to be a friends and Grigory Potemkin remained to be one of the most formidable and powerful men in Russian Empire.
Below: Jason Clarke as Grigoriy Potemkin and Helen Mirren as Catherine the Great in HBO's 'Catherine the Great' (2019)
HBO's 'Catherine the Great' (2019) should show the time 1770 but the casting was really strange, it did not reflect the reality and images of historical figures,...
In 1770 Catherine the Great was 40 years old Grigoriy Potemkin was 31 years old... and he has not had a moustache in his life... :-)
Below: Prince Grigory Potemkin ( by painter Christoph Lisiewski, masterpiece's date of creation 1772)
Right: Catherine the Great ( by Imperial painter Fedor Rokotov. masterpiece's date of creation: 1770)
Potemkin was a true military man and knew how important it is for soldiers to feel comfortable. Prior to the reform, they had to wear braided wigs, which needed to be curled on a steel bar. Potemkin wrote: “Curling, powdering, weaving braids, is this a soldier’s business? They do not have valets!” He lifted stupid requirement to wear wigs and braids from soldiers, although officers continued to wear them.
Potemkin also ordered a change in army uniform: instead of double woolen coats and tight-fitting belts (that uniform looked beautiful, but was terribly uncomfortable), he introduced simple trousers, jackets and boots. Elaborate hats were replaced by practical helmets. But the main thrust of his reform was respect for the soldier: Potemkin banned using soldiers as free labor, repeatedly spoke of the need for a humane attitude to soldiers and took care of their health, because he knew that in a war more soldiers were killed by filth and disease than by bullets and shells.
As a governor of Novorossiya, Potemkin developed a plan to conquer neighboring Crimea. After the 1774 victory over the Ottoman Empire, in which Potemkin played no small part, under the peace treaty, the Crimean Khanate was declared a free state. Yet, the Turks were in no hurry to withdraw their troops from there. Under Potemkin's leadership, over many years, the Russians managed to – without shedding any blood – reach an agreement with the Turks and with the population of Crimea on the latter's merger with Russia.
In 1783, on the flat top of Mount Aq Qaya, Grigory Potemkin personally received an oath of allegiance to the Russian crown from the Crimean nobility and common people. For joining Crimea to the Russian Empire, Potemkin was awarded the rank of field marshal.
He made Crimea part of the Russian Empire
Below: Catherine's imperial carriage during her Crimea journey in 1787)
Below: Catherine’s sledge for a winter time and one of her gold carriage
In 1787, Potemkin took the 57-year-old empress to Crimea. In terms of scale, it was an incredible event. Catherine was accompanied by the whole court, some 3,000 people!
The imperial procession consisted of 14 carriages, 124 sleighs with wagons and 40 spare sleighs. Catherine rode in a carriage for 12 people, pulled by 40 horses, where she was accompanied by courtiers, servants, as well as representatives of foreign diplomatic missions.
Left: Fireworks in honor of Catherine the Great in the Crimea in 1787
The empress’s route (the journey began in winter) was lit by torches or burning barrels almost the whole way. At all major stops, she was met by governor-generals, and in Crimea, Catherine was joined by the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Joseph II. The empress spent 12 days in Crimea. After this journey, she granted the prince the title of Potemkin-Tauricheski.
Potemkin set up an ‘Amazon Company’ for the empress. In 1787, Potemkin told Catherine how valiantly Greeks living in Crimea had fought against the Turks, together with their wives. When Catherine doubted the story, Potemkin promised to present the empress with evidence of the courage of those women - and ordered the formation of a company of 100 female warriors.
The order was given to the head of the Balaklava Greek Battalion, which consisted of Greeks who had fled from the oppression of the Ottoman Empire. It was those soldiers' wives and daughters that made up the ‘Amazon Company’, which was headed by 19-year-old Elena Sarandova, the first female officer in the Russian Empire.
The ‘Amazons’ received intensive training in riding, fencing and shooting. On May 24, 1787, the Amazon Company met Catherine in the village of Kadikey. Riding their fine horses, the ‘Amazons’ were dressed in colorful uniforms: crimson velvet skirts and green jackets, both trimmed with golden galloons.
Their heads were covered with white turbans with gilded sequins and ostrich feathers. And the empress was very pleased with what she saw. The Amazon Company accompanied Catherine on her journey through Crimea and was disbanded after the voyage was over.
Right: Catherine the Great and the 'Amazon company
He died like a true warrior, in an open field
In 1791, Potemkin, who was 52 at the time, was conducting peace negotiations with the Turks in the city of Iași, concluding yet another war between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. On the way from Iași to Nikolaev, Potemkin suddenly became ill. He ordered to be carried from the carriage and died practically in an open field.
Above: The death of Prince Grigory Potemkin-Tauricheski in a Bessarabian steppe
Catherine was devastated by the news of Potemkin's death. “My student, my friend, one might say, my idol, Prince Potemkin-Taurichesky has died!” she wrote. Potemkin’s ashes were buried in St. Catherine’s Cathedral in Kherson.
Right: The Palace of Prince Potemkin-Taurichesky in St. Peterburg
Above: Monument 1000th Anniversary of Russia
Above: Part of Monument with Catherine the Great and Prince Grigory Potemkin
In the modern period, the building of the Tauride Palace served purely state-political purposes. So at the beginning of the 20th century the State Duma (Russian Parliament) was placed here.
In the post-Soviet period, this building was transferred to the disposal of the Interparliamentary Assembly of the CIS member states.
The Tauride Palace is today one of the most beautiful architectural complexes of St. Petersburg. Together with the Tauride Garden, the Tauride Palace is a magnificent historical ensemble of masterpieces from the late 18th century.
Below: Tauride Palace - residence of Prince Grigory Potemkin-Tavrichesky in Saint-Petersburg
The worship of the great historical figure fulfilled the poem left to descendants by G.R. Derzhavin:
"...Behold, you are bravest of mortals! You didn’t go among the known and simple ways, But you laid them himself - the great honor you left to descendants. Behold, greatest leader Potemkin!..."
Left: Gavriil Derzhavin (1743-1816) was one of the most highly esteemed Russian poets before Alexander Pushkin