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Catherine II of Russia

- Catherine the Great -

Ekaterina (or Yekaterina) II of Russia (April 21, 1729 - November 6, 1796), also known as Catherine the Great, was empress of Russia from 28 June 1762 to her death in 1796. Cousin to Gustav III of Sweden and Charles XIII of Sweden.

Table of contents

Life before becoming empress

Originally named Sophie Augusta Fredericka (and nicknamed Figchen), she was born in Stettin, Pomerania, to Christian Augustus, the prince of Anhalt-Zerbst in Germany. In 1744, Tsarina Elizabeth chose Sophie as the wife for her nephew, Peter, whom she intended to become her heir. Sophie changed her name to "Catherine" (Ekaterina or Yekaterina) when she accepted the Russian Orthodox faith. The marriage was not a happy one. Catherine soon became popular with powerful political groups which opposed her husband. Largely ignored, she read a great deal, including Voltaire and Montesquieu, and kept up-to-date on current events in Russia.

In 1762, after moving into the new Winter Palace in St.Petersburg, Peter succeeded to the throne as Peter III of Russia, but his eccentricities and policies alienated the same groups that Catherine had cultivated. Grigori Orlov[?], Catherine's lover at the time, headed a conspiracy that proclaimed Catherine the ruler, and Peter was murdered not 6 months after taking the throne, on July 17, 1762.

Internal policies Using the writings of Beccaria and Montesquieu, Catherine drew up a document to reform the code of laws. A legislative commission that represented all classes except the serfs was created to make this document the law, but she disbanded the commission before it took effect, possibly having turned more conservative as a result of the Pugachev[?] peasant uprising in 1773-1774.

Catherine reorganized the provincial administration, allowing the government to have greater control over rural areas because of the peasant revolt. This process was completed in 1775. This reform created provinces and districts, better able to be managed by the government. In 1785 a charter was issued that allowed the gentry to petition the throne as a legal body and that freed the nobles from state service and taxes while making their status hereditary. The charter also gave the nobles full control over their serfs and lands. In addition, Catherine gave land in the Ukraine to favoured nobles and granted them serfs. She also encouraged the colonization of Alaska and of conquered areas.

Foreign affairs In 1764 Catherine placed Stanislaus Poniatowski[?], a former lover, on the Polish throne. Russia gained the largest part of Poland when it was partitioned between Russia, Austria and Prussia. She made Russia the dominant power in the Middle East after her first war with the Ottoman Empire from 1768-1774. She attempted to partition the Ottoman Empire's European holdings in a manner similar to what happened in Poland, but achieved far less success. The Crimea was annexed in 1783, a mere nine years after it had been granted independence from the Ottoman Empire as a result of her first war with it. The Ottomans started the second war during Catherine's reign. This war lasted from 1787-1792 and ended with the Treaty of Jassy[?] which gave Russia legitimate claim to Crimea.

In the European theatre, Catherine played a large role during her reign, acting as a mediator in the War of the Bavarian Succession[?] between Prussia and Austria. In 1780 she created a group designed to defend independent ships from Great Britain during the American Revolution.

All told, she added about 200,000 square miles to Russian territory.

Arts and Culture Catherine subscribed to the Enlightenment and considered herself a "philosopher on the throne". She became known as a patron of the arts, literature and education. She wrote comedies, fiction and her memoirs, while making the acquaintance of Voltaire, Diderot and d'Alembert, all French encyclopedists who later cemented her reputation in their writings. She was able to lure the mathematician Leonhard Euler from Berlin back to Saint Petersburg.

When Radishchev published his Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow[?] in 1790, warning of uprisings because of the deplorable social conditions of the peasants held as serfs, Catherine had him banned to Siberia.

Personal life

She had a son, Paul, whom she did not like very much. He may have been fathered by Peter or by one of Catherine's lovers: Serge Saltykov is often thought to have been a likely candidate. Paul succeeded her to the throne as Paul I of Russia after her death. She was buried in the Saint Peter and Paul fortress in Saint Petersburg.

For more historical detail, see Russian Imperial Expansion and Maturation - Catherine II

External links:

Preceded by:
Peter III
List of Russian Tsars Succeeded by:

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