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Love affairs of the courts of Europe


LOLA MONTEZ, COUNTESS OF LANDSFELD
LUDWIG I., KING OF BAVARIA
FRANCESCO I., GRAND DUKE OF TUSCANY
CAROLINE OF BRUNSWICK, WIFE OF GEORGE IV
LOVE AFFAIRS OF THE COURTS OF EUROPE
CHAPTER I
A COMEDY QUEEN
"It was to a noise like thunder, and close clasped in a soldier's
embrace, that Catherine I. made her first appearance in Russian
history."
History, indeed, contains few chapters more strange, more seemingly
impossible, than this which tells the story of the maid-of-all-work--the
red-armed, illiterate peasant-girl who, without any dower of beauty or
charm, won the idolatry of an Emperor and succeeded him on the greatest
throne of Europe. So obscure was Catherine's origin that no records
reveal either her true name or the year or place of her birth. All that
we know is that she was cradled in some Livonian village, either in
Sweden or Poland, about the year 1685, the reputed daughter of a
serf-mother and a peasant-father; and that her numerous brothers and
sisters were known in later years by the name Skovoroshtchenko or
Skovronski. The very Christian name by which she is known to history
was not hers until it was given to her by her Imperial lover.
It is not until the year 1702, when the future Empress of the Russias
was a girl of seventeen, that she makes her first dramatic appearance on
the stage on which she was to play so remarkable a part. Then we find
her acting as maid-servant to the Lutheran pastor of Marienburg,
scrubbing his floors, nursing his children, and waiting on his resident
pupils, in the midst of all the perils of warfare. The Russian hosts had
for weeks been laying siege to Marienburg; and the Commandant, unable to
defend the town any longer against such overwhelming odds, had announced
his intention to blow up the fortress, and had warned the inhabitants to
leave the town.
Between the alternatives of death within the walls and the enemy
without, Pastor Glueck chose the latter; and sallying forth with his
family and maid-servant, threw himself on the mercy of the Russians who
promptly packed him off to Moscow a prisoner. For Martha (as she seems
to have been known in those days) a different fate was reserved. Her red
lips, saucy eyes, and opulent figure were too seductive a spoil to part
with, General Sheremetief decided, and she was left behind, a by no
means reluctant hostage.
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