Catherine II (the Great) is obviously the most famous woman to govern Russia, but she wasn't the first, woman or Catherine (that II should have been a hint). 40 years prior, Peter I's second wife Catherine because empress.
The story of Catherine I is shrouded in mystery; few details are known for a fact. She was born with the name Marta. Her father, from Poland-Lithuania, was either a peasant, a gravedigger, or a runaway serf. Her mother was from what is now Latvia. Her parents died when she was young, and she was taken in, either by an aunt, or a by a Lutheran pastor, for whom she served as a maid. At the age of 17, she was married off to a Swedish dragoon.
So, how did someone from such humble beginnings rise to be empress of all of Russia? Well, Marta had one thing going for her: apparently, she was super hot. One by one, she exchanged lovers, before joining the household of Peter's best friend Alexander Menshikov. From there, the czar was just one step away. Peter was taken so much that he married her twice: first in secrecy and then officially. Marta converted to Orthodoxy, changed her name to Catherine, and, after Peter died in 1724 without naming a successor, took over.
As miraculous as that rise was, what's she doing on our website? Well, those mysterious origins leave all kind of open questions, specifically about her father. His name was Samuel, which apparently leads some to believe that she was somehow Jewish.
We're not buying it.