Catherine The Greed Empress of Russia - biography

Catherine The Greed Empress of Russia


Catherine II was born Sophie Fredrick von Anhalt-Zerbst. She was born in Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland) on May 2, 1929, the daughter of a minor German prince. At the age of fourteen she arrived in Russia on the invitation of the Empress Elizabeth of Russia as a prospective bride for her nephew Grand Duke Peter. On her arrival at Moscow, little did this German born girl know that her future destiny was to be Russia’s destiny? She was accepted as the bride to be of theGrand Duke Peter.
Sophie's introduction to her prospective husband was far from happy. She was faced with a debauched young man of sixteen years of age who openly declared his lack of interest in her and publicly claimed his interest in his aunt’s maid of honour Elizabeth Vorontzov. But things had been arranged by the monarchy and there was no turning back on royal arrangements. The Empress had decided Sophie‘s fate. Soon Sophie was being tutored in the Russian language. She was converted to the Greek Church and received the name of Catherine Alexeyevna, in the Russian tradition. But during her training Sophie discovered her passion for all things Russian. It was a spontaneous attraction to the culture, language and the general Russian ethos and had nothing to do with the coercion of the Empress. If her oncoming marriage was a dreaded event, her newly discovered love of Russia was her salvation. It was ultimately this that put her, a German, on the path of winning the Russians and becoming the beloved Empress of the Russian people. In August 1745 she was bethroed to Peter and was married to him at the age of sixteen.
As expected the conjugal relationship did not bring any happiness to Catherine. Her boorish husband under the autocratic reign of the empress isolated her life. The finery of the French lifestyle by which she had been brought up had become a distant past. Her loneliness forced her to take to extramarital affairs that became numerous as the years went by. But neither her husband nor the empress cared much for her, to object to these liaisons. Catherine continued in the same tradition and years rolled by. She in the meanwhile had given birth to her two children-a son Paul and a daughter, both of whom were not believed to be Peter’s. The children at birth were taken away by the Empress to be brought up by her and Catherine was once again left to her amorous pursuits. In January 1762 the Empress died and Catherine’s husband becoming the Czar became Peter III of Russia.
 Peter at the time was still in love with Elizabeth Vorontzov. Catherine saw her establishing the first Russian school for girls and a medical college to provide health care for her subjects.
In 1766 Catherine published her Instructions which limited the powers of the nobles and the landowners over the serfs. This was greatly opposed. Catherine had to bow to the wishes of the rich class she tried to win the support of a small section of the Russian gentry. She confirmed Peter III's emancipation of the gentry from compulsory military service, granted them many other privileges, and showered her supporters with titles, offices, state lands, and serfs to work in their fields. Thus though she genuinely hated serfdom the circumstances coerced her in such a way that the plight of the serfs became more miserable than before. This resulted in a revolt of the peasants under a Cossack named Pugachev in 1773. The revolt was quelled and Pugachev was executed. The Cossack army was disbanded and other Cossacks were granted special privileges in an effort to transform them into loyal supporters of the autocracy.
In 1775, Catherine issued the "Statute of Provinces” This provided for local administration and provincial self-government and it set up a local regular judiciary. This continued till the latter half of the nineteenth century.
The territory of the Russian empire greatly expanded under the sagacious rule of Catherine. In ‘1768 in alliance with Frederick the Great of Prussia, Catherine invaded the Turks and the Austrians. The war lasted six years and Catherine had gained a territory in the south for Russia. In 1787 Catherine allied with Austria against Turkey and Prussia to gain more land. As a result of her two wars with the Ottoman Empire and the annexation of Crimea, Russia gained control of the northern coast of the Black Sea. Russian control over Poland-Lithuania was extended, culminating in the annexation ofas a dangerous rival. But she also knew the unpopularity that Peter suffered. Peter had declared quite openly his love for all things German. So smitten was he by the German mania that his allegiance to Fredrick the Great of Prussia was quite a well accepted public truth. The Russians naturally began to hate this Russian and were more and more inclined towards this German princess who had made Russia her own in every way possible. Gregory Orlov, Catherine’s lover appealed to the army to support Catherine whose life was seen to be in danger. Peter had threatened her with arrest and divorce. Peter drove off to his palace with his mistress at Oranienbaum on May 22, 1762. That was the last he saw of his empire for his public abandonment of his wife and his pro German stance made the people of Russia swear by Catherine’s name. "Long lives the Empress Catherine," was a slogan echoed in each battalion of the Russian Army. Peter was subsequently arrested and was imprisoned at Ropscha. He later died, it is said a victim of colic but the mystery surrounding his death remains. Catherine became the Empress of Russia.
Catherine’s astute mind and an educated French background made her an able ruler. She was acquainted with the literature of the French Enlightenment and it moulded her political thinking. She corresponded extensively with Voltaire and Denis Diderot and gave them financial support .whenever needed. She aimed at creating a favorable impression of Russia in the foreign lands. She tried to cultivate an educated atmosphere in her court, where wine and plain debaucheries were no longer the ethos. To Catherine goes the credit of large tracts of territory in the three portions of Poland (1772,1793, and 1795).
Under the mantle of the tough empress Catherine remained essentially a feminine woman attracting men by her wit, charm and power. She continued to have liaisons with many but her personal involvement never deterred her from her aim at promoting Russia and doing the best for her welfare. Though not attached to her son Paul whom she kept in subjection, she was very fond of her grandchildren. She arranged the marriage of her granddaughter Alexandrina with King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden. But the young King on reading the marriage contract refused to sign it as Catherine had inserted many articles not to his liking. It was the biggest blow that her highness received. A rush of blood on receiving the news only a prognosis of what was to come. On November 10, 1796, a few weeks later she died of apoplexy.
The loss of this great empress was felt throughout Russia. The country mourned and history took note of this great lady who carved a story of success from what might have been fragments of disillusion to begin with. In the latter half of the nineteenth century at the palace a guard still stood posted in the middle of the lawn by an order of Catherine the Great nearly a century before. It was, according to legend to prevent anyone from picking the first flower of the season from the frozen ground. Her keen eye for detail is just one of the many reasons that made this lady a success in the autocratic world of men.

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