- NAME: Catherine II
- OCCUPATION: Political Leader, Empress
- BIRTH DATE: May 02, 1729
- DEATH DATE: November 17, 1796
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Stettin, Poland
- PLACE OF DEATH: Tsarskoye Selo, Russia
- Full Name: Sophie Friederike Auguste, Prinzessin von Anhalt-Zerbst
- AKA: Sophie Friederike Auguste
- AKA: Catherine II
- AKA: Yekaterina Velikaya
- AKA: Yekaterina Alekseyevna
- AKA: Catherine the Great
Best Known For
Catherine II was empress of Russia, and led her country into the political and cultural life of Europe, carrying on the work begun by Peter the Great.
On Christmas Day Empress Elizabeth died, leaving the throne to Peter the Third.
Catherine the Great ruled Russia's empire for some 34 years. While she led her country to prominence, she was best known for her steamy love affairs.
During the French Revolution, beheadings of the monarchy had become more popular and Catherine rescinded many of the reforms she had created.
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In any case, Catherine had little time with her first-born son; Elizabeth took over raising the child soon after his birth.
After Empress Elizabeth's death in December 25, 1761, Catherine's husband assumed the throne, becoming Peter III, while she received the title of Empress Consort. The pair were leading separate lives at this point, and she had little to do with his rule. Peter was openly cruel to his wife, and often discussed pushing her aside to allow his mistress to rule with him. He soon alienated other nobles, officials and the military with his staunch support for Prussia. He also angered the Orthodox Church by taking away their lands. After six months, Peter was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by Catherine.
Catherine II had conspired with her lover, Gregory Orlov, a Russian lieutenant, along with several others in order to unseat Peter. She was able to get him to step down from power, and assumed control herself. A few days after Peter's resignation, he was strangled while in the care of her co-conspirators at Ropsha, one of Peter's estates. The exact role Catherine played in her husband's death is unclear.
Concerned about being toppled by opposing forces herself, Catherine sought to appease the military and the church. She recalled troops that had been sent by Peter to fight Denmark, and promoted and gifted those who had backed her as the new empress. Early in her reign, she returned the church's land and property. Catherine even styled herself after the beloved ruler Peter the Great, claiming that she was following in his footsteps. Catherine II even had a sculpture made later, known as the Bronze Horseman, built to honor him.
While Catherine believed in absolute rule, she did make some efforts toward social and political reforms. She put together on document, known as the "Nakaz," on how the country's legal system should run, borrowing some ideas from others. In the initial draft of the work, Catherine had sought to address the dire situation of country's serfs, workers who owned for life. The Senate protested any suggestion of changing the feudal system.
After finalizing "Nakaz," Catherine brought delegates together from different social and economic classes to form the Legislative Commission, which met for the first time in 1767. No laws came out of the commission, but it was the first time that Russians from across the empire had been able to express their thoughts about the country's needs and problems.
A religious skeptic, Catherine sought to contain the power of the Orthodox Church. She had given them their land and property back initially, but she soon changed her mind. The wealth of the church should belong to the state, Catherine thought. To that end, she made the church part of the state and all of its holdings, including more than 1 million serfs, became state property and subject to taxes.
During Catherine's reign, Russia expanded its borders. She made substantial gains in Poland, where she had earlier installed her former lover, Polish count Stanislaus Poniatowski, on the country's throne.
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