Perhaps I have been reading the wrong kind of scurrilous literature, but I have seen it asserted that the Empress Catherine the Great of Russia died from injuries received by committing unnatural acts with a stallion. Is there any truth in this assertion?
This claim doesn't seem to have any factual underpinning; none of the books about Catherine the Great support it. While I haven't read any of them, I did read the reviews on Amazon, and none mentioned such an event; some reviewers specifically point out that there are no records of Catherine the Great having equine sex partners.
In addition, a number of other on-line resources discuss this issue, and all come to the same conclusion, that this rumor is false.
Alexander's book goes on to explain (in paragraphs rarely quoted) how Catherine was laid in her bed as doctors tried to save her body and priests made rites to save her soul. Throughout she was racked with pain, her convulsing appearance causing great distress to her consorts. It was over twelve hours after Zotov found her, well past nine o'clock at night, that Catherine finally died of natural causes, in bed and surrounded by friends and carers.
From The Straight Dope:
The simple answer to your question is no, the rumor is not true. However, that won't stop us from repeating the rumor, to wit: that Catherine the Great, empress of Russia in the latter part of the 18th century, was crushed to death when attendants lost their grip on ropes supporting a horse that was being lowered on her for, ah, sexual purposes. This is without doubt the most outrageous story I heard during my entire college career, which is when you usually come across these historical tidbits.
The boring truth is this: Catherine the Great died of a stroke while sitting on the commode in the palace at St. Petersburg. Another less commonly circulated rumor has it that Catherine was so grossly fat (true in itself) that she broke the commode and died of blood loss from resultant injuries, but this is regarded as a fabrication also.
Catherine the Great actually expired alone and of natural causes. On the morning of 5 November 1796, Catherine arose, drank coffee, and sat down to write. About three hours later her chamberlain, curious that he had not been summoned as usual, found her barely conscious on the floor of a closet adjacent to her bedroom. As her servant summoned help, Catherine lapsed into unconsciousness from which she never awakened and died at 9:45 PM the next day. An autopsy conducted the next day determined the cause of death to be a cerebral hemorrhage.
I think it is safe to conclude that there is not a single speck of truth in the assertion.
Short answer is NO, NOT True.
Straight Dope has a good though un-sourced article on it: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/100/is-it-true-about-catherine-the-great-and-the-horse
Actual details of death (In bed, after a stroke) can be found, for example, in this book:
Rounding, Virginia (2007) "Catherine the Great: Love, Sex, and Power" (New York: St. Martin’s Press ISBN 9780312328870), pages 499-502
The reason the rumors are easy to believe is that she did, admittedly, lead a very active sexual life, taking many young lovers up to pretty advanced age. Wiki has all the sordid and not so sordid details.