Born On: April 21, 1729
Born In: Stettin, Germany
Died On: 1796
Career: Empress, Ruler
Nationality: German (Russian after marriage)
Catherine the Great, also known as Catherine II, the Russian Empress, ruled from 1762 to 1796. She is credited for bringing Russia “out of the small pond and into a bigger ocean - the modern world”. She was intelligent and ambitious and defined the term “beauty with brains” perfectly. She improved Russian administration, expanded the Russian Empire, and implemented the policy of Westernization. She promoted modernization within the context of her autocratic control over Russia, and by increasing the control of landed gentry over serfs. She also encouraged education and enlightenment among the elites. She was well known for having a good relationship with many famous figures of the Enlightenment in Europe. She was sexually insatiable and is often remembered for many lovers. Under her wing, Russia grew and became stronger and rivaled the great powers of Asia and Europe. Read on to know about the profile, childhood, life and timeline of Catherine the Great.
Catherine II was born in Germany on April 21, 1729, as Sophia Augusta Frederica. She was born a princess, daughter of Prince Christian August of Anhalt-Zebst and Princess Johanna Elizabeth of Holstein-Gottorp. Catherine’s parents had longed for a son, thus they did not show much affection towards their daughter. In her childhood, she was more attached to her governess Babette. Catherine was so close to her that she described her as “the kind of governess every child should have”.
Like all other elites, her education mainly involved the study of religion (Lutheranism), French, German, history and music. At the naïve age of about fifteen, she visited Russia at the invitation of Empress Elizabeth to meet the Grand Duke Peter, the inheritor of the throne.
Catherine married the grandson of Peter the Great, the young Grand Duke Peter, in 1745. They both fell for each other when she met him on her visit to Russia, and got married soon after she converted to the Russian Orthodox Christian faith. To everyone’s amazement, the marriage turned out to be very ugly with little traces of affection and love left in the relationship for long. After sometime, they both were disloyal to each other. It is believed that during her husband’s lifetime, she had 3 lovers. Whether Paul and Anna, Catherine’s children, were really from her marriage to Peter or not, still remains a mystery. In one of the letters, Catherine wrote that she was more attracted to the "Crown of Russia," which Peter would eventually wear, than to "his person."
Nevertheless, she did not let her ugly marriage overshadow her political and intellectual interests. She was a sharp-witted and cultured woman and she showed lot of interest in reading, mainly French. She was fond of plays, novels and verse, but was predominantly interested in the writings of the major figures of the French Enlightenment such as Voltaire, Diderot and Montesquieu. Catherine was a very bold and outspoken personality. Russia flourished in all the aspects under her rule. However, as she grew older she was in great dilemma because her heir, Paul, was becoming unstable and was losing his ability to rule. She considered naming Alexander, Paul’s oldest son, as her successor but sadly, she died of a stroke before she could do so.
Path To Accession
After Empress Elizabeth’s death on December 25 1761, Peter was declared Emperor Peter III and Catherine became the empress. In a short span of time, after becoming the Emperor, Peter made a lot of enemies within the church, government and military. Thus people started plotting against him to overthrow him. On 28 June 1762, Catherine, with the help of her lover Gregory Orlov, declared herself as the sole ruler of Russia by getting Peter arrested and made him renounce his power. Peter, however, was killed soon after his arrest, when he got into an ugly fight with his captors. As soon as Catherine came to power, her first few years of reign were focused on securing her position. She was aware of the fact that a lot of influential people envied her and considered her a ‘cheater’ who snatched power illegally.
Battles, Treaties And Pacts
She fought a battle against Turkey in 1768, to emphasize the importance of national grandeur. This was aimed at encouraging loyalty towards one's country. Catherine realized that she needed to gain more control over the people and thus she concentrated on strengthening a system that she had herself once called “inhuman”. Catherine made peace with Turkey which afforded Russia major rights over the Black Sea coast. Russian merchant ships were granted permission to sail on the Black Sea and through the Dardanelles, a major waterway in Europe. In the year 1783 she signed the Treaty of Georgievsk with King Herekle and made Kartli-Kakheti a protectorate of the Russian empire.
Catherine’s Policies And Achievements
Later, during her rule, she reduced the clergy’s powers and continued to maintain friendly relations with France, Austria and Prussia. In 1763, she released her manifesto, inviting immigration into Russia from Western Europe. In 1764, she marked Poland’s borders and appointed one of her old lovers as the king of Poland. Catherine knew that she needed to extend the period of peace in order to contemplate over domestic affairs. This peace could be gained only through foreign policy. She had put Nikita Panin in charge of foreign affairs. By 1764, Catherine felt confident to begin work on reforming the social condition of her country.
- In June 1767, she created the Legislative Commission to modify the old laws in accordance with her “instructions.” She also formed a group of delegates the same year to create a constitution and consider people’s wishes and ideas. Regrettably, the idea was considered too liberal and reaped nothing.
- Russia’s legal system was based on a disorganized Code of Laws in use from the year 1649. Catherine gave an idea for a very advanced legal system. The idea was that the system would provide equal protection to everyone under the law. She also gave ideas on preventing criminal acts rather than the handing out of harsh punishments.
- In 1775, she introduced a new system of local government.
- In 1786, Catherine made a plan that would help her create a large scale educational system. She was very keen on expanding the country’s academic structure, but unfortunately due to some reasons, she could not carry out the entire plan. However, she did introduce some elementary and secondary schools into the country’s educational infrastructure. Some of the unfinished plans were carried out after her death.
- During Catherine’s reign, the arts and science were also revived. She believed that by accelerating in these two fields, Russia could earn a reputation as a center of civilization. St. Petersburg was turned into a stunning capital under her rule. Music, painting and theater thrived with her support.
Catherine the Great died on November 6, 1796 due to a stroke.
1729: Catherine The Great was born.
1762: Catherine became the ruler.
1763: She released her manifesto, inviting immigration into Russia from Western Europe.
1764: She marked Poland’s borders.
1767: She formed a group of delegates in order to create a constitution and consider people’s wishes and ideas.
1768: She fought a battle against Turkey.
1775: Catherine introduced a new system of local government.
1783: Treaty of Georgievsk was signed between King Herekle and Catherine the Great which made Kartli-Kakheti a protectorate of the Russian empire.
1796: Catherine the great died and was widely mourned.