5. Catherine II of Russia (1729-1796)
For 34 years, Catherine II, or Catherine the Great, presided over Russia, the largest country in the world, and brought the Enlightenment to the country. A Polish born, Lutheran princess, Catherine was groomed to marry Peter III, heir to the Russian throne. She learned to speak Russian and converted to the Russian Orthodox faith before her marriage. Her new husband, however, was immature and annoying.
In 1762, Catherine stages a coup and took power from her husband. She was named Empress of Imperial Russia. Her goal was to create a modern Russia with close ties to the West. She also expanded Russia’s holdings, stretching the country to three continents, Asia, Europe, and North America. Many of her radical changes angered her subjects, but Catherine successfully suppressed any rebellion against her.