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CATHERINE DE’ MEDICI

was almost comically shown by the immense trouble she took to compile an answer to the Voyage en Sibêrie of the French astronomer Chappe d’Auteroche. The book is in three big quartos, and Catherine’s answer—which was never finished—is still larger. Chappe d’Auteroche had discovered that Siberia was not a paradise, and had observed that the Russians were dirty in their habits, and that masters whipped their servants, male and female. Her patriotism was less innocently shown by her conquests. Yet it may be doubted whether any capable ruler of Russia could have abstained from aggressions at the expense of the rights of the Saxon family in Courland, of Poland, and of Turkey (see Russia: History). It does seem now to be clearly proved that the partition of Poland was not suggested by her, as has been frequently asserted. Catherine would have preferred to control the country through a vassal sovereign of the type of Stanislaus Poniatowski, the old lover whose election she secured in 1763. Poland was incapable of maintaining its independence at the time of the first partition (1772), and the division of the unhappy country was forced on by Austria and Prussia. In the case of the second partition in 1793, she did show herself to be very unscrupulous. Her opposition to the reform of the Polish government was plainly due to a wish to preserve an excuse for further spoliation, but her conduct was less cruel and base than that of Prussia.

Catherine had adhered to her husband’s policy of a Prussian alliance. While Frederick the Great lived she was impressed by his ability. But the Prussian alliance became hateful to her, and her later correspondence with Grimm overflows with contempt of his successor Frederick William II., who is always spoken of by her as “Brother Gu.” Her exasperation with the affectations of the Prussian king was unquestionably increased by her discovery that he would not be induced to apply himself to a crusade against the French Revolution, which by employing all his forces would have left Russia free to annex the whole of what remained of Poland. But at least she did not enter into a solemn engagement to defend the Poles who were engaged in reforming their constitution, and then throw them over in order to share in the plunder of their country.

Catherine’s Turkish policy was at first marked by a certain grandiosity. When the Turks declared war in 1768 in order to support Poland, which they looked upon as a necessary buffer state, she retaliated by the great Greek scheme. For a time it was a pet idea with her to revive the Greek empire, and to plant the cross, with the double-headed Russian eagle, at Constantinople. She formed a corps of Greek cadets, caused her younger grandson to be christened Constantine, and began the policy of presenting Russia to the Christian subjects of the Porte as their deliverer. In pursuit of this heroic enterprise, which excited the loud admiration of Voltaire, she sent a fleet under Alexis Orlov into the Mediterranean in 1770. Orlov tempted the Greeks of the Morea to take up arms, and then left them in the lurch. When Catherine found herself opposed by the policy of France and England, and threatened by the jealousy of Prussia and Austria, she dropped the Greek design, observing to Voltaire that the descendants of the Spartans were much degenerated. The introduction into the treaty of Kuchuk-Kainarji of 1774 of a clause by which the Porte guaranteed the rights of its Christian subjects, and of another-giving Russia the right to interfere on behalf of a new Russian church in Constantinople, advertised the claim of the tsars to be the natural protectors of the Orthodox in the Ottoman dominions; but when she took up arms again in 1788 in alliance with Joseph II. (q.v.), it was to make a mere war of conquest and partition. The Turkish wars show the weak side of Catherine as a ruler. Though she had mounted the throne by a military revolt and entered on great schemes of conquest, she never took an intelligent interest in her army. She neglected it in peace, allowed it to be shamefully administered in war, and could never be made to understand that it was not in her power to improvise generals out of her favourites. It is to her credit that she saw the capacity of Suvarov, yet she never had as much confidence in him as she had in Potemkin, who may have been a man of genius, but was certainly no general. She took care never to have to deal with a disciplined opponent, except the Swedes, who beat her, but who were very few.

It was the misfortune of Catherine that she lived too long. She disgraced herself by living with her last lover, Zubov, when she was a woman of sixty-seven, trusting him with power and lavishing public money on him. The outbreak of the French Revolution stripped off the varnish of philosophy and philanthropy which she had assumed in earlier years. She had always entertained a quiet contempt for the French writers whom she flattered and pensioned, and who served her as an advertising agency in the west. When the result of their teaching was seen in Paris, good-natured contempt was turned to hatred. She then became a persecutor in her own dominions of the very ideas she had encouraged in former years. She scolded and preached a crusade, without, however, departing from the steady pursuit of her own interests in Poland, while endeavouring with transparent cunning to push Austria and Prussia into an invasion of France with all their forces. Her health began to break down, and it appears to be nearly certain that towards the end she suffered from hysteria of a shameful kind. It is plain that her intellect had begun to fail just before her death, for she allowed the reigning favourite, Platon Zubov, to persuade her to despatch his brother Valerian, with the rank of field marshal and an army of 20,000 men, on a crack-brained scheme to invade India by way of Persia and Tibet. The refusal of the king of Sweden to marry into her family unless the bride would become a Lutheran is said to have thrown her into a convulsion of rage which hastened her death. On the 9th of November 1796, she was seized by a fit of apoplexy, and died on the evening of the 10th.

All other accounts of Catherine II. have been superseded by Waliszewski’s two volumes, Le Roman d’une impératrice (Paris, 1893) and Autour d’un Trône: Catherine II., ses collaborateurs, ses amis, ses favoris (Paris, 1894). The original sources for the history of her policy and her character are to be found in the publications of the Imperial Russian Historical Society, vols. i.-cix. (St Petersburg), begun in 1867; her private and official correspondence will be found in vols. i., ii., iv., v., vi., vii., viii., ix., x., xiii., xiv., xv., xvii., xx., xxiii., xxxii., xxxiii., xxxvi., xlii., xliii., xlvii., xlviii., li., lvii., lxvii., lxviii., lxxxvii., xcvii., xcviii., cvii., cxv., cxviii.


CATHERINE DE’ MEDICI (1519–1589), queen of France, the wife of one French king and the mother of three, was born at Florence in 1519. She was a daughter of Lorenzo II. de’ Medici and a French princess, Madeleine de la Tour d’Auvergne. Having lost both her parents at an early age, Catherine was sent to a convent to be educated; and she was only fourteen when she was married (1533) at Marseilles to the duke of Orléans, afterwards Henry II. It was her uncle, Pope Clement VII., who arranged the marriage with Francis I. Francis, still engaged in his lifelong task of making head against Charles V., was only too glad of the opportunity to strengthen his influence in the Italian peninsula, while Clement, ever needful of help against his too powerful protector, was equally ready to hold out a bait. During the reign of Francis, Catherine exercised no influence in France. She was young, a foreigner, a member of a state that had almost no weight in the great world of politics, had not given any proof of great ability, and was thrown into the shade by more important persons. For ten years after her marriage she had no children. In consequence, a divorce began to be talked of at court; and it seemed not impossible that Francis, alarmed at the possible extinction of the royal house, might listen to such a proposal. But Catherine had the happiness of bringing him grandchildren ere he died. During the reign of her husband, too (1547–1559), Catherine lived a quiet and passive, but observant life. Henry being completely under the influence of his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, she had little authority. In 1552, when the king left the kingdom for the campaign of Metz, she was nominated regent, but with very limited powers. This continued even after the accession of her son Francis II. Francis was under the spell of Mary Stuart, and she, little disposed to meddle with politics on her own account, was managed by her uncles, the cardinal of Lorraine and the duke of Guise. The queen-mother, however, soon grew weary of the domination of the Guises, and entered upon a course of secret opposition. On the 1st of April 1560 she placed in the