The Prince of Princes
The Life of Potemkin
By Sebag Montefiore
(Thomas Dunne Books, Hardcover, 9780312278151, 672pp.)
Publication Date: November 1, 2001
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Prince Grigory Potemkin was Catherine the Great's lover, secret husband, and partner in ruling the Russian Empire. Their affair was so tumultuous, they negotiated an arrangement that allowed them to share power while he was free to love his beautiful nieces, and Catherine, her favorites. But they never stopped loving each other. Their endearing and passionate relationship remains one of history's most remarkable love affairs.
Potemkin shone as an outstandingly gifted statesman, winning the Crimea, founding the Black Sea Fleet, reforming the Cossacks, planning new cities like Sebastopol and Odessa, and making Russia a Near Eastern power - achievements in war and peace that emulated his hero Peter the Great.
He embodied the strengths and weaknesses of Russia itself - volatile, ebullient, handsome, sensual, and always astonishing. His bizarre magnificence enchanted and scandalized Europe. Yet he disdained his own success.
He was surrounded by a cosmopolitan court that included brilliant Americans, such as Admiral John Paul Jones, and Lewis Littlepage, a friend of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Both served under Potemkin against the Turks.
An obsessive Anglophile, he commissioned Joshua Reynolds and created an English garden wherever he stopped for the night. In 1787, this master showman presided over Catherine's Crimean river-tour, so sumptuous it was compared to Cleopatra's progress. Potemkin's enemies claimed he displayed fake houses - "Potemkin villages" - a smear this biography lays to rest.
After five years' new research in archives from Petersburg to Odessa, Sebag Montefiore shoes how Potemkin and Catherine, with their younger lovers, created their own "family." He brings blazingly to life Potemkin's loving partnership with Catherine and restores him to his place as a colossus of the eighteenth century. When he died, Catherine was heartbroken. She said there could never be another Potemkin.
S. Sebag Montefiore studied history at Cambridge University. He writes for the Sunday Times and The Spectator in London, and The New York Times, particularly about Russia. He spent much of the 1990's travelling throughout the ex-Soviet empire, especially in the Ukraine, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. The author of two novels, he is married and lives in London.