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Catherine The Great ..
Few women in history have ever enjoyed so much power, and few have ever made such a dramatic journey, from relatively humble beginnings to the height of absolute monarchy.
Born Sophia Augusta Fredericka Anhalt-Zerbst, the daughter of an obscure German prince, she had been brought up in modern-day Szczecin on the Baltic coast, and had arrived in Russia at the age of 14 thanks to a twist of fate.
To the reigning Russian Empress Elizabeth, the young girl had seemed the ideal bride for her stunted and unhappy nephew, Peter, who would inherit the throne.
A ghastly, miserable marriage followed, and when the time came, Catherine staged a coup against her husband and then looked the other way while her courtiers murdered him.
On September 22, 1762, the woman who eventually came to be known as Catherine the Great appeared at the top of the ceremonial Red Staircase at the Kremlin, dressed in a silver brocade dress.
Slowly, she walked down the steps and across the courtyard.
Rows of priests kissed her hands.
The soldiers of the Imperial Guard saluted.

Then she entered the Assumption Cathedral where a scene of almost unimaginable splendour awaited.
Beneath the domes of its five golden cupolas, the interior of the 15th Century cathedral glowed with light.
Its four massive internal columns, its walls and its ceiling were covered with luminous frescoes.
Before the alter stood the great iconostasis, a golden screen of painted icons studded with jewels.

From the central dome hung a gigantic chandelier weighing more than a ton.
Light filtering down from the cupolas and flickering from thousands of candles, reflected off the surfaces of the jewels and the gold icons.
During a four-hour ceremony, Catherine was anointed with holy oil and draped in imperial purple.
At the climax, she lifted the 9lb crown, crusted with diamonds and topped by a massive ruby, which had been specially designed for her.
She placed it on her own head, and declared herself Empress of Russia.
( Anne Applebaum )

The Greatest American Statesman Of All Time ..
The first President of the United States is one of those great men whose deeds are well known but whose personality and private life remain cloudy.
George Washington preferred it that way and his widow, Martha, honoured his wishes by burning all their correspondence after his death.
Washington was very much the product both of his upbringing and of circumstance.
He was born into a respectable but impoverished Virginian family in 1732, which fell further down the social ladder after the death of his father when he was only 11.
But help then came from the richer side of the family, well-placed patronage enabling him to enter Virginian politics and the army as a gentleman of means.
The Seven Years War, a major European conflict that spread to the colonies in North America as the French and British fought for control over Canada, greatly enhanced his reputation as a military commander.
After the conflict, he was made commander of Virginia’s defences, guaranteeing him an influential role when the colonists began to seek independence in 1774.
Washington became commander-in-chief of the so-called Continental Army and held the post throughout the Revolutionary War until independence was won in 1783.
It was at this point that he became not just a great leader but the greatest American statesman of all time.
When he was offered the Presidency he could have turned it into some kind of quasi-monarchical office.

Instead, he remained true to his democratic ideals.
His vision of America became its future.

Princess Of The Suffragettes ..
On November 19, 1910, Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, the third daughter of the last Maharajah of the Punjab, marched side by side with Emmeline Pankhurst at a suffragette demonstration to protest against the Prime Minister Herbert Asquith’s stalling of a Bill that would give votes to women.
The Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, had given orders that the women were not to be allowed near the Prime Minister.
The marchers were met by police armed with batons who felt no compunction about attacking them.
The scenes were violent ( two women died ) and many arrests were made.
Princess Sophia was taken to Bow Street Magistrates, but released without charge.
She was the only suffragette that day to return to a grace-and-favour lodging in Hampton Court, which she occupied for a peppercorn rent by virtue of being Queen Victoria’s God-daughter. Sophia was born at Elvedon, and for the first 30 years of her life was an exotic addition to the society pages thanks to her title, couture clothes and talent for breeding pedigree pugs.

But in 1903 she made her first trip to India, where she encountered the snobberies and casual racism of the British Raj.
Her sister Bamba was already involved in the Indian Nationalist movement, and Sophia, too, became radicalised.
On her return she took up the cause of the Lascars, the Indian merchant seamen who lived in England in conditions of terrible squalor.

But it was the Suffragette movement that changed her life.
Although she never succeeded in being sent to prison ( the government did not want the publicity ), Sophia was part of the No Taxation Without Representation movement, and twice had bailiffs come to Hampton Court to seize property in lieu of unpaid taxes.
She defaced the Census form of 1911 with a scrawled protest, ‘No vote, no Census’.
She sold The Suffragette newspaper outside Hampton Court , which sent George V into a rage, complaining, ‘Can nothing be done to stop her?’

During World War 1, Sophia became a nurse, tending to wounded Indian soldiers (the Punjabi patients could not believe they were being nursed by their Princess).

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