Catherine II of Russia, Aleksey Antropov
The woman who became known as Catherine the Great was born Sophie Auguste Friedericke von Anhalt-Zerbst on May 2, 1729 in Stettin, which then belonged to Prussia. In 1744, she was betrothed to Peter II of Russia, the grandson of Peter the Great, and converted to the Russian Orthodox Church. It was at this time that she changed her name to Catherine. She gave birth to a son, Paul, on October 1, 1754. After the death of her mother-in-law, the Empress Elizabeth, on January 5, 1762, Peter took the throne, and he and Catherine moved to St. Petersburg.
A reformist. Peter's rule was not to last, for on July 9 he was deposed in a bloodless coup while staying in Oranienbaum, away from his wife who had returned to St. Petersburg, and Catherine became the new Russian empress. Peter was then killed on July 17, just eight days after being deposed. It is not known whether Catherine herself had any part in this assassination, but the possibility has been the subject of much debate.
Under Catherine's rule, Russia enjoyed a period of great success. She expanded her adopted country's borders westwards and southwards, annexing the territories of the Crimea, Belarus, and Lithuania. She also negotiadet with Prussia and Austria to divide Poland between them, with these partitions occurring in 1772, 1793, and 1795. Russia's influence and territory now stretched far into Europe, and it had established itself as one of the continent's "Great Powers."
Catherine's modernization of Russia forms an important part of her legacy. In 1766, she established a "Legislative Commission" of 564 deputies of various social and national backgrounds, where she put forward her ideas for a more enlightened and modern Russia. Thought this convened for over 200 sittings, it achieved few practical reforms, partly because the ideas Catherine put forward were often too radical for the establishment to accept. Despite this, various reforms were implemented, including the Code of Commercial Navigation and the Salt Trade Code of 1781, the Police Ordinance of 1782, and the Charter to the Nobility in 1785. By the end of her reign, Russia had more than double the number of government officials as at its start, and they were spending six times as much on local government.
Catherine's lovers. Catherine is as known for her many romantic affairs as she is for her political achievements. Unhappy with her husband Peter, she had relations with many mem over the years (often with several at the same time), both during their marriage and after Peter died. The most famous of these were Stanislas Poniatowski, who became king of Poland; Count Gregory Orlov, who was influential in helping Catherine ascend the throne after the death of her husband; and Gregory Potemkin, whom Catherine was rumored to have married in secret.
Patron of the arts. Catherine was a keen patron of the arts and education, and Russian culture flourished during her reign. The Hermitage Museum, which was founded en 1764, originally housed Catherine's private collection of paintings. It grew over the years, and today contains over three million items. She corresponded regularly with leading thinkers of the era, including Voltaire and Diderot. Her patronage opened up Russia to many classical and Western European influences, which in part inspired the Russian Enlightenment.
Catherine died on November 17, 1796, as the result of a stroke, and was succeeded by her son Paul. She was buried in the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg.
Wars with the Ottoman Empire. During Catherine's reign, Russia fought two wars against the Ottoman Empire to the south. Previous campaigns by Peter the Great has established Russian dominance on the edge of the Black Sea, and Catherine continued the conquest of new territory. During the first Russo-Turkish War (1768-74) the Ottomans were heavily defeated at the Battles of Chesma (July 5-7, 1770) and Kagul (July 21, 1770). This allowed Russia to expand across Ukraine, where the city of Yekaterinoslav was founded in Catherine's honor. Russia also gained access to the Black Sea, a move of great strategic importance.
COWPER, Marcus. History book: an interactive journey. National Geographic. Washington: Carlton Books, 2010. p.88-89.