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Imprint: Oneworld Publications

Subject: History

The Empress and the English Doctor

How Catherine the Great defied a deadly virus

Lucy Ward


Shortlisted for the Pushkin House Book Prize 2022

‘Sparkling history…with a fairytale atmosphere of sleigh rides, royal palaces and heroic risk-taking’ The Times

A killer virus…an all-powerful Empress…an encounter cloaked in secrecy…the astonishing true story.

Within living memory, smallpox was a dreaded disease. Over human history it has killed untold millions. Back in the eighteenth century, as epidemics swept Europe, the first rumours emerged of an effective treatment: a mysterious method called inoculation.

But a key problem remained: convincing people to accept the preventative remedy, the forerunner of vaccination. Arguments raged over risks and benefits, and public resistance ran high. As smallpox ravaged her empire and threatened her court, Catherine the Great took the momentous decision to summon the Quaker physician Thomas Dimsdale to St Petersburg to carry out a secret mission that would transform both their lives. Lucy Ward expertly unveils the extraordinary story of Enlightenment ideals, female leadership and the fight to promote science over superstition.

‘A rich and wonderfully urgent work of history’ Tristram Hunt

  • Publication date: February 16, 2023
  • ISBN: 9780861545186
  • RRP: £10.99
  • Pages: 352
  • Publication date: April 7, 2022
  • ISBN: 9780861542451
  • RRP: £20.00
  • Pages: 352
  • Publication date: April 7, 2022
  • ISBN: 9780861542468
  • RRP: £10.99
  • Pages: 352


‘Informative, enthusiastically written and based on thorough research.’

BBC History Magazine

‘This gripping account of her deep friendship with an English doctor – and their battle to save the Russian people from the scourge of smallpox – shows [Catherine the Great] in an entirely different light.’

Daily Mail

‘Entertaining and well-researched.’

Financial Times

‘Mirroring so many of the vaccination issues of our modern age, as well as those of bodily autonomy, feminism, and power…a must-read.’

Jojo Moyes

‘Timely and engaging… A truly fascinating book that reads like a thriller.’

Venki Ramakrishnan, Nobel laureate and former president of the Royal Society

‘Lucy Ward has zoomed in on one of the more dramatic episodes in that dramatic century… vivid.’


‘A deft and captivating chronicle.’

Wall Street Journal

‘Lively and informative.’


‘An enthralling tale of two remarkable personalities who risked all for the benefit of mankind, and of a struggle between medical science and human instinct that could not be more relevant today.’

Adam Zamoyski

‘A rich and wonderfully urgent work of history which engagingly recounts one of the greatest moments in modern science and public health: a story of Enlightenment conviction, Court intrigue, Anglo-Russian relations, and timeless, personal bravery.  An expertly recounted eighteenth-century tale of political leadership and medical progress with obvious insights for today.’

Tristram Hunt, director of the Victoria and Albert Museum

‘So meticulously researched, well-paced and finely written is this tale of medical drama and royal daring that one quickly forgets that it is Lucy Ward’s first book. Her story is a remarkable one, full of contemporary resonance, but fascinating in its own right… a real page-turner.’

Matthew D’Ancona, Tortoise

‘In this fluent and enlightening account of the fight to eradicate the terrifying scourge of smallpox, Ward deftly describes how an English Quaker doctor, Thomas Dimsdale, played a crucial role as a pioneer of the new technique of inoculation… The Empress and the English Doctor is a gripping read and all the more timely and extraordinary for having been written in the midst of the Covid pandemic.’

Dr Helen Rappaport, bestselling author and historian

Lucy Ward

Lucy Ward is a writer and former journalist for the Guardian and Independent. As a Westminster Lobby correspondent, she campaigned for greater women’s representation. From 2010–12, she lived with her family in Moscow, renewing her interest in Russian history. After growing up in Manchester, she studied Early and Middle English at Balliol College, Oxford. She now lives in Essex.

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