Already at the very beginning of his rise, Potemkin showed himself to be a cunning strategist and director, who carefully thought through the dramaturgical intrigue around his relationship with the empress. The key point in the history of the final conquest of Catherine's heart was a kind of theatrical “performance”, with the help of which Potemkin managed to get his beloved to decide on a final explanation. Catherine at that moment, being in an atmosphere of oppressive conflict between her previous favorite, General Orlov and Count Panin, makes Alexander Vasilchikov his official “favorite” of the Cornet. He was the first favorite of the Empress, much younger than her - between them there was 17 years of difference, also a prominent handsome man, and completely disinterested - he had little use of his position close to the ruler. Catherine, however, was bored, because intellectual conversations with the young chamberlain did not succeed.
Cornet Alexander Semenovich Vasilchikov - 2 years was a favorite of Catherine II
At the end of January, Potemkin, who still did not play any significant role in the empress, decided that he should act. Potemkin pointedly states that he is no longer interested in worldly glory, and therefore for spiritual enlightenment, he retires to the monastery. His “monastic cell” is located in the tomb of Peter the Great, Alexander Nevsky Monastery, then the outskirts of St. Petersburg, where even during his reign the Tsar Reformer suffered the remains of the legendary old Russian prince. There, Potemkin, having grown a beard, in between prayers and fasting, received numerous court guests, including the Empress's attorney in love affairs, Countess Bruce, who passed on Potemkin's passionate love messages to Catherine, who answered her in the same, theatrical playful spirit, writing in its honor that humorous fable, or operatic aria. Potemkin's calculation turned out to be true: under the guise of a trip to a pilgrimage, the empress visits the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, where in one of the cells he finds prostrate on the floor, leaning over Potemkin, who in prayer ecstasy prayed for forgiveness before the icon of St. Catherine. The finale of this marvelous production in its drama is predictable, just like the well-made salon tearful comedies of that time.
From that moment on, Potemkin became one of the main figures of his century. “A completely new spectacle opens here,” reported the English envoy Sir Robert Gunning to London Earl Suffolk, the Minister for Northern Europe, “in my opinion, deserving more attention than all the events that took place here from the very beginning of this reign.”
The apogee of their relationship as lovers was a secret marriage, held according to various sources in the years 1774-1775. This morganatic marriage became the second precedent after the famous secret wedding of Elizaveta Petrovna with her favorite, the former Ukrainian shepherd Alexei Razumovsky. Inspired by the victory over rebel Yemelyan Pugachev, who had shaken stability in the empire (Potemkin had great significance here), Catherine decided to consolidate her success in the love sphere. Potemkin’s private quarters in the Winter Palace were located directly above the Empress’s bedroom. Wanting to visit Catherine, Potemkin at any time, day or night, had to climb a spiral staircase, lined with green carpet (it was believed that green was the color of love). By the way, the staircase connecting the apartments of Louis XV with boudoir of his mighty favorite Marquise de Pompadour had the same appearance - undoubtedly a tribute to the fashion and manners of the era.
From the very first days of the novel with the majestic Ekaterina Potemkin put himself in an exceptional position: for example, he could not come to the sovereign's call, but he would come to her with a report without waiting for an invitation. Foreign ambassadors, who were at the Russian court, noted that Potemkin’s tastes were “barbaric, truly Muscovite”; He liked food “most of all people of the people, especially pies and raw vegetables” - and he kept these dishes by his bed. Such behavior, deliberately running counter to the adopted court rituals and lifestyle, resented both the nobles and scrupulous diplomats, however, feeling the precariousness of his position, Potemkin in the most necessary moments appeared in a flawless caftan or military uniform and held on very prim. One of his public "bad" habits was that he often, thinking, began to bite his nails, so that even the Empress herself jokingly called him "the first foot in the Russian Empire." Having posted in the Small Hermitage secret rules of conduct for especially close nobles who made up the empress's secret circle, Catherine, of course, specifically addressed Potemkin to the third item on this list: “Be cheerful, but don't spoil anything, break or chew anything”.
Daughter of Potemkin and Empress - Elizaveta Temkina in the portrait of Borovikovsky, 1798
A few years later, Potemkin loses power over the empress's body, although with her soul she remains loyal to him to the end. Possibly, it is such a deeply sincere cordial affection that explains Potemkin’s very peculiar position at the court, which, while remaining the main military and strategic adviser to Catherine, also becomes the supplier of new favorites for the empress. Thus, the cabinet secretary Peter Vasilyevich Zavadovsky became the first official favorite who shared the couch with Catherine, while Potemkin reigned in her soul, remaining her spouse, friend and first state official.
It is known that in 67 years of her life Catherine had at least twelve lovers, and each time, finding a new happiness, she hoped that now she had found him forever. That was the way the unusual love triangle “Catherine — Potemkin is a young favorite”, which ultimately formed the empress's “family”.
Potemkin shortly before his death, April 1791
In conclusion, speaking of the peculiar conscious “theatricalization” of Potemkin’s life, one cannot but mention the famous story about the “Potemkin villages”. This myth has long become a household word: each time, bearing in mind the toadies and officials of all stripes who are trying in every way to please the authorities and hide the general devastation, hastily putting out nonexistent achievements (shields in the form of houses, including vegetation) - they call this phenomenon by name Catherine's favorite and grandee. According to one of the versions, the legend was born from the essay of the Saxon diplomat Georg Gelbig, who returned from a trip to the Crimea in 1787 together with the empress, organized by Prince Potemkin. He published his memoirs four years later, in a negative vein by describing mythical villages, supposedly specially built for the arrival of Catherine. Some other authors also disseminated contradictory and not always reliable information, including on the Empress's love affairs, but, as they say, “there is no smoke without fire” - anything could be expected from Potemkin, who was inclined to theatricality.