Yekaterina Vorontsova-Dashkova : biography
Princess Yekaterina Romanovna Vorontsova-Dashkova () (28 March [17 March o.s.] 1743 – 15 January [4 January o.s.] 1810, though her memoirs list her birth date as 1744, they are footnoted as a "slip of the pen") was the closest female friend of Empress Catherine the Great and a major figure of the Russian Enlightenment. Her name was often spelt in English as Princess Dashkov.
Catherine’s coup d’état
While still a girl, she was connected with the Russian court, and became one of the leaders of the party that attached itself to the Grand Duchess Catherine Alexeyevna.
Before she was sixteen, she married Prince Mikhail Ivanovich Dashkov (1736–1764), a prominent Russian nobleman of Rurikid stock, in February 1759, and went to reside with him in Moscow. She learned Russian there to communicate with her in-laws. After the death of Prince Dashkov, she gave herself up to her children, to literature, and to politics. This source reports that Prince Dashkov died in 1761.
In 1762, she was at Saint Petersburg and took, according to her own account, the leading part in the coup d’état by which Catherine was raised to the throne; however, this was discounted by Catherine in her letters.Massie, Robert K., Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, (Random House) New York, NY, 2011. Another course of events would probably have resulted in the elevation of the Princess Dashkov’s elder sister, Elizabeth, who was the former emperor’s mistress, and in whose favor he made no secret of his intention to depose Catherine.
Born Countess Catherine Vorontsova, she was the third daughter of Count Roman Vorontsov, a member of the Senate, distinguished for her intellectual gifts. Her uncle Mikhail Illarionovich and brother Alexander Romanovich both served as Imperial Chancellors, while her brother Semyon was Russian ambassador to Great Britain, and a celebrated Anglophile. She received an exceptionally good education, having displayed from very early age the abilities and tastes which made her whole career so singular. She was well versed in mathematics, which she studied at the University of Moscow. In general literature, her favorite authors were Bayle, Montesquieu, Boileau, Voltaire and Helvétius.
Her relations with the new empress were not of cordial nature, though she continued to be devotedly loyal. She often disliked the men Catherine the Great chose to take as lovers, and often resented the graces and devotion shown to them by the Empress. Her blunt manners, her unconcealed scorn of the male favorites that in her eye disgraced the court, and perhaps also her sense of unrequited merit, produced an estrangement between her and the empress, which ended in her asking permission to travel abroad. Permission was granted, and shortly thereafter she departed, but remained a loyal supporter of Catherine, and the two women remained friends. The true cause of her request to leave was said to have been the refusal by Catherine the Great of her request to be appointed colonel of the imperial guards.
Her husband having meanwhile died, she set out in 1768 on an extended tour through Europe. She was received with great consideration at foreign courts, and her literary and scientific reputation procured her the entree to the society of the learned in most of the capitals of Europe.
In Paris, she secured the warm friendship and admiration of Diderot and Voltaire. She showed in various ways a strong liking for Britain and the British. She corresponded with Garrick, Dr. Blair, and Principal Robertson; and when in Edinburgh, where she was very well received, she arranged to entrust the education of her son, Pavel Michailovich, Prince Dashkov to Principal Robertson. She lived in Edinburgh from 1777 to 1779, and donated a collection of Russian commemorative medals to the University of Edinburgh., Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives Her son became an adjutant of Grigory Potyomkin., Sebag Montefiore, Macmillan, 2001, ISBN 978-0-312-27815-1