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Catherine II the Great
Empress and Autocrat of All the Russias
Reign 9 July [O.S. 28 June] 1762 to (17 November [O.S. 6 November] 1796
Coronation 12 September 1762
Predecessor Peter III
Successor Paul
Empress consort of All the Russias
Tenure 25 December 1761 – 9 July 1762
Consort to Peter III of Russia
Paul of Russia
Anna Petrovna
Aleksey Bobrinsky
Full name
Sophie Friederike Auguste
House House of Romanov
House of Ascania
Father Christian Augustus, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst
Mother Johanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp
Born 2 May 1729(1729-05-02)
Stettin, Pomerania, Kingdom of Prussia, HRE
Died 6 November 1796 (aged 67)
Saint Petersburg, Russia
Burial Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg

Catherine II (Russian: Екатерина II Великая, Yekaterina II Velikaya), also known as Catherine the Great, born 2 May [O.S. 21 April] 1729, reigned as Empress of Russia from 9 July [O.S. 28 June] 1762 until her death (17 November [O.S. 6 November] 1796). Under her direct auspices the Russian Empire expanded, improved its administration, and continued to modernize along Western European lines. Catherine's rule re-vitalized Russia, which grew ever stronger and became recognized as one of the great powers of Europe. Her successes in complex foreign policy and her sometimes brutal reprisals in the wake of rebellion (most notably Pugachev's Rebellion) complemented her hectic private life. She frequently occasioned scandal—given her propensity for lascivious relationships which often resulted in gossip flourishing within more than one European court. This gossip is seen as of 2010 by many as true, but historians regard almost all of these accusations as false.[citation needed]

Catherine took power after a conspiracy deposed her husband, Peter III (1728–1762), and her reign saw the high point in the influence of the Russian nobility. Peter III, under pressure from the nobility, had already increased the authority of the great landed proprietors over their muzhiks and serfs. In spite of the duties imposed on the nobles by the first prominent "modernizer" of Russia, Tsar Peter I (1672–1725), and despite Catherine's friendships with the western European thinkers of the Enlightenment (in particular Denis Diderot, Voltaire and Montesquieu) Catherine found it impractical to improve the lot of her poorest subjects, who continued to suffer (for example) military conscription.[1] The distinctions between peasant rights on votchina and pomestie estates virtually disappeared in law as well as in practice during her reign.

In 1775 Catherine decreed a Statute for the Administration of the Provinces of the Russian Empire. The Statute sought to efficiently govern Russia by increasing population and dividing the country into provinces and districts. By the end of her reign, there were fifty provinces, nearly 500 districts, more than double the government officials, and they were spending six times as much as previously on local government. In 1785 Catherine conferred on the nobility the Charter to the Nobility, increasing further the power of the landed oligarchs. Nobles in each district elected a Marshal of the Nobility who spoke on their behalf to the monarch on issues of concern to them—mainly economic ones. In the same year, Catherine issued the Charter of the Towns which distributed all people into six groups in order to control the power of nobles and create a middle estate. Each of these charters had major flaws and Catherine seemingly could not gain the reform she had long desired for her country, after her death this was made even more obvious through her son Paul.


Early life

Catherine's father Christian August, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst belonged to the ruling family of Anhalt, but entered the service of Prussia and held the rank of a Prussian general in his capacity as Governor of the city of Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland) in the name of the king of Prussia. Born as Sophia Augusta Frederica (German: Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg, nicknamed "Figchen") in Stettin, Pomerania, Catherine did have some (very remote) Russian ancestry[citation needed], and two of her first cousins became Kings of Sweden: Gustav III and Charles XIII. In accordance with the custom then prevailing in the ruling dynasties of Germany, she received her education chiefly from a French governess and from tutors.

The choice of Sophia as wife of her second cousin, the prospective tsar – Peter of Holstein-Gottorp – resulted from some amount of diplomatic management in which Count Lestocq, Peter´s aunt (the ruling Russian Empress Elizabeth) and Frederick II of Prussia took part. Lestocq and Frederick wanted to strengthen the friendship between Prussia and Russia in order to weaken the influence of Austria and to ruin the Russian chancellor Bestuzhev, on whom Tsarina Elizabeth relied, and who acted as a known partisan of Russo-Austrian co-operation.

The diplomatic intrigue failed, largely due to the intervention of Sophie's mother, Johanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp, a clever and ambitious woman. Historical accounts portray Catherine's mother as an emotionally cold and physically abusive woman who loved gossip and court intrigues. Johanna's hunger for fame centered on her daughter's prospects of becoming empress of Russia, but she infuriated Empress Elizabeth, who eventually banned her from the country for spying for King Frederick of Prussia. The empress knew the family well: she herself had intended to marry Princess Johanna's brother Charles Augustus (Karl August von Holstein), who had died of smallpox in 1727 before the wedding could take place. Nonetheless, Elizabeth took a strong liking to the daughter, who on arrival in Russia spared no effort to ingratiate herself not only with the Empress Elizabeth, but with her husband and with the Russian people. She applied herself to learning the Russian language with such zeal that she rose at night and walked about her bedroom barefoot repeating her lessons (though she mastered the language, she retained an accent). This resulted in a severe attack of pneumonia in March 1744. When she wrote her memoirs she represented herself as having made up her mind when she came to Russia to do whatever seemed necessary, and to profess to believe whatever required of her, in order to become qualified to wear the crown. The consistency of her character throughout life makes it highly probable that even at the age of fifteen she possessed sufficient maturity to adopt this worldly-wise line of conduct.

Princess Sophia's father, a very devout Lutheran, strongly opposed his daughter's conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy. Despite his instructions, on 28 June 1744 the Russian Orthodox Church received Princess Sophia as a member with the "new" name Catherine (Yekaterina or Ekaterina) and the (artificial) patronymic Алексеевна (Alekseyevna, daughter of Aleksey). On the following day the formal betrothal took place. The long-planned dynastic marriage finally occurred on 21 August 1745 at Saint Petersburg. Sophia had reached the age of 16; her father did not travel to Russia for her wedding. The bridegroom, known then as Peter von Holstein-Gottorp, had become Duke of Holstein-Gottorp (located in the north-west of present-day Germany near the border with Denmark) in 1739.

The newlyweds settled in the palace of Oranienbaum, which would remain the residence of the "young court" for many years to come.

Portrait by George Christoph Grooth of the Grand Duchess Ekaterina Alekseyevna around the time of her wedding, 1745
Tsar Peter III reigned only 6 months; he died on 17 July 1762

Count Andrei Shuvalov, chamberlain to Catherine, knew the diarist James Boswell well, and Boswell reports that Shuvalov shared private information regarding the monarch's intimate affairs. Some of these rumours included that Peter took a mistress (Elizabeth Vorontsova), while Catherine carried on liaisons with Sergei Saltykov, Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov (1734–1783), Stanisław August Poniatowski, Alexander Vassilchikov, and others. She became friends with Princess Ekaterina Vorontsova-Dashkova, the sister of her husband's mistress, who introduced her to several powerful political groups which opposed her husband.

Catherine read extensively and kept up-to-date on current events in Russia and in the rest of Europe. She corresponded with many of the prominent minds of her era, including Voltaire and Denis Diderot.

The reign of Peter III and the coup d'état of July 1762

After the death of the Empress Elizabeth on 5 January 1762 [O.S. 25 December 1761], Peter, the Grand Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, succeeded to the throne as Peter III of Russia, and his wife, Grand Duchess Catherine became Empress Consort of Russia. The imperial couple moved into the new Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg.

The new tsar's eccentricities and policies, including a great admiration for the Prussian king, Frederick II alienated the same groups that Catherine had cultivated. Besides, Peter intervened in a dispute between his Duchy of Holstein and Denmark over the province of Schleswig (see Count Johann Hartwig Ernst von Bernstorff).

Peter's insistence on supporting Frederick II of Prussia, who had seen Berlin occupied by Russian troops in 1760 but now suggested partitioning the Polish territories with Russia, eroded much of his support among the nobility. (Russia and Prussia fought each other during the Seven Years War (1756–1763) until Peter's accession.)

Equestrian portrait of the Grand Duchess Ekaterina Alekseyevna.

In July 1762, barely six months after becoming the Tsar, Peter committed the political error of retiring with his Holstein-born courtiers and relatives to Oranienbaum, leaving his wife in Saint Petersburg. On 13 July and 14 July the Leib Guard revolted, deposed Peter, and proclaimed Catherine the ruler of Russia. The bloodless coup succeeded; Ekaterina Dashkova, a confidante of Catherine who became President of the Russian Academy in 1783, the year of its foundation, seems to have stated[citation needed] that Peter seemed rather glad to have rid himself of the throne, and requested only a quiet estate and his mistress.

But three days after the coup, on 17 July 1762 – just six months after his accession to the throne – Peter III died at Ropsha, at the hands of Alexei Orlov (younger brother to Gregory Orlov, then a court favorite and a participant in the coup). Historians find no evidence for Catherine's complicity in the supposed assassination.[2] (Note that at that time other potential rival claimants to the throne existed: Ivan VI (1740–1764), in closed confinement at Schlüsselburg, in Lake Ladoga, from the age of 6 months; and Princess Tarakanova (1753–1775).)

Catherine, although not descended from any previous Russian emperor, succeeded her husband as Empress Regnant. She followed the precedent established when Catherine I (born in the lower classes in the Swedish East Baltic territories) succeeded her husband Peter I in 1725.

Legitimists debate Catherine's technical status: seeing her as a Regent or as a usurper, tolerable only during the minority of her son, Grand Duke Paul. In the 1770s a group of nobles connected with Paul (Nikita Panin and others) contemplated the possibility[3] of a new coup to depose Catherine and transfer the crown to Paul, whose power they envisaged restricting in a kind of constitutional monarchy. However, nothing came of this, and Catherine reigned until her death.

Foreign affairs

During her reign Catherine extended the borders of the Russian Empire southward and westward to absorb New Russia, Crimea, Right-Bank Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and Courland at the expense, mainly, of two powers – the Ottoman Empire and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. All told, she added some 200,000 miles² (518,000 km²) to Russian territory.

Catherine's foreign minister, Nikita Panin (in office 1763–1781), exercised considerable influence from the beginning of her reign. A shrewd statesman, Panin dedicated much effort and millions of rubles to setting up a "Northern Accord" between Russia, Prussia, Poland, and Sweden, to counter the power of the BourbonHabsburg League. When it became apparent that his plan could not succeed, Panin fell out of favor and Catherine had him replaced with Ivan Osterman (in office 1783–1797).

Catherine agreed a commercial treaty with Great Britain in 1766, but stopped short of a full military alliance.[4] Although she could see the benefits of Britain's friendship, she was wary of Britain's increased power following their victory in the Seven Years War which threatened the European Balance of Power.

Russo-Turkish Wars

While Peter the Great had succeeded only in gaining a toehold in the south on the edge of the Black Sea in the Azov campaigns, Catherine completed the conquest of the south that Peter had begun. Catherine made Russia the dominant power in south-eastern Europe after her first Russo-Turkish War against the Ottoman Empire (1768–1774), which saw some of the heaviest defeats in Turkish history, including the Battle of Chesma (5–7 July 1770) and the Battle of Kagul (21 July 1770).

The Russian victories allowed Catherine's government to obtain access to the Black Sea and to incorporate the vast steppes of present-day southern Ukraine, where the Russians founded the new cities of Odessa, Nikolayev, Yekaterinoslav (literally: "the Glory of Catherine"; the future Dnepropetrovsk), and Kherson.

A 1791 British caricature of an attempted mediation between Catherine (on the right, supported by Austria and France) and Turkey.

Catherine annexed the Crimea as late as 1783, a mere nine years after the Crimean Khanate had gained independence, guaranteed by Russia, from the Ottoman Empire as a result of her first war against the Turks. The palace of the Crimean khans passed into the hands of the Russians. The Treaty of Kutschuk Kainardzhi, signed 10 July 1774, gave to the Russians the "new" territories at Azov, Kerch, Yenikale, Kinburn and the small strip of Black Sea coast between the rivers Dnieper and Bug.

The Ottomans re-started hostilities in the second Russo-Turkish War (1787–1792). This war proved catastrophic for the Ottomans and ended with the Treaty of Jassy (1792), which legitimized the Russian claim to the Crimea.

Relations with Western Europe

Ever conscious of her legacy, Catherine longed for recognition as an enlightened sovereign. She pioneered for Russia the role that Britain would later play throughout most of the nineteenth and early twentieth century  – that of international mediator in disputes that could, or did, lead to war. Accordingly, she acted as mediator in the War of the Bavarian Succession (1778–1779) between Prussia and Austria. In 1780 she set up a League of Armed Neutrality designed to defend neutral shipping from the British Royal Navy during the American Revolution.

From 1788 to 1790, Russia fought in the Russo-Swedish War against Sweden, instigated by Catherine's cousin, King Gustav III of Sweden. Expecting to simply overtake the Russian armies still engaged in war against the Ottoman Turks and hoping to strike Saint Petersburg directly, the Swedes ultimately faced mounting human and territorial losses when opposed by Russia's Baltic Fleet. After Denmark declared war on Sweden in 1788 (the Theater War), things looked bleak for the Swedes. After the Battle of Svensksund in 1790, the parties signed the Treaty of Värälä (14 August 1790) returning all conquered territories to their respective owners, and peace ensued for 20 years, aided by the assassination of Gustav III in 1792.

The partitions of Poland

Catherine II of Russia

In 1764 Catherine placed Stanisław Poniatowski, her former lover, on the Polish throne. Although the idea of partitioning Poland came from the Prussian king Frederick the Great, Catherine took a leading role in carrying this out in the 1790s. In 1768 she formally became protectress of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, an event which provoked an anti-Russian uprising in Poland, the Confederation of Bar (1768–1772). After smashing the uprising she established in the Rzeczpospolita a system of government fully controlled by the Russian Empire through a Permanent Council under the supervision of her ambassadors and envoys.

After the French Revolution of 1789, Catherine rejected many of the principles of the Enlightenment which she had once viewed favorably. Afraid that the May Constitution of Poland (1791) might lead to a resurgence in the power of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and that the growing democratic movements inside the Commonwealth might become a threat to the European monarchies, Catherine decided to intervene in Poland. She provided support to a Polish anti-reform group known as the Targowica Confederation. After defeating Polish loyalist forces in the Polish War in Defense of the Constitution (1792) and in the Kościuszko Uprising (1794), Russia completed the partitioning of Poland, dividing all of the remaining Commonwealth territory with Prussia and Austria (1795).

Relations with Japan

In the Far East, Russians became active in fur-trapping in Kamchatka and in the Kuril Islands. This spurred Russian interest in opening trade with Japan to the south for supplies and food. In 1783 storms drove a Japanese sea-captain, Daikokuya Kōdayū, ashore in the Aleutian Islands, at that time Russian territory. Russian local authorities helped his party, and the Russian government decided to use him as a trade envoy. On 28 June 1791, Catherine granted Kōdayū an audience at Tsarskoye Selo. Subsequently, in 1792, the Russian government dispatched a trade-mission led by Adam Laxman to Japan. The Tokugawa government received the mission, but negotiations failed.

Arts and culture

Marble statue of Catherine II in the guise of Minerva (1789–1790), by Fedot Shubin.

Catherine's patronage furthered the evolution of the arts in Russia more than that of any Russian sovereign before or after her.

Catherine had a reputation as a patron of the arts, literature and education. The Hermitage Museum, which now occupies the whole of the Winter Palace, began as Catherine's personal collection. At the instigation of her factotum, Ivan Betskoi, she wrote a manual for the education of young children, drawing from the ideas of John Locke, and founded (1764) the famous Smolny Institute, admitting young girls of the nobility.

She wrote comedies, fiction and memoirs, while cultivating Voltaire, Diderot and d'Alembert – all French encyclopedists who later cemented her reputation in their writings. The leading economists of her day, such as Arthur Young and Jacques Necker, became foreign members of the Free Economic Society, established on her suggestion in Saint Petersburg in 1765. She lured the scientists Leonhard Euler and Peter Simon Pallas from Berlin to the Russian capital.

Catherine enlisted Voltaire to her cause, and corresponded with him for 15 years, from her accession to his death in 1778. He lauded her accomplishments, calling her "The Star of the North" and the "Semiramis of Russia" (in reference to the legendary Queen of Babylon, a subject on which he published a tragedy in 1768). Though she never met him face-to-face, she mourned him bitterly when he died, acquired his collection of books from his heirs, and placed them in the National Library of Russia.

Portrait of Catherine in an advanced age, with the Chesme Column in the background.

Within a few months of her accession in 1762, having heard that the French government threatened to stop the publication of the famous French Encyclopédie on account of its irreligious spirit, Catherine proposed to Diderot that he should complete his great work in Russia under her protection.

Four years later, 1766, she endeavoured to embody in a legislative form the principles of Enlightenment which she had imbibed from the study of the French philosophers. She called together at Moscow a Grand Commission  – almost a consultative parliament  – composed of 652 members of all classes (officials, nobles, burghers and peasants) and of various nationalities. The Commission had to consider the needs of the Russian Empire and the means of satisfying them. The Empress herself prepared the "Instructions for the Guidance of the Assembly", pillaging (as she frankly admitted) the philosophers of Western Europe, especially Montesquieu and Cesare Beccaria.

As many of the democratic principles frightened her more moderate and experienced advisers, she refrained from immediately putting them into execution. After holding more than 200 sittings the so-called Commission dissolved without getting beyond the realm of theory.

In spite of this, some later codes (such as the Statute of Local Administration 1775, the Code of Commercial Navigation and the Salt Trade Code of 1781, the Police Ordnance of 1782, the Charter to the Nobility and the Charter of the Towns of 1785, the Statute of National education of 1786) addressed some of the modernization trends implicit in Catherine's initial 1766 Nakaz. In 1777 the Empress described to Voltaire her legal innovations within an apathetic Russia as progressing "little by little".

During Catherine's reign, Russians imported and studied the classical and European influences which inspired the Russian Enlightenment. Gavrila Derzhavin, Denis Fonvizin and Ippolit Bogdanovich laid the groundwork for the great writers of the nineteenth century, especially for Alexander Pushkin. Catherine became a great patron of Russian opera (see Catherine II and opera for details).

When Alexander Radishchev published his Journey from Saint Petersburg to Moscow in 1790 (one year after the start of the French Revolution) and warned of uprisings because of the deplorable social conditions of the peasants held as serfs, Catherine exiled him to Siberia. (The same sort of censorship also happened at that time in many other European countries as a reaction to the civil violence in France.[citation needed])

Religious affairs

Catherine's apparent whole-hearted adoption of things Russian (including Orthodoxy) may have prompted her personal indifference to religion.[5] She did not allow dissenters to build chapels, and she suppressed religious dissent after the onset of the French Revolution.[5] Politically, Catherine exploited Christianity in her anti-Ottoman policy, promoting the protection and fostering of Christians under Turkish rule.[5] She placed strictures on Roman Catholics (ukaz of 23 February 1769), mainly Polish, and attempted to assert and extend state control over them in the wake of the partitions of Poland.[6] Nevertheless, Catherine's Russia provided an asylum and a base for re-grouping to the Society of Jesus following the suppression of the Jesuits in most of Europe in 1773.[6]

Personal life

Catherine, throughout her long reign, took many lovers, often elevating them to high positions for as long as they held her interest, and then pensioning them off with large estates and gifts of serfs. After her affair with her lover and capable adviser Grigori Alexandrovich Potemkin ended in 1776, he would allegedly select a candidate-lover for her who had both the physical beauty as well as the mental faculties to hold Catherine's interest (such as Alexander Dmitriev-Mamonov). Some of these men loved her in return, and she always showed generosity towards her lovers, even after the end of an affair. One of her lovers, Zavadovsky, received 50,000 rubles, a pension of 5,000 rubles, and 4,000 peasants in the Ukraine after she dismissed him in 1777.[7] The last of her lovers, Prince Zubov, 40 years her junior, proved the most capricious and extravagant of them all.[citation needed]

In her memoirs, Catherine indicated that her first lover, Sergei Saltykov, had fathered Paul, but Paul physically resembled her husband, Peter.[8] Catherine kept near Tula, away from her court, her illegitimate son by Grigori Orlov, Alexis Bobrinskoy (later created Count Bobrinskoy by Paul).[9]


Sir Charles Hanbury Williams, the British ambassador to Russia, offered Stanisław Poniatowski a place in the embassy in return for gaining Catherine as an ally. Poniatowski, through his mother's side, came from the Czartoryski family, prominent members of the pro-Russian faction in Poland. Catherine, 26 years old and already married to the then Grand Duke Peter for some 10 years, met the dashing 22-year-old Poniatowski in 1755, therefore well before encountering the Orlov brothers. Two years later, in 1757, Poniatowski served in the British forces during the Seven Years' War, thus severing close relationships with Catherine. She bore him a daughter named Anna Petrovna in December 1757 (not to be confused with Grand Duchess Anna Petrovna of Russia, the daughter of Peter I's second marriage).

King August III of Poland died in 1763, and therefore Poland needed to elect a new ruler. Catherine supported Poniatowski as a candidate to become the next king. Some people venture that Catherine told her ambassador to Poland, Count Kayserling, that she wanted Poniatowski to rule, but she would settle for Adam Czartoryski, Poniatowski's uncle[citation needed].

Catherine sent the Russian army into Poland to avoid possible disputes right away. Russia invaded Poland on 26 August 1764, threatening to fight and forcing Poniatowski to become king. Poniatowski accepted the throne, and thereby put himself under Catherine's control. News of Catherine's plan spread and Frederick II (others say the Ottoman sultan) warned her that if she tried to conquer Poland by marrying Poniatowski, all of Europe would oppose her strongly.

She had no intention of marrying him, having already given birth to Orlov´s child and to the Grand Duke Paul by then; and she told Poniatowski[citation needed] to marry someone else, in order to remove all suspicion. Poniatowski refused: he never married.

Prussia (through the agency of Prince Henry), Russia (under Catherine), and Austria (under Maria Theresa) began preparing the ground for the Partitions of Poland. In the first partition, 1772, the three powers split 20,000 square miles (52,000 km2) between them. Russia got territories east of the line connecting, more or less, RigaPolotskMogilev.

In the second partition, 1793, Russia received the most land, from west of Minsk almost to Kiev and down the river Dnieper leaving some spaces of steppe down south in front of Ochakov, on the Black Sea.

After this, uprisings in Poland led to the third partition, 1795, one year before the death of Catherine.


Grigory Orlov, the grandson of a rebel in the Streltsy Uprising (1698) against Peter the Great, distinguished himself in the Battle of Zorndorf (25 August 1758), receiving three wounds. He represented an opposite to Peter's pro-Prussian sentiment, with which Catherine disagreed. By 1759, he and Catherine had become lovers although no one in the know told Catherine's husband, the Grand Duke Peter. Catherine saw Orlov as very useful, and he became instrumental in the July 1761 coup d’état against her husband, but she preferred to remain the Dowager Empress of Russia, rather than marrying anyone.

Catherine the Great's natural son by Count Grigory Orlov -Aleksey Grigorievich Bobrinsky, ( 11 April 1762 – 20 June 1813 in his estate of Bogoroditsk, near Tula). Born just 3 months before the deposition and assassination by the Orlov brothers of her husband Peter III

Grigory Orlov and his other three brothers found themselves rewarded with titles as Counts, money, swords and other gifts. But Catherine did not marry Grigory, who proved inept at politics and useless when asked for advice. He received a palace in St. Petersburg when Catherine became Empress.

Orlov died in 1783. His and Catherine's son, Aleksey Grygoriovich Bobrinsky, (1762–1813) had one daughter, Maria Alexeeva Bobrinsky (Bobrinskaya), (1798–1835) who married aged 21 in 1819 the 34-year-old Prince Nikolai Sergeevich Gagarin (London, England, 12 July 1784 – 25 July 1842, assassinated by a furious servant he employed) who took part in the Battle of Borodino ( 7 September 1812) against the Napoleonic forces, and later served as Ambassador in Turin, the capital of the Duchy of Savoy.


Grigory Potemkin had had involvement in the coup d'état of 1762. In 1772, Catherine's close friends informed her of Orlov's affairs with other women, and she dismissed him. By the winter of 1773 the Pugachev revolt had started to grow threatening. Catherine's son Paul had also started gaining support; both of these trends threatened her power. She called Potemkin for help  – mostly military  – and he became devoted to her.

In 1772, Catherine wrote to Potemkin. Days earlier, she had found out about an uprising in the Volga region. She appointed General Aleksandr Bibikov to put down the uprising, but she needed Potemkin's advice on military strategy.

Potemkin quickly gained positions and awards. Russian poets wrote about his virtues, the court praised him, foreign ambassadors fought for his favor, and his family moved into the palace. He later became governor of New Russia.

In 1780 the son of Empress Maria Theresa of Austria, Emperor Joseph II of Austria, toyed with the idea of determining whether or not to enter an alliance with Russia, and asked to meet Catherine. Potemkin had the task of briefing him and traveling with him to Saint Petersburg.

Potemkin also convinced Catherine to expand the universities in Russia to increase the number of scientists.

Potemkin fell very ill in August 1783. Catherine worried that he would not finish his work developing the south as he had planned. Potemkin died at the age of fifty-two in 1791.


Catherine officially kept Ivan Rimsky-Korsakov as her favorite from 1778 to 1779.


Catherine suffered a stroke on 6 November [O.S. 5 November] 1796 and died in her bed at 9:20 the following evening without having regained consciousness. Despite an urban myth connecting her death with a sexual incident involving a horse, there is no basis to this story. Catherine was buried at the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg.

Romanov dynastic issues

Pretenders and potential pretenders to the throne

  • Ivan VI of Russia (born 1740), as a former Tsar (reigned as an infant, 1740–1741) represented a potential focus of dissident support for successive rulers of Russia, who held him in prison. When she became Empress in 1762 Catherine tightened the conditions of his incarceration. His jailers in the prison of Shlisselburg killed Ivan, as per standing instructions, in the course of an attempt to free him in 1764.
  • Yemelyan Pugachev (1740/1742–1775) identified himself in 1773 as Tsar Peter III of Russia (Catherine's late husband). His armed rebellion, aiming to seize power and to banish the Empress to a monastery, became a serious menace until crushed in 1774. The authorities had Pugachev executed in Moscow in January 1775.

Succession to the throne

It seems highly probable that Catherine intended to exclude Paul from the succession, and to leave the crown to her eldest grandson Alexander (whom she greatly favored, and who subsequently became the emperor Alexander I in 1801). Her harshness to Paul stemmed probably as much from political distrust as from what she saw of his character. Whatever Catherine's other activities, she emphatically functioned as a sovereign and as a politician, guided in the last resort by reasons of state.[citation needed] Keeping Paul in a state of semi-captivity in Gatchina and Pavlovsk, she resolved not to allow her son to dispute or to share in her authority during her lifetime.

Titles and styles

  • Her Serene Highness Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst (1729–1745)
  • Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Catherine Alekseievna of Russia (1745–1761)
  • Her Imperial Majesty The Empress of all the Russias (1761–1762) (as Empress consort)
  • Her Imperial Majesty The Empress and Autocrat of all the Russias (1762–1796) (as Empress regnant)


In popular culture

1910 100-ruble banknote

In 2006, Emily Bruni portrayed the empress in the feature length PBS documentary "Catherine the Great."

  • One of Serbia's most famed New Wave bands, Ekatarina Velika (which translates as "Catherine the Great") (1982–1994) took its name from Catherine II of Russia.
  • Folk-rock songwriter Freddy Blohm's "Catherine, You're Great!" relates Catherine's most infamous urban myth from an equine point-of-view.
  • The Barenaked Ladies song "Go Home" has a line concerning this urban legend as well: "If you think of her as Catherine the Great // Then you should be the horse to help her meet her fate."
  • In the 2002 television series Clone High the clone of JFK supposedly has sex with Catherine's clone, complaining when someone disturbs his activities that he's "trying to nail Catherine the Great" – but quickly corrects himself, adding "Or should I say, Catherine the So-SO." Catherine's clone appears several times in the series, depicted as having an hourglass figure, blonde curly hair and speaking with a California Valley Girl accent. She usually wears pedal pushers and a midriff top.
  • German chancellor Angela Merkel reportedly has a picture of Catherine II in her office, and characterises her as a "strong woman".
  • The Russian slang word for money "babki" (literally: "old women") refers to the image of Catherine II printed on pre-Revolution 100-ruble banknotes.[citation needed]
  • In the anime Le Chevalier D'Eon, a young Catherine the Great appears under her Russian name of Ekaterina. As in real life, she takes over Russia from Peter (Pyotr). She despises him and has no problems overthrowing him. Jessica Boone voices the character in the English adaptation, and Sachiko Takaguchi in the Japanese version.
  • American author Ted Dekker sets his upcoming 2010 novel, Immanuel's Veins during the reign of Catherine the Great.[citation needed]


See also

List of prominent Catherinians

Pre-eminent figures in Catherinian Russia include:



  1. ^ Hosking, Geoffrey (1997). Russia: people and empire, 1552-1917. Harvard University Press. p. 80. ISBN 9780674781191. Retrieved 2010-03-12. "Although other European countries had effected mass levies before [...], Russia was the first country to institute conscription as a permanent method of raising its armed forces. [...] It enabled Peter to win a great victory [...] at Poltava in 1709, and to follow it up by a sustained [...] campaign which ended in the capitulation of Sweden in 1721. [...] But its effect on Russian society was to impose new obligations and to impart a new rigidity to the system of state service." 
  2. ^ Rounding, Virginia (2007) Catherine the Great: Love, Sex, and Power New York: St. Martin’s Press ISBN 9780312328870 
  3. ^ Memoirs of Decembrist Michael Fonvizin (nephew of writer Denis Fonvizin who belonged to the constitutionalists' circle in the 1770s); see: Фонвизин М.А. Сочинения и письма: Т. 2. – Иркутск, 1982. С. 123 [Fonvizin, M.A.: Works and letters, volume 2. Irkutsk:1982, page 123]
  4. ^ N.A.M Rodger. Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649–1815. London, 2005. p.328
  5. ^ a b c "Encyclopedia Britannica of 1911". Retrieved 2007-03-24. 
  6. ^ a b "The Religion of Russia". Retrieved 2007-03-24. 
  7. ^ Farquhar, Michael (2001). A Treasure of Royal Scandals, p.7. Penguin Books, New York. ISBN 0739420259.
  8. ^ Genealogical Dates in Stoyan. According to this site, Catherine had two children from her marriage to Peter III before the birth of Paul, one on 14 December 1752 and the other on 2 or 3 August 1753. The gender of these children remains unknown. The date of the end of the second pregnancy may indicate a miscarriage. After Paul, Catherine bore a daughter, Grand Duchess Anna Petrovna, in Saint Petersburg on 20 December 1757. As with Paul, rumours made the lover of her mother by that time, Stanisław August Poniatowski her biological father, but these remain unproven. Grand Duchess Anna died in Peterhof on 19 March 1759 aged only fifteen months.
  9. ^ According to Catherine and Orlov had another child, a daughter, called Elizabeth Alexandrovna Alexeeva (born in Saint Petersburg, 1761 – died 1844), born one year before Alexis. She married (1787) Friedrich Maximilian Klinger and from this marriage she had one son, Alexander, who apparently died young in 1812.
  10. ^ "Tarakanova, knyazhna [Princess Tarakanova]". Malyi entsiklopedicheskii slovar'. Brokgaus i Efron. 1890–1906. 
  11. ^ "Tarakanova, knyazhna [Princess Tarakanova]" (in in Russian). Malyi entsiklopedicheskii slovar'. Brokgaus i Efron. 1890–1906. Retrieved 2009-07-11. 
  12. ^ "Tarakanova Elizaveta [Yelizaveta Tarakanova]" (in in Russian). Bol'shaya sovetskaya entsikolpediya, 3rd edition. Sovetskaya entsiklopediya. 1969–1978. Retrieved 2009-07-11. 

Annotated bibliography

  • De Madariaga, Isabel.(born 1919). Catherine the Great: A Short History (Paperback). Yale University Press, New Haven and London, (1993).ISBN 0-300-04845-9 (hardbook), ISBN 0-300-05427-0 (paperback), 240 pages. De Madariaga, of Spanish/Scottish extraction, holds the position of Professor Emeritus of Slavonic Studies at the University of London, (England). "De Madariaga´s book will be the standard and essential guide for all students and scholars of Russian and European history of the second half of the eighteenth century" . Opinion of Prof. Marc Raeff, in Journal of Modern History. – "A remarkably fresh, lucid and well-paced survey....As a single volume introduction, this study is unlikely to be bettered , and it deserves the widest readership" , Opinion of Prof. H. M. Scott in Slavonic and East European Review.
  • Dixon, Simon. Catherine the Great (Profiles In Power) (Paperback).
  • Kolchin, Peter. "Unfree Labor: American Slavery and Russian Serfdom", Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, (U. S. A.), (1987). Some interesting conclusions from this comparison. Kolchin has worked for many years as a Professor of History and holds many professional awards at the University of Delaware, (U. S. A.). He has become well known[citation needed] for his lengthy studies in American slavery and Russian serfdom.
  • Reddaway, W.F. "Documents of Catherine the Great.The Correspondence with Voltaire and the Instruction of 1767 in the English Text of 1768" . Cambridge University Press, (England), (1931), Reprint (1971).
  • Rounding, Virginia. (2008). Catherine the Great: Love, Sex, and Power, New York: St. Martin's Press. 501 pages. An extensive biography; not as saucy as the title might imply. Rounding has relied heavily on primary source materials and her extensive bibliography includes (amongst other material): letters written both by Catherine and her associates (many of them foreign ambassadors, who played a large role in the Russian court) as well as Catherine's own memoirs. Rounding, an established author, has written a book on 19th century courtesans and edited volumes of poetry. This readable book addresses itself to the layperson interested in Russian rulers and perhaps to students of women's studies. This text includes 16 pages of color photos.

Further reading

  • Alexander, John T. Catherine the Great: Life and Legend. New York: Oxford University Press (USA), 1988 (hardcover, ISBN 0-19-505236-6); 1989 (paperback, ISBN 0-19-506162-4).
  • Cronin, Vincent. Catherine, Empress of All the Russias. London: Collins, 1978 (hardcover, ISBN 0-00-216119-2); 1996 (paperback, ISBN 1-86046-091-7).
  • Dixon, Simon. Catherine the Great (Profiles in Power). Harlow, UK: Longman, 2001 (paperback, ISBN 0-582-09803-3).
  • Herman, Eleanor. Sex With the Queen. New York: HarperCollins, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 0-06-084673-9).
  • Madariaga, Isabel de. Catherine the Great: A Short History. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1990 (hardcover, ISBN 0-300-04845-9); 2002 (paperback, ISBN 0-300-09722-0).
  • The Memoirs of Catherine the Great by Markus Cruse and Hilde Hoogenboom (translators). New York: Modern Library, 2005 (hardcover, ISBN 0-679-64299-4); 2006 (paperback, ISBN 0-8129-6987-1).
  • Montefiore, Simon Sebag. Potemkin: Catherine the Great's Imperial Partner. New York: Vintage, 2005 (paperback, ISBN 1-4000-7717-6).
  • Rounding, Virginia (2006). Catherine the Great: Love, Sex and Power. London: Hutchinson. ISBN 0-09-179992-9. 
  • Smith, Douglas, ed. and trans. Love and Conquest: Personal Correspondence of Catherine the Great and Prince Grigory Potemkin. DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois UP, 2004 (hardcover, ISBN 0-87580-324-5); 2005 (paperback ISBN 0-87580-607-4).
  • Troyat, Henri. Catherine the Great. New York: Dorset Press, 1991 (hardcover, ISBN 0-88029-688-7); London: Orion, 2000 (paperback, ISBN 1-84212-029-8).
  • Troyat, Henri. Terrible Tsarinas. New York: Algora, 2001 (ISBN 1-892941-54-6).

External links

Catherine II of Russia
Cadet branch of the House of Anhalt
Born: 2 May 1729 Died: 6 November 1796
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Peter III
Empress regnant of Russia
9 July 1762 – 6 November 1796
Succeeded by
Paul I
Russian royalty
Preceded by
Martha Skowrońska
Empress consort of Russia
25 December 1761 – 9 July 1762
Succeeded by
Sophie Dorothea of Württemberg


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I like to praise and reward loudly, to blame quietly.

Catherine II of Russia; Catherine the Great; Екатерина II Алексеевна [Yekaterína II Alekséyevna] (21 April 1729 {2 May O.S.} - 6 November 1796 {17 November O.S.}) reigned as Empress of Russia for more than three decades; born Sophie Augusta Fredericka of Anhalt-Zerbst



  • I like to praise and reward loudly, to blame quietly.
    • As quoted in The Historians' History of the World (1904) by Henry Smith Williams, p. 423
    • Variant: I praise loudly. I blame softly.
      • As quoted in The Affairs of Women: A Modern Miscellany (2006) by Colin Bingham, p. 367
  • I will live to make myself not feared.
    • As quoted in The Historians' History of the World (1904) by Henry Smith Williams, p. 423
  • The Governing Senate. . . has deemed it necessary to make known... that the landlords' serfs and peasants . . . owe their landlords proper submission and absolute obedience in all matters, according to the laws that have been enacted from time immemorial by the autocratic forefathers of Her Imperial Majesty and which have not been repealed, and which provide that all persons who dare to incite serfs and peasants to disobey their landlords shall be arrested and taken to the nearest government office, there to be punished forthwith as disturbers of the public tranquillity, according to the laws and without leniency. And should it so happen that even after the publication of the present decree of Her Imperial Majesty any serfs and peasants should cease to give the proper obedience to their landlords . . . and should make bold to submit unlawful petitions complaining of their landlords, and especially to petition Her Imperial Majesty personally, then both those who make the complaints and those who write up the petitions shall be punished by the knout and forthwith deported to Nerchinsk to penal servitude for life and shall be counted as part of the quota of recruits which their landlords must furnish to the army. And in order that people everywhere may know of the present decree, it shall be read in all the churches on Sundays and holy days for one month after it is received and therafter once every year during the great church festivals, lest anyone pretend ignorance.
    • Decree on Serfs (1767) as quoted in A Source Book for Russian History Vol. 2 (1972) by George Vernadsky
  • Assuredly men of merit are never lacking at any time, for those are the men who manage affairs, and it is affairs that produce the men. I have never searched, and I have always found under my hand the men who have served me, and for the most part I have been well served.
    • As quoted in Woman Through the Ages;; (1908) by Emil Reich, p. 155
  • Your wit makes others witty.
    • Letter to Voltaire, as quoted in Short Sayings of Great Men : With Historical and Explanatory Notes (1882) by Samuel Arthur Bent, and Hoyt's New Cyclopedia of Practical Quotations (1922) revised and enlarged by Kate Loise Roberts
  • A great wind is blowing, and that gives you either imagination or a headache.
    • As quoted in Daughters of Eve (1930) by Gamaliel Bradford, p. 192
  • Power without a nation's confidence is nothing.
    • As quoted in And I Quote : The Definitive Collection of Quotes, Sayings, and Jokes for the Contemporary Speechmaker (1992) by Ashton Applewhite, Tripp Evans, and Andrew Frothingham, p. 278
  • You philosophers are lucky men. You write on paper and paper is patient. Unfortunate Empress that I am, I write on the susceptible skins of living beings.
    • Letter to Denis Diderot, as quoted in The Affairs of Women : A Modern Miscellany (2006) by Colin Bingham

Proposals for a New Law Code (1768)

Documents of Catherine the Great: The Correspondence with Voltaire and the Instruction of 1767 in the English Text of 1768 (1931) translations by W. F. Reddaway
  • The Sovereign is absolute; for there is no other Authority but that which centers in his single Person, that can act with a Vigour proportionate to the Extent of such a vast Dominion.
    The Extent of the Dominion requires an absolute Power to be vested in that Person who rules over it. It is expedient so to be, that the quick Dispatch of Affairs, sent from distant Parts, might make ample Amends for the Delay occasioned by the great Distance of the Places.
    Every other Form of Government whatsoever would not only have been prejudicial to Russia, but would even have proved its entire Ruin.
  • It is better to be subject to the Laws under one Master, than to be subservient to many.
  • What is the true End of Monarchy? Not to deprive People of their natural Liberty; but to correct their Actions, in order to attain the supreme Good.
    The Form of Government, therefore, which best attains this End, and at the same Time sets less Bounds than others to natural Liberty, is that which coincides with the Views and Purposes of rational Creatures, and answers the End, upon which we ought to fix a steadfast Eye in the Regulations of civil Polity.
  • The Intention and the End of Monarchy, is the Glory of the Citizens, of the State, and of the Sovereign.
    But, from this Glory, a Sense of Liberty arises in a People governed by a Monarch; which may produce in these States as much Energy in transacting the most important Affairs, and may contribute as much to the Happiness of the Subjects, as even Liberty itself....
  • The Laws ought to be so framed, as to secure the Safety of every Citizen as much as possible.
  • The Equality of the Citizens consists in this; that they should all be subject to the same Laws.
    This Equality requires Institutions so well adapted, as to prevent the Rich from oppressing those who are not so wealthy as themselves, and converting all the Charges and Employments intrusted to them as Magistrates only, to their own private Emolument....
  • In a State or Assemblage of People that live together in a Community, where there are Laws, Liberty can only consist in doing that which every One ought to do, and not to be constrained to do that which One ought not to do.
  • A Man ought to form in his own Mind an exact and clear Idea of what Liberty is. Liberty is the Right of doing whatsoever the Laws allow: And if any one Citizen could do what the Laws forbid, there would be no more Liberty; because others would have an equal Power of doing the same.
  • The political Liberty of a Citizen is the Peace of Mind arising from the Consciousness, that every Individual enjoys his peculiar Safety; and in order that the People might attain this Liberty, the Laws ought to be so framed, that no one Citizen should stand in Fear of another; but that all of them should stand in Fear of the same Laws....
  • The Usage of Torture is contrary to all the Dictates of Nature and Reason; even Mankind itself cries out against it, and demands loudly the total Abolition of it.
  • That Law, therefore, is highly beneficial to the Community where it is established, which ordains that every Man shall be judged by his Peers and Equals. For when the Fate of a Citizen is in Question, all Prejudices arising from the Difference of Rank or Fortune should be stifled; because they ought to have no Influence between the Judges and the Parties accused.
  • No Man ought to be looked upon as guilty, before he has received his judicial Sentence; nor can the Laws deprive him of their Protection, before it is proved that he has forfeited all Right to it. What Right therefore can Power give to any to inflict Punishment upon a Citizen at a Time, when it is yet dubious, whether he is Innocent or guilty?
  • A Society of Citizens, as well as every Thing else, requires a certain fixed Order: There ought to be some to govern, and others to obey. And this is the Origin of every Kind of Subjection; which feels itself more or less alleviated, in Proportion to the Situation of the Subjects.And, consequently, as the Law of Nature commands Us to take as much Care, as lies in Our Power, of the Prosperity of all the People; we are obliged to alleviate the Situation of the Subjects, as much as sound Reason will permit. And therefore, to shun all Occasions of reducing People to a State of Slavery, except the utmost Necessity should inevitably oblige us to do it; in that Case, it ought not to be done for our own Benefit; but for the Interest of the State: Yet even that Case is extremely uncommon. Of whatever Kind Subjection may be, the civil Laws ought to guard, on the one Hand, against the Abuse of Slavery, and, on the other, against the Dangers which may arise from it.
  • It seems too, that the Method of exacting their Revenues, newly invented by the Lords, diminishes both the Inhabitants, and the Spirit of Agriculture in Russia. Almost all the Villages are heavily taxed. The Lords, who seldom or never reside in their Villages, lay an Impost on every Head of one, two, and even five Rubles, without the least Regard to the Means by which their Peasants may be able to raise this Money.
    It is highly necessary that the Law should prescribe a Rule to the Lords, for a more judicious Method of raising their Revenues; and oblige them to levy such a Tax, as tends least to separate the Peasant from his House and Family; this would be the Means by which Agriculture would become more extensive, and Population be more increased in the Empire.


Quotes from Memoirs of the Empress Catherine II (1859) published by D. Appleton & Co., and The Memoirs of Catherine the Great as translated by Markus Cruse and Hilde Hoogenboom (2005) (hardcover, ISBN 0679642994); 2006 (paperback, ISBN 0812969871)

1728—43 Peter III’s childhood and education...

  • They raised the Prince for the throne of Sweden in a court that was too large for the country in which it was located and that was divided into several factions, which hated each other and vied to control the Prince’s mind, which each faction wanted to shape. As a result, these factions inspired in him the reciprocal hatred they felt against the individuals they opposed.
  • From the age of ten, Peter III was partial to drink.
  • The education of Peter III was undermined by a clash of unfortunate circumstances. I will relate what I have seen and heard, and that in itself will clarify many things. I saw Peter III for the first time when he was eleven years old, in Eutin at the home of his guardian, the Prince Bishop of Lübeck. Some months after the death of Duke Karl Friedrich, Peter III’s father, the Prince Bishop had in 1739 assembled all of his family at his home in Eutin to have his ward brought there. My grandmother, mother of the Prince Bishop, and my mother, sister of this same Prince, had come there from Hamburg with me. I was ten years old at the time.... It was then that I heard it said among this assembled family that the young duke was inclined to drink, that his attendants found it difficult to prevent him from getting drunk at meals, that he was restive and hotheaded, did not like his attendants and especially Brümmer, and that otherwise he showed vivacity, but had a delicate and sickly appearance. In truth, his face was pale in color and he seemed to be thin and of a delicate constitution. His attendants wanted to give this child the appearance of a mature man, and to this end they hampered and restrained him, which could only inculcate falseness in his conduct as well as his character.

1744 Catherine’s arrival in Russia...

  • The Grand Duke appeared to rejoice at the arrival of my mother and myself. I was in my fifteenth year. During the first ten days he paid me much attention. Even then and in that short time, I saw and understood that he did not care much for the nation that he was destined to rule, and that he clung to Lutheranism, did not like his entourage, and was very childish. I remained silent and listened, and this gained me his trust. I remember him telling me that among other things, what pleased him most about me was that I was his second cousin, and that because I was related to him, he could speak to me with an open heart. Then he told me that he was in love with one of the Empress’s maids of honor, who had been dismissed from court because of the misfortune of her mother, one Madame Lopukhina, who had been exiled to Siberia, that he would have liked to marry her, but that he was resigned to marry me because his aunt desired it. I listened with a blush to these family confidences, thanking him for his ready trust, but deep in my heart I was astonished by his imprudence and lack of judgment in many matters.


  • To tempt, and to be tempted, are things very nearly allied, and, in spite of the finest maxims of morality impressed upon the mind, whenever feeling has anything to do in the matter, no sooner is it excited than we have already gone vastly farther than we are aware of, and I have yet to learn how it is possible to prevent its being excited.
    Flight alone is, perhaps, the only remedy; but there are cases and circumstances in which flight becomes impossible, for how is it possible to fly, shun, or turn one's back in the midst of a court? The very attempt would give rise to remarks. Now, if you do not fly, there .is nothing, it seems to me, so difficult as to escape from that which is essentially agreeable. All that can be said in opposition to it will appear but a prudery quite out of harmony with the natural instincts of the human heart; besides, no one holds his heart in his hand, tightening or relaxing his grasp of it at pleasure.


  • The more a man knows, the more he forgives.
    • Atributted to Confucius in published books, no print sources attribute this to Catherine.

Quotes about Catherine II

  • This princess seems to combine every kind of ambition in her person. Everything that may add luster to her reign will have some attraction for her. Science and the arts will be encouraged to flourish in the empire, projects useful for the domestic economy will be undertaken. She will endeavor to reform the administration of justice and to invigorate the laws; but her policies will be based on Machiavellianism; and I should not be surprised if in this field she rivals the king of Prussia. She will adopt the prejudices of her entourage regarding the superiority of her power and will endeavor to win respect not by the sincerity and probity of her actions but also by an ostentatious display of her strength. Haughty as she is, she will stubbornly pursue her undertakings and will rarely retrace a false step. Cunning and falsity appear to be vices in her character; woe to him who puts too much trust in her. Love affairs may become a stumbling block to her ambition and prove fatal for her peace of mind. This passionate princess, still held in check by the fear and consciousness of internal troubles, will know no restraint once she believes herself firmly established.
    • Baron de Breteuil as quoted in A Source Book for Russian History Vol. 2 (1972) by George Vernadsky
  • Powerful women are either sexually voracious rulers like Catherine the Great or Elizabeth I, or treacherous bitches like Cleopatra or Helen of Troy.
    • Celia Brayfield, English writer and journalist, co-founder of the UK's National Academy of Writing
  • As a ruler, Catherine professed a great contempt for system, which she said she had been taught to despise by her master Voltaire. She declared that in politics a capable ruler must be guided by "circumstances, conjectures and conjunctions."
    • "Catherine II" article in The Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition (1910), Vol. V, p. 527; What here appears as a paraphrased statement was later quoted as if it were a direct quote in Thesaurus of Epigrams (1948) by Edmund Fuller, and One Thousand Sayings of History Presented as Pictures in Prose (1971) by Walter Fogg: "In politics a capable ruler must be guided by circumstances, conjectures and conjunctions."

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

[[File:|thumb|right|Catherine II of Russia]] Catherine II of Russia (Also titled Catherine the Great or Yekaterina Aleksei'evna) (April 21, 1729, Stettin, GermanyNovember 17, 1796 Tsarskoye Selo, Russia) was Empress of Russia. She greatly increased the power of the crown. She also increased Russian land, adding land in the west and south. This land included a part of Poland. During Catherine's rule, Russia became a strong power in Europe.



Early life

Catherine was born in Stettin, which was a part of Germany at the time. She was the daughter of Prince Christian August of Anhalt-Zerbst and Princess Johanna Elizabeth of Holstein-Gottorp. She had five brothers and sisters. She married Peter III at age fifteen, and became empress of Russia at age 32. She was smart in many subjects such as three languages (Russian, German and French). She grew up as a Lutheran (protestant). When she married Peter, she changed to the Russian Orthodox church.


Catherine's marriage was said to be unfaithful and distraught. Peter was said to be cheating on Catherine, as Catherine was doing to Peter. After they had been married nine years, Catherine bore a son, Paul. Paul was born on (1 October [O.S. 20 September] 1754. Both parents accepted him as legitimate, even though there had been rumours about Catherne having been unfaithful. Catherine also had a daughter Anna, born in 1757. Anna died in 1759. Catherine and Peter had a very difficult relationship. When Peter died, Catherine was left to rule Russia on her own. Catherine had many lovers, probably because of the difficult marriage. Over twenty lovers are known. A few of these seem to be more important:

  • Count Serge Saltykov was her first lover, and was probably the father of Paul
  • Count Stanisław August Poniatowski was made king of Poland, because of Catherine's help
  • Count Grigory Orlov was one of the leading figures of the coup against Peter III, together with his brother Alexey Grigoryevich Orlov. They also gave Catherine the Orlov diamond as a gift. This diamond was later put into the Russian sceptre.
  • Prince Grigory Potyomkin was very successful in the military forces. He started the Black Sea Fleet, founded cities such as Sevastopol or Kherson. He is said to have been Catherine's true love. The two are said to even have married in secret.
  • Count Platon Zubov was her last love. When she died, aged 67, he was not even 40 years old.


6 months after Peter taking the throne, he passed away in the hands of his brother. Catherine was not linked to any assassinations or plots that may have caused Peter's death. She was greatly admired by the public. She showed great political smarts. She was involved in many foreign affairs, including the Russo-Turkish war.


Catherine suffered a stroke on 6 November [O.S. 5 November] 1796. Due to the stroke, she lost consciousness. She died in her bed at 9:20 the following evening, while she was still unconscious. Catherine was buried at the Peter and Paul Cathedral in Saint Petersburg.


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