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The Enlightened Empress

The Hostess of the Palace
"The richness and splendour of the Russian court is above all pretentious descriptions. The traces of ancient Asian magnificence are mixed with European exquisiteness. A huge suite of courtiers either follow or preceed the Empress. Luxurious and brilliant full dresses and abundancy of precious stones on them are much more magnificent than at any other European court... Of the luxury articles of the Russian nobility we foreigners are most of all astonished with the abundancy of precious stones shining on different parts of their costume... Many of the noblemen are almost studded with diamonds", wrote the English traveller and historian William Cox who visited the Winter Palace receptions.As compared with magnificence of the court way of life the personal requirements of Catherine were moderate as she intentionally pointed it out. The state secretary of Catherine II who described the last ten years of her reign Gribovskoy indicated that she wore a plain loose dress of grey or violet silk. Orders and jewellery decorated her costume made of brocade or velvet all in the same style only at gala receptions. She introduced a fashion of wearing "Russian style" dresses at the court and used elements of national costume in her attire.

Catherine and her retinue
Catherine II was able to see talents in people and to use them for the sake of her country. "Study people, try to use them, don't believe everybody; look for real virtues even though they are deeply hidden...", she wrote in her "Notes". Courage of brothers Orlovs brought her to the throne, political intuition of Grigory Potemkin served her policy, as well as intellect and cunning of the Count Alexander Bezborodko, European education of the Countess Ekaterina Dashkova led the Russian Academy of Sciences, patron of arts Alexander Stroganov with his love to arts headed the Russian Academy of Arts as its president.Talented Field Marshals Piotr Rumiantsev-Zadunaisky and Alexander Suvorov helped her win glorious victories. But it was not only for political benefits that Catherine sought in her retinue. Being deprived of warm and cordial affection from early years, being obliged to marry against her heart, pushed aside from bringing up her son Catherine needed sincere humane relashions, she longed for a confidant and support. A short love affair with handsome Stanislaw Poniatowski when she was still a young and lonely Grand Duchess showed her that marital unfaithfulness with impunity was an inevitable attribute of worldly life. Love, courage and devotion of Grigory Orlov paved Catherine the way to the throne. But it was not only this and his beauty, it was a genuine affection to each other that tied them together.
The Empress openly admits liaison with Grigoriy Orlov, grants him titles and lands, let him have rooms in her palace, thus manifesting her own right to favouritism that will later become a part of her policy. Count Potemkin one of the distinguished political figures in Russia will not only be her companion and counsellor, but also a friend and favourite in place of Orlov. The French representative at the Russian court Count de Segur wrote about Potemkin: "There has been either at court or at civil or military service a nobleman so magnificent and yet so wild, a minister so enterprising and yet so lazy, a general so brave and yet so irresolute." Among her favourites Catherine had both clever adventurers and stupid but handsome men, some were amusing, for the others Catherine played the role of an educator of "young and innocent " soul. But only very few who really touched her heart. And still fewer who got the right to influence the policy of the Empress. "I have always felt inclined to be under the influence of people who knew the things better then me, it only bothered me that they shouldn't pretend and desire to get possession of me", confessed Catherine II in her letter to Melchior Grimm.
"My day is carefully scheduled" - testified Catherine in her letter to m-me Joffrin. In winter on ordinary days the Empress got up at 6 am and spent 3 hours in a mirrored cabinet devoting this time to the most serious work - literary activities, editing of the laws and acts of the state. At this she had the strongest coffee while cream, cakes and sugar served for breakfast were sent to her favourite dogs.After 9 a.m. and for about 3 hours the Empress listened to the reports in her bedroom. At noon she received her grandsons . Till dinner time Catherine II read or made copies of the cameos, after dinner sorted out the correspondence. At 6 p.m. she had an evening meeting in her rooms or visited the performance in the Hermitage Theatre. The guests left her after 9 p.m. At 11 a.m. the Empress was asleep. To this week-days schedule receptions, balls and masquerades were added on holidays.In summer Catherine II lived in her favourite summer palace in the Tsarskoe Selo (the Tsarz Village) where her usual time-table was preserved except for the early morning walks in the park intead of the work. Her mode of life was governed by strict order based on self-discipline, diligence and responsibility for the fate of the huge country.


Cipher with
the initials E II

Saint Petersburg
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Full-dress of Catherine of the type of the Preobrazhensky Guards Regiment
Saint Petersburg

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Chess figurines
Master Andrian Sukhanov

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Empress Catherine II walking in the garden of the Tsar's Village
Nikolai Utkin

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The Hermitage
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