The Great, currently streaming on Hulu, follows the somewhat true tale of Catherine the Great’s rise to power. It does say that it is an occasionally true story, and fans often have difficulty differentiating between what is fact and fiction. The creators have managed to include various aspects of her life into a single tale that puts a unique spin on this incredible woman.
Understanding what is historically accurate regarding the various characters and events in any period show can be difficult, and many viewers may be inclined to think that most of what they’re watching is accurate, when it’s not. In the case of The Great, the show got a surprising amount of historical details correct.
Updated on September 3rd, 2022 by Stuart Kilmartin: With a third season of The Great currently in the works at HULU, and set to debut sometime in 2023, it’s a perfect moment to revisit the previous two seasons of the hit historical period show. How accurate is The Great? In totality, not a lot. While the black comedy-drama series is quite open with its fantastical artistic interpretations of Russian historical events and characters, there are some things about the series that are grounded in real historical fact.
Peter III Was An Alcoholic
Fans of The Great are aware that Peter III is constantly seen with a glass in hand and often in attendance of some crazy parties. This was historically accurate (via Britannica) as the real Peter II was an alcoholic, and this show helps depict this side of him very well.
He is also described in historical texts as being quite neurotic, which the show also portrays as he has an affinity to kill rather than seek out the truth.
Catherine The Great Was Well-Read
Catherine the Great was a well-read woman as she enjoyed various texts throughout her life, especially ones that would guide her as a future empress (via Britannica).
This is depicted within the series, as she was always seen with a book in hand and even helped teach a young serf in how to read. It also spoke of her intelligence and likability as one of The Great’s best characters as much of what she read helped her create plans and ideals that she would one day instill in Russia.
Ivan VI Was Really Killed
Fans first met Ivan VI when rumors circulated in the show that Peter III’s half-brother was still alive and could stake a claim to the throne. He was killed during the coup that put Catherine the Great into power, but not in the way that the show depicts.
In reality (via Britannica), Ivan VI was in his twenties when those against Catherine’s rule attempted to break him out of the prison he was being kept in. Unfortunately, this ended in his death.
Catherine The Great Wanted To End Serfdom
When Peter III fell ill, and Catherine the Great had her first taste of power. With this newfound position and authority, she mentioned her desire to end serfdom. The council laughed at her and explained the economic consequences it would have on their society.
This relates back to the real ruler as it was her desire to end this practice (via Britannica), but in the end, it wasn’t a practical goal. She needed the support of the nobles who owned them to stay in power, and she eventually even strengthened the system that she originally sought to destroy.
Catherine The Great Loved European Philosophy
It was already mentioned how Catherine the Great loved to read, but many of her choices focused on the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. The Great had her even meeting one of her favorites — the French writer and philosopher Voltaire — and she often mentions several others throughout the series.
It is also historically accurate that these European philosophers helped to shape the reforms that she attempted to implement in Russia.
Peter III Wanted To Be A Great Military Leader
Peter III has done some truly terrible things in The Great. He’s also depicted as someone who’s yearning for any sort of military win and accomplishment, which is exactly how he was during his life as well (via Biography.com).
He wanted to be a military legend who won battles and had numerous victories that proved his worth as emperor. The show even has Peter III taking medals from Velementov to make himself look more successful than he actually is in this endeavor.
Catherine The Great Gained The Support Of The Military & Nobility
A major part of the coup that Catherine the Great planned throughout The Great involved her obtaining the support of various groups. The two most prominent who enabled her to take power were the military and nobility, which is historically accurate (via Biography.com).
The real empress made sure to secure the military by having an affair with one of the officers who ensured her rise to power. She also had the nobility already under her control, as actual historical fact shows that she had already been married to Peter III for years before he became emperor, although, he was forced out in just six short months.
Catherine the Great Had A Lover
Leo Voronsky features in The Great as Catherine’s lover, but the truth is that she had several throughout her lifetime (via Britannica). Leo himself did not exist, but history does tell that she had at least three different lovers, making this part of the story historically accurate. It could be said that Leo is just a summary of these suitors rather than any specific man.
It was already mentioned how she was having an affair with a military officer during the time of her coup, and that man was named Gregory Orlov, who is the most prominent in her historical love life.
Catherine The Great’s Heir Was Named Paul
The final episode of season one of The Great shows a pregnant Catherine the Great, and she mentions to Peter III how she will name him Paul. This is historically true (via Biography.com) as her firstborn son was in fact named this, although many speculate whether it was actually Peter III’s heir.
He eventually became the emperor following Catherine the Great’s reign, and he didn’t make it five years before he was assassinated by the nobility.
The Coup Had Peter Abdicating His Throne
Peter III was forced from his position as he abdicated his throne, which is exactly what Catherine the Great suggested he do at the end of The Great’s final episode of season one (via Britannica).
The Great has not yet shown Peter’s untimely end following Catherine’s coup, but this could be something season three focuses on.