Catherine II of Russia: She Really Was Great!

1760_empress_catherine_the_.jpgRise to Power

Catherine II of Russia was first known as Princess Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst in Germany, it was not until she was married Grand Duke Peter of Holstein, who was heir to the Russian throne, did she change her name. Today she is best known as Catherine the Great. Upon growing up she was known for her ability to learn and understand concepts that allowed her to receive a formal education. Her interests had always been about Russia resulting in her studying the language and converting to Russian Orthodox in order to marry Peter. In 1761 Emperor Peter III and Elizabeth II came to power after the death of the former Empress, Elizabeth.It was however clear that Peter III was not fit to rule Russia due to his lack of concern for the country itself. This was shown through his reign as his idolization for Frederick the Great of Prussia resulted in withdrawing from the Seven Year War with Prussia. His dislike for Russia and Catherine's general dislike for Peter III led to not only an affair during their marriage that produced a son (Paul I), but his arrest and eventual death in prison. On June 28 1762, Catherine held a coup which resulted in Peter being sent to jail, by gathering troops of the St. Petersburg who supported her. It was here that Catherine the Great crowned herself empress.

Doubt and Expansion

Catherine the Great's reign began with doubt. They were not only skeptic about a having a German in control, but the fact that that German was a female. She began her reign as Empress with Russia being in an incredible amount of debt, which only added to the country's doubt of having a female ruling. So what better way of making a name for herself than by expanding Russian territory. These expansions are still known today as being some of Catherine's II greatest achievements. She began with expanding Russia southwards and establishing settlements along the Black sea, which allowed protection for southern agriculture as well as opening up the Black Sea for trade. Her next great feat came once she was victorious against the Ottoman Empire during the Russo-Turkish War of 1768-1774. The war ended with the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji in 1774, which gave her additional Black Sea outlets and separated Crimea from the Ottoman Empire. The next Russo-Turkish War was sparked by the Russians under Catherine's control by annexing Crimea in 1783, with the war starting in 1787. Russia's western expansion came with the partitioning of Poland where Russia, Prussia and Austria agreed on separating the weak Poland. At this time Russia received small parts of Belorussia and Livonia. It was not until the fear of Polish radicalism that additional territory was given away, leading to Polish uprising resulting in Poland disappearing of the map. Russia received more of Belorussia and parts of Ukraine. This expansion of Russia firmly set Catherine's position as Empress with any doubt of her ability to preform her role having vanished.

Enlightened Legal Reform

Attempts of legal reform in Russia began in 1764, when Catherine II saw that Russia was in need of change. Her work on reform and improving social conditions was greatly influenced by the Enlightenment, as her reign is often considered to be one of an Enlightened Monarch. Her first major reform was in regards to Russia's legal system. Russia's legal system was outdated and many laws were no longer efficient as many of them dated back to 1649. She believed in order to strengthen the Monarchy, the law had to be changed first. "The Instruction" or 'Nakaz",was proposed which suggested having all people equal under the law, as well as the idea of preventing criminal acts instead of having harsh punishments
image07.jpgfor them. It looked down on torture and the death penalty as punishments. This reform was controversial because of how advanced it was for its time. It took Catherine II of Russia two year to complete the "Instruction", and held 22 chapters of criminal, state and civil law, as well as acceptable procedures. Once a final draft was created, she sent a German version to Fredrick II of Prussia
nakaz.jpgin what is considered a proclamation to other european countries that they were modernized and reformed. In order to have it put into effect, a Legislative Commission was organized to review the proposal. However, due to the Russo-Turkish War in 1768, the Commission was disbanded. Due to this, a final draft of the Instruction was never finalized. The other issue others held with the proposal was the minimal addressing of serfdom. During her reign as Empress, serfdom was not abolished which caused many to doubt her reform because she called for equality for all. The original draft of "The Instruction" included a proposal that servitude was to be limited to 6 years and that serfs could save to buy their freedom. The submitted version although didn't include this proposal, suggested people should not be subject to slavery. Unfortunately no complete set of law was passed during Catherine's reign. It did however start the movement of fundamental laws (life, liberty and property). Her ideas of reforming political, social and legal laws and the turning away from torture and capital punishment, where the start of modernized political thinking and the foundation for modern day laws.


story.jpgAside from legal reform, Catherine II decided to improve russian society by improving agricultural techniques.She began by giving grants to farmers to be used to buy new machines that were being used in Britain. As well she hired experts to analyze Russian soil and to suggest crops that would grow in the land. The breeding of sheep, cattle and horses also became modernized.The demand for workers to now work these lands increased, turning Catherine towards advertising. The advertising became foreign, more specifically German, requesting for skilled labourers who were interested in settling in Russia. The response was over whelming, which contributed to the great agricultural advancements made by Russia during Catherine the Greats reign. Her next big accomplishment came with a decree in 1764 where she ordered all governor generals to create a census of their provinces. This would also include a detailed report of the their agricultural and trade status. Each province now had to build and fix roadways and bridges to make traveling easy for all. As well, she insisted a closer inspection in orphanages and prisons to ensure no wrong doings were happening. During this period of growth, many new towns were created throughout Russia.


Catherine the Great set up the first School of Mines in hopes of turning Russia into a mining country. The school was built with a realistic underground mine, where students were the given the opportunity to see what working in the mind was like first hand. She also hiredCatherine_large.jpg
geologists to investigate Russia's empty lands which led to the increase of mining, with Catherine's focus on the mining of silver. Catherine also encouraged industrialization and trade inside of Russia. This was started with a decree in 1762 which stated anyone who wanted to open a factory could now do so. The result was an explosion of textiles, furniture and pottery goods being produced and sold within and outside of Russia. Due to the increase of production Russia was able to expand its trading network as in who they were trading with, as well as what they were trading. By the end of 1765, Russia had almost covered all its previous debts and was now making a profit. Catherine II also saw to it that all Russian docks were were upgraded and that additional shipyards and ports were built. She accomplished this by enlisting the help of British experts who had previously finished this with Britain itself. The fact that within 4 years of coming to power Catherine II of Russia was able to reform agriculture, mining and trade is an incredible achievement. Her impact on these industries led the way for Russia to emerge as one of the most wealthy European nations.

Education/Health Care

At the beginning of Catherine II reign as Empress there were not many schools throughout Russia. This changed with the 1786 Statue of Schools that Catherine issued. This Statue stated that every town must have a
feb05_39.jpg"minor" school with two teachers present. Each province must also have a "major" school with at least 6 available teachers. Catherine also promoted female education by establishing the first female boarding school named the Smolny Institute. The only aspect of schooling Catherine did not change was universities, she knew that Russia lacked the resources to have students being taught as this level. Once she established these schools she needed to make sure she could fill them, the biggest threat to this was small pox. Catherine II volunteered to be inoculated for the small pox vaccine to set an example that it was safe to do so. The response was overwhelming as the vaccination was considered a success and which allowed Catherine set up vaccine houses that were open to the public. This was the first step of Catherine's plan to develop Russia's health care system. She continued on to open Russia's first College of Medicine which was used to instruct doctors on how to serve all of Russia. Her husband Peter III had previously set up hospitals for the army, but it was Catherine who set up hospitals for the civilians of Russia. In 1775 a decree was passed that insisted each provinces capital had have their own hospital open to the public. It was through Catherine's dedication to Russia that these educational and health care reforms were able to succeed and continue to grow after she was gone.

The Arts

Catherine II was also encouraged the development of arts and sciences throughout Russia and was an avid art collector herself. She managed to turn St. Peterborough into one the most artistic capitals of the world after she founded the Hermitage Museum in 1764. This museum began as Catherine's personal collection and was not open to the
hermitage_museum_i_galleryfull.jpgpublic until the mid 1800's. Catherine had theatres built to encourage
Russian and foreign operas and plays to take place. She also wrote several comedies and fiction plays that were acted out in these theatres. Science wise, she was responsible for the suggestion and formation of the Free Economic Society in St. Peterborough in 1765. This society brought many German scientists to Russia, such as Leonhard Euler and Peter Simon Pallas.



Catherine II or Russia died on November 17th 1796 after 34 years of being Russia's Empress. Her love and dedication to Russia could be seen from the very start of her reign, up until her death. Her constant political reforms throughout Russia allowed for all people to be equal under the law, which is still see today. As well, her agricultural and economic developments propelled Russia to being one of the top countries in late 17th century Europe. Catherine took pride in the developments in health care and education because all people, including women, were able to participate and receive both. Catherine the Great of Russia's legacy is known today as being the female who developed and reformed Russia, in order to ensure its success in the years to come. Her cultural impact on Russia allowed it to emerge as one of the most superior nations of even today's world. Catherine remain an inspiration to all, even more so too females, to keep fighting for what you believe in, no matter who is against you. In her case, she fought against anyone who doubted her abilities to successfully lead Russia which she did through her love and devotion to Russia.