The New International Encyclopædia/Catharine II.

CATHARINE II., the Great (1729-96). Empress of Russia from 1762 to 1796. She was born at Stettin, May 2, 1729, the daughter of the Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst, and was baptized a Lutheran under the name Sophia Augusta. She was chosen by the Empress Elizabeth (q.v.) of Russia for the wife of her nephew, Peter of Holstein-Gottorp, heir to the Russian throne, and was rebaptized into the Greek Church by the name of Catharine. She was married in 1745. Thrown at the age of sixteen into the intrigues of the coarse and immoral Russian Court, Catharine adapted herself with singular readiness to her surroundings. Indifference to her husband soon became contempt and hatred. While Peter alienated the Russians by his obstinate admiration of all things German, Catharine became a Russian of the Russians, and, anticipating the great part she was later to play, attached to herself a strong party, through her tact and matchless influence over men. Peter openly maintained a mistress, subjecting his wife to constant indignities, and Catharine's relations were equally notorious, at first with Count Soltikoff, and afterwards with Count Stanislas Poniatowski. The Empress Elizabeth died in 1762 and Peter became Emperor. He now threatened to divorce Catharine, to declare her son Paul illegitimate, and to marry his mistress, the Princess Vorontsoff. Catharine, assisted by the Orloffs, the Princess Dashkoff (q.v.), and others who had long formed about her a coterie of conspirators, headed a rising of the troops in Saint Petersburg, and, aided by the dilatoriness and weakness of Peter, and his unpopularity, secured all the instruments of power, and was declared Empress of Russia. Peter was seized and imprisoned, and was probably strangled by Gregory Orloff, Catharine's favorite at the time (July, 1762). As Empress, Catharine gave close personal attention to the work of government, and by liberal expenditure and the patronage of letters and art made her Court one of the most brilliant in Europe. It has been said that she found Saint Petersburg a village of hovels and left it a city of brick and marble. Regarded at first as a usurper by the European governments, she compelled their recognition by the vigor of her policy. In 1780 she announced the principle of armed neutrality as an offset to the British treatment of neutrals, and, by securing the adhesion of other States, fixed in international law the principle of ‘free ships, free goods.’ See International Law.

The gross immorality of her private life was as notable as her administrative energy. Russia borrowed what culture it had from France, but at the same time the immoral life of the French Court was reduced to a system in Russia. The rule of all the Empresses after Peter the Great was notorious for the influence possessed by favorites, but Catharine's wholesale methods are almost unique in history. She had a succession of recognized lovers, beginning with the brutal and domineering Gregory Orloff, who maintained his place until he dared to aspire to marriage with his royal mistress. After him came Vysocki, Vassilshikoff, Alexis Orloff, and then the most powerful of them all, Gregory Potemkin (q.v.). Potemkin was banished from the Court for the same presumption that led to Gregory Orloff's fall; but he was made practically Vice-Emperor for southern Russia, and continued to play an important part in the government, retaining Catharine's affection to the day of his death. These men had all possessed some force and power, and had supported Catharine in the administration; but Potemkin was followed by a series of favorites who were little more than the temporary lovers of the Empress. Soon after her seizure of the throne Catharine secured the election of her early lover, Poniatowski, to the Polish throne, and later, in alliance with Prussia and Austria, took advantage of the dissensions among the Poles to bring about the three partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, and 1795). This was only one of the steps which enabled Catharine to aecomplish one of her chief ambitions — to bring Russia into direct contact with the Western world. She was indeed the truest heir to the policy of Peter the Great, in its good and its evil. The war with Turkey (1768-1774) impressed Europe with the power of Russia, and brought increase of territory, the Crimea, etc., and the free navigation of the Black and Mediterranean seas.

With all her defects of character, Catharine was one of the most remarkable rulers of modern times. Her boundless ambition and tireless energy served chiefly one aim — that of developing all the resources of Russia and transforming it into the most powerful and most splendid State of Europe. During the first twelve years of her reign, while under the influence of Orloff, her activity was almost wholly beneficent. She convoked representatives of all the provinces at Moscow, to discuss plans for reforming the administration of justice, and as a result completely reorganized the laws of the Empire. She encouraged immigration, introduced inoculation for smallpox, and other sanitary measures, established elementary schools in all the cities and many small towns, founded institutions of learning, military and naval schools and hospitals, built canals and fortresses, and sent Russian scholars and artists abroad, to profit by foreign example. The principal defect of her methods lay in her seeking to adapt to the government of a half-civilized country like Russia the principles derived from her study of French models. She invariably turned to French thinkers as her source of inspiration and was flattered by their applause. She corresponded with Voltaire and invited him to her Court; patronized Diderot, who lived some time in Saint Petersburg; asked D'Alembert to complete the Encyclopédie there; made Grimm her literary agent in Paris; translated Marmontel's Bélisaire into Russian, and in reorganizing the laws of the Empire took Montesquieu as her model. Her foreign policy, fantastic as to her dream of expelling the Turks from Europe and founding a new Byzantine empire under a prince of her house, bore substantial fruit in securing for Russia the lion's share in the partitions of Poland, in humbling the Turks, annexing the Crimea and Courland, and extending the boundaries of Russia to the Dniester. During the early part of her reign she was called upon to frustrate the plots to place on the throne Ivan, son of Anna Carlovna, and, later, to suppress the formidable revolt, in the Volga region, of the Cossack Pugatcheff, a pseudo-Peter (1771-74) who had enlisted the support of the pleasantry and the extreme orthodox party. Toward the end of her reign her extravagance and the corruption of her Court brought her into discredit in Russia, as well as among the sovereigns of Europe. The progress of the French Revolution elieeked her ardor for reform according to French models, and she finally prohibited the publication of French works in Russia. She died of an attack of apoplexy in November, 1796.

Consult: Memoirs of the Empress Catharine II., translated from the French (New York, 1859); Bury, Catharine II. (New York, 1900); Castéra, Histoire de Catherine II., in two English translations, by Tooke (London, 1798), and by Hunter (London, 1800); Dashkoff, Memoirs of the Princess Daschkaw (London, 1840); K. Waliszewski, The Romance of an Empress: Catharine II. of Russia (London, 1894); Bilbasoff, Geschichte Katharina II., translated from the Russian (Berlin, 1893); Brückner, Katharine die Zweite, Oncken series (Berlin, 1883). A good bibliography is contained in Lavisse and Rambaud, Histoire générale, Vol. VII. (Paris, 1896).