Top 10 Facts Hulu’s The Great Got Right & Wrong

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Top 10 Facts Hulu's The Great Got Right & Wrong

VOICE OVER: Emily - WatchMojo WRITTEN BY: Savannah Sher
This show bills itself as “an occasionally true story,” but let's delve into the facts Hulu's “The Great” got right and wrong. For this list, we'll be fact-checking this comedy-drama about “Catherine the Great.” Our countdown includes Peter's parents, Catherine's passions, the coup, and more!
Transcript
This show bills itself as “an occasionally true story”, but just how many liberties ARE they taking with history? Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Facts Hulu’s The Great Got Right & Wrong.

For this list, we’ll be fact-checking this comedy-drama about “Catherine the Great”. Be warned, there will be spoilers.

#10: Catherine & Peter’s First Meeting
Wrong



One major element that’s altered in “The Great” is the historical timeline. On the show, we see Catherine traveling to Russia as a young woman to meet her future husband Peter III. In fact though, she was just 10 years old when she met him in real life, and he wasn’t much older. It’s interesting to note that she immediately disliked him, finding him pale and childish. He also wasn’t already Emperor when the two met like he is in the show. Of course, because they were both children upon their first meeting, they weren’t married right away, but waited until 1745 when Catherine was 16.

#9: Peter's Parents
Wrong


Another way “The Great” takes significant liberties with fact is in the Russian royal family’s lineage. On the show, Peter III (Catherine’s husband and the current Emperor) is said to be the son of Peter the Great, a legacy that he has a hard time living up to. In reality though, Peter the Great was Peter III’s grandfather, not his father. There’s also much talk on the show about Peter’s relationship with his mother, who we hear was cold and borderline abusive to him. But in real life Peter’s mother, Grand Duchess Anna Petrovna, died just weeks after his birth - so the two had no significant relationship and she didn’t have time to traumatize him.

#8: Catherine's Passions
Right


When we meet Catherine on the show, she’s seen as young and optimistic, with hopes of reforming Russia for the better. She’s interested in literature and progressive ideas and has a passion for education. In fact, in the show’s first episode, we see her take on the task of building a school for women after learning that the ladies at court can’t read. Unfortunately, Peter thwarts her efforts. In real life however, Catherine successfully founded two institutes for education, the Smolny Institute for Russian nobles and the Novodevichii Institute for commoners.

#7: Lemons as Contraception
Right


In the show’s sixth episode, we see Catherine panicking because the Emperor wants to sleep with her, but she desperately doesn’t want to get pregnant with his baby. What’s an 18th century lady to do? Well, her lady in waiting gives her the idea to try using a lemon top as a kind of diaphragm, which was also supposed to kill sperm with its acidity. According to the show’s creator Tony McNamara this was actually a historical method of birth control that was used before more sophisticated devices were invented. Don’t try this one at home though ladies!

#6: Peter III's Policies
Wrong


Peter III has gone down in history as something of a villain, largely because Catherine, who ultimately overthrew his rule, was the one who had control of the narrative. The show willingly paints him as the primary antagonist of the story and makes him seem like a stubborn ruler who was unwilling to consider progressive ideas. The reality is though, Peter actually reformed Russia for the better during his reign. Not only did he allow religious freedom but he also was a proponent of education. On top of that he also improved the policies of the Russian army and even abolished the notoriously violent secret police.

#5: Catherine Was Inoculated Against Smallpox
Right


In the show’s seventh episode, we see the Russian court struggling with a smallpox outbreak. In a dramatic scene near the episode’s end, Catherine stands up in front of the courtiers and infects herself with the disease in a primitive attempt at inoculation. While it didn’t go down exactly like this in real life, Catherine the Great was a pioneer in terms of encouraging Russian citizens to receive smallpox vaccines. And she was in fact inoculated herself by British Doctor Thomas Dimsdale, despite the fact that many believed it to be dangerous. Interestingly enough, all of this was written before the coronavirus pandemic, and was eerily relevant upon the show’s release.

#4: Sex in the Hallways
Probably Wrong


Series creator Tony McNamara recalls reading about how the upper classes would have sex in front of their servants because they were hardly regarded as being human, and he decided to incorporate this idea into the show in an even more over the top way. McNamara portrays the Russian court as morally loose and full of sex and violence. We see characters having sex in the palace hallways with seemingly no regard for whether anyone sees them. Peter even had sex with a man’s wife while the poor guy sleeps in a chair beside the bed. While these are not incidents based in reality, the intention was to create a portrait of a corrupt nobility.

#3: The Coup
Right & Wrong


The basic facts seen in “The Great” regarding Catherine’s coup to take the throne for herself and overthrow her husband are true, but the details get very muddled. First off, on the show we see Catherine begin to contemplate the coup shortly after arriving at the palace, but in reality they’d been married for 18 years before she forced him to abdicate. As on the show, he found out what she was planning, which accelerated the process. And in terms of what actually became of Peter III, we still don’t know. He died just days after the rule was passed to Catherine but there’s no confirmation as to what his cause of death truly was, with many speculating that he was assassinated.

#2: Peter & Catherine's Lovers
Right & Wrong


Just like we see on the show, Peter and Catherine’s marriage was filled with difficulty and they had little affection for one another. Both parties openly had other sexual partners during their marriage. But the actual people they were involved with were not the ones depicted on “The Great”. Georgina Dymova, the woman who we see Peter being involved with, was a character created for the show, and so was Leo Voronsky, Catherine’s lover. In real life, Catherine was involved with Sergei Saltykov, a member of the military, who was rumored to be the real father of Catherine’s son.

#1: Rumors About Bestiality
Right


Despite everything that she accomplished during her long reign, for many people the only memorable thing about Catherine the Great is the rumor that she engaged in sexual acts with a horse, which purportedly caused her death. On the show, they change the rumor around a bit, with a rival claiming that Catherine wasn’t a virgin upon her marriage because she’d experimented with bestiality. It was a bold move for the show’s creators to address this rumor head on, and they manage to give a commentary that draws to mind the way that powerful women are still slandered today.
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