It was on this day (11 October) in 1739 that Grigory Potemkin, future lover and perhaps secret husband of Catherine the Great, was born. His name has lived on in popular parlance mainly thanks to the “Potemkin village,” which has obscured his true achievements.
Born in the provinces into a petty noble family, Potemkin first attracted Catherine’s notice during the coup in 1762 that brought her to the throne. Appearing on horseback and in uniform before a guards regiment, the story goes, Catherine found herself unable to take the salute properly because she was without a sword. The young Potemkin saw her difficulty and spurred forward to offer her his own sword. He evidently made an impression because she singled him out for promotion and reward throughout the next decade while she was still with Grigory Orlov, and then briefly with a handsome dullard named Vassilchikov.