Widespread rumors about Catherine engaging in aberrant sexual practices became a way of saying that Catherine herself was an aberration, a freak of nature.
Catherine the Great actually expired alone and of natural causes. On the morning of 5 November 1796, Catherine arose, drank coffee, and sat down to write. About three hours later her chamberlain, curious that he had not been summoned as usual, found her barely conscious on the floor of a closet adjacent to her bedroom. As her servant summoned help, Catherine lapsed into unconsciousness from which she never awakened and died the next day. An autopsy conducted the next day determined the cause of death to be a cerebral hemorrhage.
After her death , her enemies at court began spreading various rumors about Catherine’s final days. Some claimed that the all-powerful ruler had died while on the toilet. Others took their lurid storytelling even further, perpetuating a myth that has endured for centuries: that Catherine, whose lustful life was an open secret, had died while engaging in a sex act with an animal, usually believed to be a horse. Of course, there is no truth to this rumor.
Exactly when and where the story about Catherine’s death having been caused by a horse originated remains unknown, As one of her biographers wrote, the “implications of the horse story appear aimed at undercutting Catherine’s claims to greatness, by aggressively asserting that her primary motivation was unbridled sex, the excesses of which resulted in her monstrous death.”
History regards Catherine as a powerful ruler who saved Russia from almost certain invasion and annexation by her stronger neighbors. Under her, the country prospered, schools were established, laws enacted, wars fought and won. Yet to do all this, the former German princess had to first wrest control from her insane husband, which she did by staging a coup and declaring herself empress. While her success as a monarch lies at the heart of the various bestiality rumors circulated about her, so too does her overthrow of her husband, because both were viewed in her lifetime and beyond as unnatural — women of that era were held to be biologically inferior and thus incapable of leading nations with any success, and wives were put on this Earth to be subservient to husbands, not to dethrone them. (Remember, women of those times who killed their husbands were guilty not of murder but of petite treason, a legal term that makes it abundantly clear what the proper relationship between husband and wife was supposed to be.)