The life and reign of Russian Empress Catherine the Great.
Before she became Catherine the Great, legendary empress of Russia, she was a smart but lonely girl named Sophia. Her mother ignored her until family connections proposed a marriage between Sophia and the presumptive heir to the Russian throne - and suddenly she was thrown from her quiet life in a backwoods mansion to the center of a cutthroat political world.
Sophia's excitement to meet her future husband deflated when she realized Peter III was a boor who cared nothing about Russia. By contrast, she threw herself into learning the culture with such vigor that she earned the love of the people. She was rechristened Catherine and married Peter... but when he became emperor, his mistakes and her popularity began to add up to a crisis situation.
When the conspiracy to seat Catherine on the throne of Russia was exposed, she had to move quickly. While Peter III blundered through a day of miscommunications, Catherine swiftly seized power, secured the loyalty of the army, and demanded his abdication.
Catherine had great ambitions to reform Russia according to her own highest ideals, but she soon found that the reality of governance made those ideals difficult to achieve. She also found herself tangled in war, rebellion, and (scandalously) smallpox.
Catherine had many lovers during her life, but perhaps none meant so much to her as Grigory Potemkin. Although their romance did not last a lifetime, it did form the basis of a working relationship that would change the face (and future) of Europe.
The optimism that marked Catherine the Great's early years turned on its head. She oversaw the partition and final dissolution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. She also alienated her son in the same way her own mother once did, leaving him ill-equipped to succeed her.