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Catherine The Great

December 7, 2011 by staff 

Catherine The Great, Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great , Empress of Russia, was born in Stettin, Pomerania, Prussia on 2 May [O.S. 21 April] 1729 as Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst-Dornburg. She was the most renowned and the longest-ruling female leader of Russia, reigning from 9 July [O.S. 28 June] 1762 after a coup d’├ętat and the assassination of her husband, Peter III (just after the end of the Seven Years’ War) until her death on 17 November [O.S. 6 November] 1796. Catherine’s rule re-vitalized Russia, which grew larger and stronger than ever and became recognized as one of the great powers of Europe.

In both her accession to power and in rule of her empire, Catherine often relied on her noble favourites, most notably Grigory Orlov and Grigory Potemkin. Assisted by highly successful generals such as Pyotr Rumyantsev and Alexander Suvorov, and admirals such as Fyodor Ushakov, she governed at a time when the Russian Empire was expanding rapidly by conquest and diplomacy. In the south, the Crimean Khanate was crushed following victories over the Ottomon Empire in the Russo-Turkish wars, and Russia colonised the vast territories of Novorossiya along the coasts of the Black and Azov Seas. In the west, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, ruled by Catherine’s former lover, king Stanis?aw August Poniatowski was eventually partitioned, with the Russian Empire gaining the largest share. In the east, Russia started to colonise Alaska, establishing Russian America.

Catherine reformed the administration of Russian guberniyas, and many new cities and towns were founded on her orders. An admirer of Peter the Great, Catherine continued to modernize Russia along Western European lines. However, military conscription and economy continued to depend on serfdom, and the increasing demands of the state and private landowners led to increased levels of exploitation of serfs. This was one of the chief reasons behind several rebellions, including the large-scale Pugachev’s Rebellion of cossacks and peasants.

The period of Catherine the Great’s rule, the Catherinian Era, is often considered the Golden Age of the Russian Empire and the Russian nobility. The Manifesto on Freedom of the Nobility, issued during the short reign of Peter III and confirmed by Catherine, freed Russian nobles from compulsory military or state service. Construction of many mansions of the nobility, in the classical style endorsed by the Empress, changed the face of the country. A notable example of enlightened despot, a correspondent of Voltaire and an amateur opera librettist, Catherine presided over the age of the Russian Enlightenment, when the Smolny Institute, the first state-financed higher education institution for women in Europe, was established.

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