Catharlne I., empress of Russia, born according to some in Livonia, according to others in Sweden, about 1(585, died in St. Petersburg, May 17, 1727. She was formerly believed to have been the daughter of a Swedish quartermaster, John Rabe, but is now more generally represented as the daughter of a Lithuanian peasant, Skavronski; her own original name was Martha. Left an orphan in a village of Livonia, she was taken care of by the sexton of the place, and subsequently by Gluck, the Protestant minister at Marienburg, who educated her with his children. In 1701 she married a Swedish dragoon of the garrison of Marienburg; but the campaign of 1702, in which he had to serve, and the capture of Marienburg (Aug. 23) by the Russians, under Sheremetieff, separated them for ever. Martha, together with the family of her protector, Gluck, was made captive by the Russian general, who treated the old clergyman kindly, but retained the females. At the distribution of the spoils, she was allotted to Gen. Bauer, whose mistress she was until she was ceded by him to Prince Menshikoff. It was in the house of the latter that Peter the Great saw her, was captivated by her beauty, and made her his mistress (1703). She adopted the Greek creed, and with it the name of Catharine Alexievna. In 1700 she bore a daughter, Catharine; in 1708 (after having been privately married to Peter) Anna, afterward duchess of Holstem-Gottorp, and mother of Peter III.; in 1709 Elizabeth, afterward empress of Russia. She maintained her influence over Peter by her vivacity, activity, and good temper.
She shared the troubles and fatigues of his campaigns, and frequently calmed the wild outbreaks of his savage temper. "When in 1711 his great rival, Charles XII., who after the defeat of Poltava (1709) had found refuge and protection in Turkey, had succeeded in arming that empire against the Russians, and Peter, after an imprudent march, found himself reduced to the extremity of starving on the banks of the Pruth, or surrendering his army, Catharine, with the assistance of Ostermann and Sha-firoff, saved him by bribing the Turkish grand vizier with her jewels. Peter proved his gratitude by acknowledging her as his wife in 1712, and declaring her empress in 1718. As such she was crowned in Moscow in 1724. The determination of Peter to make her his successor was shaken by his suspicions of her conjugal fidelity, and still more in 1724 by his conviction of her infidelity, in consequence of which the chamberlain Moens was beheaded (ostensibly for mismanagement in office), his sister igno-miniously flogged, and his two sons sent to the army in Persia. It has been asserted that Catharine, having been shown by Peter the head of Moens, still hanging on the scaffold, said calmly, "What a pity that the people of the court are so corrupt." She succeeded, however, in strengthening her position by reinstating Menshikoff in the favor of Peter, which he had previously lost by his devotion to her.
But still so doubt-ful was her situation, that at the death of Peter (Feb. 8, 1725), which was kept secret until her succession was secured, she could not avoid the suspicion of having poisoned her husband. The archbishop of Pskov, Theophanes, declared under oath to the people and the army that Peter on his deathbed had designated her as the worthiest of succession, and the guards, the synod, and the high nobility gave their consent, and the people their oath of fidelity to the first "empress " and autocrat of all the Russias. The policy of Peter was continued under the leading influence of Menshikoff; the Russian academy of sciences was founded, silver mines were opened in Siberia, and the naval exploring expedition under Behring was fitted out. But soon the caprices of the empress, who was guided by favorites, and intemperate in drinking, were felt in the management of affairs, and blunders committed, while her ruined health prepared a sudden end. Her successor was Peter II., the grandson of Peter and son of the unfortunate Alexis.