The Enlightened Empress
"Freedom, you are the soul of everything that is dead without you!...
I want obedience to laws but not the slaves... Power without confidence
of people means nothing... It is against Christianity and justice to make
slaves of people. They are all born free!"- wrote Catherine a year before
her accesion to the throne. The ideas about the state, society, moral,
religion, law, proclaimed in the books of enlighters of the 18th century,
interest to the history books, general inclination to reading helped her
develop out of herself a personality who was by nature witty, keen on
observation, brave and ambitious. Her good fate brought her to the throne.
The Empress, who thought about herself as a student of Voltaire, Montesquieu
and Diderot, sicerely believed that having accended to the throne she
would put into life their ideas.
In 1766 Catherine issued Manifesto concerning specially convented Legislative
Commission to work out new laws that would satisfy all her subjects and
writes her "Nakaz" or "Instruction" based on the ideas of European enlighteners,
Montesquieu in particular. (His treatise "About the Spirit of Laws" she
considered to be the "Prayer-book of the monarchs with common sense".)
However "Nakaz"declaring equality of all the citizens in the eye of the
law, publicity of judicial system, public enlightenment was so alien to
the nature of Russian society, and malcontent of the Russian nobility
- the support of the Russian throne - was so evident that the Empress
refused to implement utopian ideas and turned to real policy instead.
Later she wrote:"In the eyes of the sovereigns severe with themselves
policy is seldom ruled by morale, it is mostly led by benefit reasons".
Since then Catherine strived to strengthen autocracy - the basis of the
Russian state. She will grant Russian nobility exceptional privileges
and will severely suppress peasant revolts, she will cynically take part
in division of Poland and Russia will acquire eastern Slavonic territories.
Having wun a victory over Turkey she will join to Russia the Black Sea
coast, the Crimean peninsula and the Northern Caucasus.Political successes
of Catherine II enabled her personal prestige to strengthen. But her reign
got its particular magnificence as well as she created her special image
in the eyes of the other world due to her activities as a monarch-enlightener.
Catherine supported flourishing of sciences and founded the Russian Academy
of Sciences - centre of humanities.The Empress supervised with interest
activities of the Academy of Arts founded by Elizaveta Petrovna. She attracted
renown architects, artists and sculptors to St.Petersburg, patronized
literature and wrote herself quite curious literary production. She had
the honour to open Bolshoi Kamennyi Theatre in St.Petersburg.Catherine
was in correspondence with the great philosophers of her time - Diderot
and Voltaire. Showing herself an adequate interlocutress of the thinkers
Catherine won the right to rank among the intellectual elite of Europe.
Celebrities met at her court and the elite had the liberty to discuss
liberal ideas. But the foundations of the Russan autocracy will remain
firm outside her palace.
Four books from the library of Catherine II
Portrait of Catherine II depicted with the text of
the “Instruction” (“Nakaz”) in her hand
Unknown miniaturist of the late 18th century
Snuff-box with portrait of Catherine II in the
image of Minerva
Master Jean Pierre Adore
view of the embankment of Vasilievsky Island near the Academy of Arts
in Saint Petersburg from the Neva river
The view of the Bolshoi Theatre in Saint Petersburg
Gabriel Ludvig Lori
Matthias Gabriel Lori