Love & Conquest
Personal Correspondence of Catherine the Great and Prince Grigory Potemkin
Of all the great imperial romances in European history, few can compare with that of Catherine the Great and Prince Grigory Potemkin. Their turbulent and complicated relationship shocked their contemporaries and continues to intrigue observers of Russia centuries later. Lovers, companions, and, most likely, husband and wife, Catherine and Potemkin were also close political partners, and for a time Potemkin served as Catherine’s de facto co-ruler of the Russian Empire. Their letters offer an intimate glimpse into the lovers’ unguarded moments, revealing both ecstatic expressions of love and illuminating observations on eighteenth-century politics.
Beginning with Potemkin’s initial letter to Catherine written while off fighting the Turks in 1769 and concluding with his farewell note scribbled the day before his death in 1791, their correspondence spans most of her reign. The letters are at once personal and political, vividly chronicling their authors’ lives and the history of Catherine’s Russia. Love and Conquest contains the most historically significant and personally revealing of these letters, only a few of which have ever before been translated into English.
In February 1774, Catherine took Grigory Potemkin for her lover and, it is now believed, secretly married him a few months later. Particularly in the first two years of their relationship, the empress was consumed by her passion for Potemkin. The hundreds of letters and notes she dashed off to him between assignations in the Winter Palace during this time attest to the giddy exuberance of the new love that so fully embraced her and the great depths of her passionate personality. Potemkin’s letters provide rare insight into his arrogant and mercurial character, while serving to dispel the myth of Potemkin as little more than a corrupt sycophant.
Love and Conquest reveals the complexity of Catherine and Potemkin’s personal relationship as they conducted Russia’s wars and diplomacy. Even after their love cooled, Catherine and Potemkin continued to discuss and debate a wide range of state affairs in their letters, including the annexation of the Crimea, the colonization of southern Russia, court politics, and the wars against the Ottoman Empire and Sweden. Together they carried out the most dramatic territorial expansion in the history of Imperial Russia, transforming Russia into a world power and creating a bond of affection that would never fully fade. Readers will find in the letters new insights into Russia’s most famous empress, her passions, and her world.
"A wonderfully readable collection that is beautifully translated and shrewdly edited. It is hard to exaggerate how entertaining and poignant these letters are, while Smith’s edition is also vitally important for understanding Catherine’s regime and the creation of the Russian Empire."
~New York Review of Books
"Smith’s superb account of Catherine and Potemkin’s peerless love-affair and political partnership is an erudite but unforgettable, exuberant yet heartbreaking voyage into the friendship and love, power, sexuality and ambition behind one of history’s greatest romances."
"Fascinating… The most comprehensive and scholarly English-language edition to date."
~Times Literary Supplement
"Excellent… hugely readable and revealing… an important addition to the study of eighteenth-century Russia."
"Full of the passion of a romance novel… fascinating."
"An extraordinary firsthand account of courtly life and love in 18th-century imperial Russia."
"Smith’s book is an essential read for anyone interested in eighteenth-century Russia, or Russian history in general."
~Slavic and East European Journal
"Douglas Smith’s excellent translation of the correspondence between Catherine and Potemkin now offers what no secondary account can: a lively, and far more immediate, portrayal of the personal and political relationship that produced many of Catherine’s greatest achievements."
"Carefully conceived and magnificently executed, this splendid translation allows readers access to an exceptionally instructive and entertaining source."
~Simon Dixon, author of Catherine the Great
"Love and Conquest is an extraordinarily impressive achievement that will be the standard English reference for years to come."
~Professor Ronald Vroon, UCLA