Catherine II (1762-1796)

Born on April 21, 1729 in the family of Prince Christian August of Anhalt-Zerbst and christened Sophia Augusta Frederica, the young lady was chosen by Empress Elizabeth as a prospective consort for Peter III. They got married in St. Petersburg on August 21, 1745, and daughter of poor German princeling Sophia Augusta Frederica was christened into the Orthodox Church as Catherine. After the coup of 1862 she became the Russia’s sole ruler. Clever and energetic woman, whose intelligence and brilliant education impressed all the contemporaries, overthrew her husband Peter III on June 28, 1762 with the support of the Imperial Guard and was crowned Empress of All Russia on September 22, 1762, in the Dormition Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin.

The enlightened Empress quickly mastered the Russian language and regarded herself as the successor of Peter the Great, and no one would deny that she deserved this title since her reign was one of the most prosperous periods of the Russian Empire. A wide range of internal political reforms were undertaken, the Ottoman Empire was routed and the Crimea and the North black sea coast incorporated in Russia during her reign and a major part of Poland was conquered – thus Russia was developing into one of the leading European countries. In her social policy Catherine II aimed at steering the nobility toward cultural interests and economic activity so as to reduce their dependence on state services and this policy made many landowners return home to supervise the operations of their estates. Industrious and intelligent, Catherine II read historical and philosophical works, corresponded with great philosophers Voltaire and Diderot; she bought collections of European art for the Hermitage and libraries for the Russia’s scholars. Empress’ reign was marked by close attention to arts, science and culture: she established the Hermitage museum, the theater, a secondary and higher drama schools, general educational schools, and the Public library; 25 major academic institutions were founded in Russia under her supervision. Catherine II had barely established herself on the throne when she ordered to rebuild her private rooms in the Winter Palace, to erect a monument to Peter the Great, which later became known as the Bronze Horseman, to construct the building of Academy of Fine Arts on Vasilievsky Island, as well as Razumovsky palace, the Roman Catholic Church of St.Catherine on Nevsky prospect, the Marble palace, the Taurida garden - construction was never so dynamic in St.Petersburg and many majestic buildings arose at Catherine’s bidding. By Catherine’s death at the age of 67, her reputation as an enlightened leader had been overshadowed by her liberal reaction to the news of French Revolution in 1789 and by scandalous rumors concerning her later love affairs. The Empress died on November 6, 1796 and was succeeded by her son Paul I.

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