Orlov, Grigory Grigorievich

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(17341783), count, prince of the Holy Roman Empire, soldier, statesman, imperial favorite.

Second eldest of five brothers born to a Petrine officer and official, Grigory Orlov had looks, size, and strength. His early years are little known before he won distinction at the battle of Zorndorf in 1758, where he fought the Prussians despite three wounds. He accompanied Count Schwerin and captured Prussian adjutant to St. Petersburg, where both met the "Young Court" of Grand Princess Catherine and Crown Prince Peter Fyodorovich. In the capital Orlov gained repute by an affair with the beautiful mistress of Count Pyotr Shuvalov. By 1760 intimacy with Catherine facilitated promotion to captain of the Izmailovsky Guards and paymaster of the artillery, crucial posts in Catherine's coup of July 11, 1762. Two months earlier she had secretly delivered their son, Alexei Grigorievich Bobrinskoi (17621813).

The Orlov brothers were liberally rewarded by the new regime. All became counts of the Russian Empire. Grigory became major general, chamberlain, and adjutant general with the Order of Alexander Nevsky, a sword with diamonds, and oversight of the coronation. He figured prominently in the reign as master of ordnance, director general of engineers, chief of cavalry forces, and president of the Office of Trusteeship for Foreign Colonists. Such political connections with Catherine did not bring marriage, however, because of opposition at court and her reluctance. He patronized many individuals and institutions, such as the scientist polymath Lomonosov, the Imperial Free Economic Society, the Legislative Commission of 17671768, and projects to reform serfdom. He publicly (and unsuccessfully) invited Jean-Jacques Rousseau to take refuge in Russia. He sat on the new seven-member imperial council established in 1768 to coordinate foreign and military policy in the Russo-Turkish war, where he favored a forward policy, volunteering his brother Alexei to command the Baltic fleet in Mediterranean operations.

This conflict spawned an incursion of bubonic plague culminating in the collapse of Moscow amid riots in late September 1771. Orlov volunteered to head relief efforts, restored order, reinforced antiplague efforts, and punished the rioters. Projecting composure in public, Orlov privately doubted success until freezing weather finally arrived. He was triumphantly received by Catherine at Tsarskoye Selo in mid-December with a gold medal and a triumphal arch hailing his bravery.

In 1772 Orlov headed the Russian delegation to negotiate with the Turks at Focsani, but he broke off the talks when his terms were rejected and, learning of his replacement in Catherine's favor, rushed back to Russia only to be barred from court. From his Gatchina estate he negotiated a settlement: a pension of 150,000 rubles, 100,000 for a house, 10,000 serfs, and the title of prince of the Holy Roman Empire. He kept away from court until May 1773, maintaining cordial relations with Catherine, on whom he bestowed an enormous diamond that she placed in the imperial scepter (and actually paid for). He supported her amid the crisis of Paul's majority and the Pugachev Revolt. With Potemkin's emergence as favorite in early 1774, however, Orlov and Catherine had a stormy falling out; he withdrew from public life and traveled abroad.

Upon return to Russia Orlov married his young cousin, Ekaterina Nikolayevna Zinovieva (17581781), whom the empress appointed lady-in-waiting and awarded the Order of Saint Catherine. She died of consumption in Lausanne, hastening Orlov's slide into insanity before death. Orlov's career advertised the rewards of imperial favor and consolidated the family's aristocratic eminence.

See also: catherine ii; military, imperial era; russo-turkish wars


Alexander, John T. (1989). Catherine the Great: Life and Legend. New York: Oxford University Press.

Alexander, John T. (2003). Bubonic Plague in Early Modern Russia: Public Health and Urban Disaster, rev. ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Baran, Thomas. (2002). Russia Reads Rousseau, 17621825. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Montefiore, Simon Sebag. (2000). Prince of Princes: The Life of Potemkin. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.

John T. Alexander

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