Potemkin, Grigori Aleksandrovich

Potemkin, Grigori Aleksandrovich pōtĕmˈkĭn, Rus. grĭgôˈrē əlyĭksänˈdrəvĭch pŭtyômˈkĭn [key], 1739–91, Russian field marshal and favorite of Catherine II. He studied at Moscow Univ. and then entered the army. His part in the coup (1762) that made Catherine czarina brought him to her notice. Having distinguished himself in Catherine's first war with the Ottoman Empire (1768–74), he was created count (1774). About the same time he became Catherine's lover. Even after others had taken his place, he remained one of Catherine's closest friends and chief advisers, particularly with regard to her foreign policy, and he retained a uniquely great influence at her court. He encouraged Catherine in the so-called Greek project, which aimed at breaking up the Ottoman Empire and reestablishing a Christian empire in the conquered area. Catherine's grandson Constantine was to be emperor and Potemkin ruler of an independent kingdom comprising Moldavia, Walachia, and Bessarabia, but the scheme did not succeed. Potemkin played an important part in the annexation (1783) of the Crimea, for which he was created prince. As governor of the new province, he organized Catherine's fabulous Crimean tour of 1787. The allegation that he had sham villages (“Potemkin villages”) built along her route is, at best, an extreme exaggeration, for Potemkin was in fact an able administrator, and he did much to develop the Crimea.

See biography by S. Sebag Montefiore (2001).

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