We Fact-Checked the Wildest Details From ‘The Great’ on Hulu

The Great
Photo: Hulu.

Warning: Spoilers ahead for Hulu’s The Great season 1. Elle Fanning makes an incredible Catherine the Great in Hulu’s new comedy, The Great, but is it really historically accurate? Details like Catherine’s (alleged) sex with a horse make us wonder how true The Great on Hulu is to the real story about the Russian ruler.

The Great, which premiered on Hulu on May 15, is a satirical, comedic drama about the rise of Catherine the great, the longest reigning female ruler in Russia’s history. The series starts with Catherine as an idealistic, romantic young girl who arrives in Russia from Germany for an arranged marriage to Emperor Peter (Nicholas Hoult). Little does she know that Peter, for a lack of a better word, is a douchebag and not the romantic husband she expected. And so she decides to plan a coup to overthrow peter so she can be the Empress of Russia. All it takes is that she needs to convince the military, the court and the church to side with her. Oh, and she needs to kill her husband. No biggie.

Written by the screenwriter of 2018’s The Favourite, The Great is a historical dramedy laced with jokes and profanities. But how accurate is it? Find out ahead.

The Great is available to stream on Hulu.

Who’s Catherine and Peter’s Son Paul?

In The Great, Catherine learns that she and Peter are expecting a baby boy, who they’ve named Paul. When Catherine overthrows Peter at the end of the series, she’s still pregnant and hasn’t given birth to Paul yet. However, in real life, Paul was born six years before Catherine becomes the ruler of Russia. In real life, the court also considered making Paul the leader of Russia after several higher-ups deemed Peter unfit to rule. In The Great, it seems that Paul inspired the character for Peter’s estranged bastard brother, who is brought to the court after Peter is poisoned and many thought he would die. Peter’s brother proved an issue to Catherine in the series, who considered killing the boy.

Did Catherine Really Have an Affair With Leo?

From the first episode of The Great, it’s clear that Catherine and Peter aren’t in love with each other. And so they start to have affairs with other people. Catherine, for her part in the series, has a romantic relationship with Leo, a man that Peter brought to the court to satisfy his wife sexually. To his surprise, Leo and Catherine had a real romantic connection. But is Leo a real person? From the looks of it, it doesn’t seem like Catherine had a known affair with anyone named Leo. Who the character is likely inspired by is Grigory Orlov, Catherine’s main lover (though the empress had many), who likely fathered her son, Paul. At the end of The Great, Catherine tells Peter that she’s pregnant with his son, but it’s hinted that the baby is actually Leo’s.

Was Marial Catherine’s Real Lady-in-Waiting?

When Catherine moves to Russia and marries Peter, she’s appointed a lady-in-waiting named Marial, who becomes her best friend and confidant. In The Great, Marial is the one who first suggests the idea for Catherine to overthrow Peter, which the empress runs with. However, according to History.com, it seemed like Catherine’s secret lover, Gregory Orlov, who she worked closely with to win the Russian military’s support, was the key member of her inner circle to convince her of the coup against Peter. As for Marial, the character is based on Maria Choglokova, a noble who became Catherine’s lady-in-waiting when she came to Russia.

Did Catherine Do It With a Horse?

A recurring joke between Catherine and the women of the court in The Great is that she fucked a horse before she came to Russia to marry Peter. While it’s never been confirmed if the rumor is true, the storyline is based on an urban legend about Catherine the Great. After she passed away at the age of 67 in 1796, there was a rumor that went around that she died from having sexual intercourse with a horse. According to the urban legend, she was killed when the the harness that held the horse above her broke and the animal fell and crushed her. In The Great, the rumor isn’t about Catherine’s death but about her alleged love affair with a steed before she married Peter. Like in real life, the rumor isn’t confirmed in the show, but the writers still had a lot of fun with cheeky scenes that hinted at Catherine’s fondness for horses.

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