The patron of the epoch who built the grandest palaces was without a doubt Catherine II of Russia. With unlimited resources at her disposal, she could build colossal homes, grander than all the palaces of Europe. In fact, Catherine was only imitating her predecessor, Empress Elizabeth Petrovna, daughter of Peter the Great. The latter was truly one of a kind. She collected dresses and gowns, which would number in the thousands upon her death. She also had rather wild thoughts. Once, while signing an important treaty between Russia and a foreign power, after having already written “Eli”, a fly landed on the document, she raised the pen and didn’t complete her signature until six months later. She never married, although this did not prevent her from knowing love.


One day, while traveling through her empire, Elizabeth stopped by a small country church to hear the mass. During the service, she was struck by an angelic voice rising from the hidden choir singing the Psalms. After the service, she wanted to know whom the voice belonged to. A young man, a peasant and the son of a peasant, handsome and with a marvelous voice, was brought before her. The result: the Empress took the young man, Cyril Razoumovski, home with her. He quickly became her favorite; he was named minister and granted noble titles. Everyone admired him for his lack of pretensions, his kindness, his gentleness, and his discretion. It is said that he was wed to the Empress during a secret ceremony.


It the meantime, he had not forgotten his mother whom he left behind in the small village. Sometime later, the villagers witnessed the arrival of a splendid  cortege. A carriage straight out of a fairytale stopped just in front of the mother’s humble izba. Officers covered in gold and adorned with military stripes bowed to her, and entreated her to follow them. Panicked, hardly understanding what was going on, she was pulled into the carriage that soon set off for the Imperial Palace of Saint-Petersburg at a hurried pace. The ladies in waiting who received her found her in an unpresentable state, and decided to giver her a makeover. They undressed and washed the elderly peasant, clothed her in silk and satin, covered her with feathers, jewels, and lace. The poor mother Razoumovska was at once overwhelmed and terrified, wondering to herself what all this could mean. It was announced that she was to be presented to the Empress, who had been expecting her. The elderly Razoumovska began to tremble; it was all but necessary to carry her through the endless galleries of the palace. Suddenly, she noticed someone advancing towards her, a lady covered in lace, brocades, jewels, and feathers. It must be the Empress, and so Razoumovska bowed deeply. In reality, it was only her reflection that she had seen in a very tall mirror. In her court dress, she had not recognized herself.

by  Prince Michael of Greece