The new empress, Catharine I., was already exceedingly popular, and she rose rapidly in public esteem by the wisdom and vigor of her administration. Early in June her eldest daughter, Anne, was married with much pomp to the Duke of Holstein. It was a great novelty to the Russians to see a woman upon the throne; and the neighboring States seemed inspired with courage to commence encroachments, thinking that they had but little to apprehend from the feeble arm of a queen. Poland, Sweden and Denmark were all animated with the hope that the time had now come in which they could recover those portions of territory which, during past wars, had been wrested from them by Russia.
Catharine was fully aware of the dangers thus impending, and adopted such vigorous measures for augmenting the army and the fleet as speedily to dispel the illusion. Catharine vigorously prosecuted the measures her husband had introduced for the promotion of the civilization and enlightenment of her subjects. She took great care of the young prince Peter, son of the deceased Alexis, and endeavored in all ways to educate him so that he might be worthy to succeed her upon the throne. This young man, the grandson of Peter the Great, was the only prince in whose veins flowed the blood of the tzars.
The academy of sciences at St. Petersburg, which Peter had founded, was sedulously fostered by Catharine. The health of the empress was feeble when she ascended the throne, and it rapidly declined. She, however, continued to apply herself with great assiduity to public affairs until the middle of April, when she was obliged to take her bed. There is no “royal road” to death. After four weeks of suffering and all the humbling concomitants of disease and approaching dissolution, the empress breathed her last at nine o’clock in the evening of the 16th of May, 1727, after a reign of but little more than two years, and in the forty-second year of her age.
Upon her death-bed Catharine declared Peter II., the son of Alexis, her successor; and as he was but twelve years of age, a regency was established during his minority. Menzikoff, however, the illustrious favorite of Peter the Great, who had been appointed by Catharine generalissimo of all the armies both by land and sea, attained such supremacy that he was in reality sovereign of the empire. During the reign, of Catharine Russia presented the extraordinary spectacle of one of the most powerful and aristocratic kingdoms on the globe governed by an empress whose origin was that of a nameless girl found weeping in the streets of a sacked town—while there rode, at the head of the armies of the empire, towering above grand dukes and princes of the blood, the son of a peasant, who had passed his childhood the apprentice of a pastry cook, selling cakes in the streets of Moscow. Such changes would have been extraordinary at any period of time and in any quarter of the world; but that they should have occurred in Russia, where for ages