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Empress Catherine II the great , the enlightened despot: history and legend

Catherine the Great Catherine the Great was born Sophie Friederike Auguste von Anhalt-Zerbst , daughter of Christian Augustus , Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst .She was a minor German princess but became empress of Russia by virtue of her arranged marriage to Peter of Holstein-Gottorp , heir to the Russian throne (Troyatt Pinkham 15 . She ingratiated herself to her mother-in-law , the empress , and to her husband as well as the Russian people . She became so ensconced in the Russian court that , with the help of courtiers , she managed to instigate a coup de etat and become sole ruler of a vast empire . Her ability to govern as a German woman on the throne of Russia was testament to her genius and guile and she came to deserve the appellation of Catherine the Great . She was an absolute monarch and autocrat , ruling by decree . It was her abilities and acumen in both domestic and foreign policy that made her great . It was the duality of her desire for enlightenment of the nation as a whole , while never freeing her people from enslavement to serfdom , that gave her the title of Enlightened Despot .Catherine ‘s husband , the Grand Duke Peter , was impotent and mentally deficient . It is not likely he consummated the marriage for years . She made powerful friends and took lovers who could help her . It was with her lover , Count Gregory Orlov , and his active support , that she was able to engineer the coup . She remained committed to Orlov politically but not emotionally , and took many other young men as a paramour . Her ambition was to gain the throne without the encumbrance of the mad Peter . She succeeded , as history records , and began a reign that would bring Russia into the modern era as well as open doors to the west .After removing her husband from the throne she may have had him killed .She expanded the borders of Russia south to the Black Sea and pushed westward as far as central Europe as a part of westernization plans for the empire . She was not content to sit back and maintain the status quo .From the outset Catherine realized just how tenuous her situation had become . She was a foreigner and an outsider at court . Her husband , the Tsar , was dead under mysterious circumstances . She was a long shot , at best , to survive for long on the Russian throne . She moved to consolidate her power by keeping those statesmen she knew and perceived to be loyal to her , those who had served her mother-in-law as well as her husband . Chancellor Vorontzov was retained and Nikita Panin was given control of foreign affairs (Alexander 54 .By means of autocratic rule Catherine forced her empire to modernize .She gave the landed gentry more authority over the serfs in an effort to increase agriculture production . She sent out experts in agronomy to study the soil and make recommendations to her as to what crops would do best in the Russian soil . She sent for the latest in mechanical…

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