Hulu’s The Great is a true story that is like, one out of every three times actually based on some loose truth. The series follows Catherine’s (later, the Great) rise in the Russian monarchy after overthrowing her husband, Peter III, from power and taking control herself. Over the span of 10 episodes, we see Catherine (Elle Fanning) slowly plot her coup with the help of some trusted aides and advisors, one of them being her assigned handmaiden Marial (Phoebe Fox). This, of course, begs the question if Catherine really did have a handmaiden who helped her seize power.
The short answer is: No. While there were certainly people by Catherine’s side helping her plan her coup, none ranked as “handmaiden.” That’s not to say that Catherine’s closest handmaidens weren’t clued in as to what was going to happen (they probably figured out what was going on behind closed doors in the palace), none were actually by Catherine’s side and ordered to actually kill people at the beginning of the seige, like Marial is instructed to do.
There’s also an interesting twist with Marial. Just prior to Catherine arriving in Russia, Marial was actually a noblewoman and member of the court herself. However, as she explains to Catherine in the very first episode of The Great, her father recently ticked off Peter III, and as punishment now she and her dad find themselves servants in the palace (as for her mother, we later learn she died of smallpox and the Archbishop — aka “Archie” — stepped in to help her, which is why they’re so close on the show).
Throughout the series, it becomes clear that Marial is not thrilled with her demotion in life and that she’s actually willing to risk everything to get her standing in the court back. Small spoiler — but also, some of it is history, so it’s not a major spoiler? — when Catherine finally sets her coup in motion, Marial uses it as a way to also regain her former status. In an attempt to save herself (and Catherine), Marial tells Peter about the coup.
Catherine learns Marial told Peter about the coup which is how it all begins to unravel in the closing moments of the final episode. Who knows what kind of ramifications that holds should the show come back for season 2...