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Christian August, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst (November 29, 1690 – March 16, 1747) was a German Prince of the House of Ascania, and the father of Empress Catherine II the Great of Russia.

He was a ruler of the Principality of Anhalt-Dornburg. From 1742, he was a ruler of the entire Principality of Anhalt-Zerbst. He was also a Prussian Generalfeldmarschall.

Generalfeldmarschall (English: general field marshal, field marshal general, or field marshalen); was a rank in the armies of several German states and the Holy Roman Empire, in the Habsburg Monarchy, the Austrian Empire and Austria-Hungary. The rank was the equivalent to Großadmiral (English: Grand Admiral) in the Kaiserliche Marine and Kriegsmarine, a five-star rank, comparable to OF-10 in today’s NATO naval forces.

Life

Christian August was the third son of Johann Ludwig I, Prince of Anhalt-Dornburg (1656 — 11704) and Christine Eleonore of Zeutsch (1666–1699). After the death of his father in 1704, Christian August inherited Anhalt-Dornburg jointly with his brothers Johann Ludwig II, Johann August (died 1709), Christian Ludwig (died 1710) and Johann Friedrich (died 1742).

After possibly six months as a captain in the regiment guard in 1708, on February 11, 1709 he joined the Regiment on foot in Anhalt-Zerbst (No. 8) which later changed its name to the Grenadier’s Regiment by King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia. The regiment was stationed in Stettin.

In 1711, Christian August was awarded the Order De la Générosité, later renamed in Pour le Mérite, and on March 1, 1713 was elevated to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. After he took part in several military campaigns during the Spanish War of Succession and in the Netherlands, in 1714 Christian August was appointed Chief of the Regiment; two years later, on January 4, 1716 he was named colonel and on August 14, 1721 became major-general.

On 22 January 1729 he became commander of Stettin, after having been chosen there on May 24, 1725 as a knight of Order of the Black Eagle. Christian August was designated on May 28, 1732 lieutenant-general and on April 8, 1741 infantry general. On June 5, of that year he was designated Governor of Stettin. On May 16, 1742 King Friedrich II of Prussia awarded him the highest military dignity, the rank of Generalfeldmarschall.

Six months later, the death of his cousin Johann August, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst, without any issue made him and his older and only surviving brother, Johann Ludwig II, the heirs of Anhalt-Zerbst as co-rulers. Christian August remained in Stettin and his brother took full charge of the government, but he died only four years later, unmarried and childless. For this reason, Christian August had to leave Stettin and return to Zerbst, but he only reigned four months until his own death.

Marriage and issue

On November 8, 1727 in Vechelde, Christian August married Johanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp (October 24, 1712 – May 30, 1760) the daughter of Christian August, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, Prince of Eutin and Albertina Frederica of Baden-Durlach, by birth member of the influential House of Holstein-Gottorp. It is said that a father-daughter like relationship developed between Johanna Elisabeth and her husband. Johanna Elisabeth was the sister of King Adolf Frederik of Sweden.

Christian August and Johanna Elisabeth had five children:

Sophie Auguste Fredericka (May 2, 1729 – November 17, 1796), who later became Catherine II the Great, Empress of Russia.

Wilhelm Christian Friedrich (November 17, 1730 – August 27, 1742).

Friedrich August (August 8, 1734 – March 3, 1793).

Auguste Christine Charlotte (November 10, 1736 – November 24, 1736).

Elisabeth Ulrike (December 17, 1742 – March 5, 1745).

Catherine II (born Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst), most commonly known as Catherine the Great, was the last reigning Empress Regnant of Russia from 1762 until 1796—the country’s longest-ruling female leader. She came to power following the overthrow of her husband and second cousin, Peter III. Under her reign, Russia grew larger, its culture was revitalised, and it was recognised as one of the great powers of Europe.