The story of Count Orlov

The Man

Former Staff
Jul 2011
I just read a great historical article in our local Russian newspaper, found online where they copied it from (, and now want to share here the fascinating story of a fascinating man, Count (and later on - Duke) Grigory Orlov (October 6th, 1734 - April 13th, 1783; yep, just 48 years old, a short life, but, what a life he had lived)

Let's start with his family background.

His grandfather, Ivan Orlov, was a member of the Streltsy, know for their bright red uniform coats and hats, an elite branmch of the Russian military back then, the first units to be issued and trained to use fire arms, hence the name, which literally means "Shooters"; here, helping defend the city of, I believe, Smolensk, from Polish and Lithuanian knights who were invading Russia at the time

Hand picked Streltsy squads, armed with ceremonial (yet still lethally sharp) halberds, acted as bodyguards for the Tsar, escorting him everywere

By the time of Ivan Orlov, however, during the reign of Peter the Great, the guy who built St. Petersburg, Peter was pursuing all kinds of reforms aimed at Westernizing Russia, from making aristocrats and other prominent men to chop off their long beards, previous held as a status symbol for many centuries; to further integrating firearms training into his new military, making these skills more common and thus threatening the Streltsy's elite status, perhaps potentially reducing them to, at best, a ceremonial palace guard force, if not disbanding them altogether. Enraged, the Streltsy revolted. It was known as the Streltsy Rebellion of 1698.

The rebellion was put down. Afterwards, Peter indeed disbanded them forever, and executed many, some - actually himself, personally chopping their heads off, no joke, that's Russia

Ivan Orlov too was steps away from death, literally. The Tsar stood nearby, and the severed head of another Stretsy soldier rolled towards him. And the crazy bastard, Ivan, kicks the head of his former comrade back at Peter, and shouts at him, along the lines of, do your worst, you piece of shit, even I would make a better Tsar than you... The Tsar was, understandable, taken aback by this crazy insolence, to the point that he gained respect for Ivan, and not only spared him from execution that day, but granted him aristocratic title! So the legend goes, anyhow.

Anyhow, Grigory's father, Grigory Ivanovich Orlov (Sr.), was a renowned military officer, who had fought in wars against Turkey and Sweden

He was later made Governor of Novgorod region and, at the age of nearly 53, married a 16 year old girl named Lukeria Zinovieva, which caused quite a scandal, even in the 18th century lol He and Lukeria had 9 sons, of whom 4 died in childhood, of various diseases, as had happened back then; but 5 survived and grew up into big, stout men, in fact renowned for their physical strength and superb health, Grigory Jr. among them.

Count Orlov too distinguished himself in the military; he was involved in the Seven Years War, where Russia allied with France, Spain, and some Germans against Britain, Portugal, and other Germans lol

But, his real fame would come from his long and passionate affair with the Empress Catherine II.

Here, Pavel Trubiner portrays Orlov, just to the left of the throne, and Yulia Snigir - the Empress, in the Russian TV drama "Velikaya" ("The Great"), based on the Empress' biography

Ekaterina, or Catherine in the West, was a German, Prussian, princess, who married into the Romanov family and ended up inheriting the Russian throne upon the death of her husband, Peter II. She is remembered in Russian history as the "Wild Empress", who held crazy parties in her palaces, with her countless lovers lol (and also for originally annexing Crimea to Russia; and setting up the nation's first public school system; but, naturally, the boozy orgies are what comes to most people's minds, above all haha)

Orlov was her absolute favorite, her number one man. It was he who convinced her to invade and annex Crimea, among other things. Catherine was even going to marry Orlov, but it caused such an outrage with the public, that they dropped that idea, in the end.

Nonetheless, they actually had a bastard son together, Alexey

Catherine granted the lad his own aristocratic estate in the town of Bobriki, in Tula region

From the town, he took his new name, as Count Alexey Bobrinsky

The Bobrinsky dynasty would go on to become very prominent members of Russia's high society. Though, few people liked to mention exactly how the dynasty originated lol

However, while Orlov's romantic escapades with the Empress are stuff of legends and inspire TV dramas and musicals today

another part of his bio is far less known.

In 1771, Moscow was overrun by a horrible plague, reportedly brought in from abroad by troops returning from yet another war with Turkey.

Empress Catherine, her court, and many other rich and powerful people all evacuated to the Northern capital, St. Petersburg, and stayed safely in their palaces there; while Moscow was surrounded by troops and quarantined.

Inside the city, many people were dying, "hundreds every day"; and social order all but broke down, looting and rioting consuming the city.

Archbishop Amvrosiy, the head of the central diocese of the Orthodox Church, who had bravely stayed in the city, with his flock, and refused to evacuate with the royals and nobles, was murdered by crazed mobs in the chaos

He would be later canonized as a martyr by the Church...

The Empress sent Orlov, her most trusted guy, to lead the forces there, restore order and fight the plague. Orlov personally rode into the disease and violence-ridden city, against the pleas of his officers, who implored him to stay in the safety of his headquarters outside city limits. He visited hospitals (and on plenty of occasions personally helped deliver patients to them); brought food and other aid to people in need; and at least once convinced a rioting mob to disperse peacefully and return to their homes.

Overall, he played a huge role in beating down the plague. This, however, is rarely remembered today. Like many other nastier parts of Russian history, subsequent regimes, up to Putin now, prefer to not talk about them, including the Moscow Plague of 1771. As a result, Orlov is mostly remembered as Catherine's favorite boy toy... Really rather unfair, but, it is what it is lol

Anyway, Orlov eventually did get married too, to Ekaterina (yes, his new wife was named just like the Empress lol) Zinovieva

His own cousin.

The Church objected to the marriage and refused to bless it. However, interestingly, the Empress herself personally intervened and forced them all to accept the marriage. Moreover, she even welcomed the new Duchess Orlova to her palace, as one of the ladies of her court!

The marriage would sadly not last long, however, as Ekaterina Orlova would be stricken down by some disease too. After her death, Grigory Orlov went insane from grief, and lived out the rest of his days (3 years, to be exact) as a recluse at his rural estate, reportedly walking around and muttering to himself that "this is all a punishment for my sins"...

Amazing. To live such a life, in just 48 years... lol
Jan 2016
There are stories that Catherine the Great really loved her horses, too.

As in REALLY loved them, you know.

I guess the French have been accused of spreading these salacious rumors.....
Likes: The Man

The Man

Former Staff
Jul 2011
There are stories that Catherine the Great really loved her horses, too.

As in REALLY loved them, you know.

I guess the French have been accused of spreading these salacious rumors.....
lol She definitely liked men, but I'm not so sure about horses haha Who knows though... The royals were screwed people back then :D

Wouldn't surprise me if it was the French who made that shit up though. Marie Antoinette probably WAS into animals :)