Catherine II was Empress of Russia for more than 30 years. Born Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst on May 1729 in Stettin (now Szczecin in Poland), she became Catherine in 1745, after being received into the Russian Orthodox Church. She married Grand Duke Peter, grandson of Peter the Great and heir to the Russian throne.
The couple had a son, Paul, and in 1762 he became Tsar Peter III. When he was overthrown Catherine was declared empress. Peter was offed in suspicious circumstances, leaving Catherine to her own devices. She took lovers, bestowing power and gifts on them – one was handed 1,000 indentured servants. She became a patron of the arts – you can see a vast array of her nicknacks in the Hermitage Museum. But you won’t see artefacts from her salon full of furniture adorned with vaginas, penises and various scenes of sex. Well, so they say.
Catherine is often portrayed as the women who could find sexual dalliance but not fulfilment – thus the lurid legend about her being killed shagging a horse. (Powerful women are always maligned by their obvious sex – see the pornographic attacks on Marie Antoinette.)
However, there is some evidence of her racy salon at the Imperial Palaces of Tsarskoye Selo (nowadays Pushkin), near St. Petersburg. German soldiers claim to have found her secret cabinet during World War II, photographing the erotic art, rampant wooden phalluses and novelty tables and chairs. Alas the place was ransacked and lost forever. Maybe.
The haul is NSFW.