On May 2, 1729, the woman who would become Catherine the Great was born as Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst in Stettin, Prussia (now known as  Szczecin, Poland) to a German family. After a largely uneventful childhood, at the age of 16 she married Karl Ulrich.

Karl Ulrich was the only son of Charles Frederick, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, and Anna Petrovna, Grand Duchess and oldest daughter of Peter the Great. The young man was brought from Germany to Russia by his aunt, the Empress Elizabeth, who named him Peter III and her heir. Elizabeth also arranged for Peter to marry Catherine, and they began their notoriously unhappy marriage in 1745.