Reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796)

This article briefly expounds on the historical background of a famous Russian named Catherine II, and the way she transformed the Russian empire through her reign.

Background of Catherine the Great

Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great was born in Stettin, Pomerania, Prussia on 2nd May 1729 as daughter to Christian August – Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst. She received her education chiefly from a French governess and from tutors (Reddaway, 1997). She reigned as Empress of Russia from 9th July 1762 after the assassination of her husband, Peter III, just after the end of the Seven Years’ War until her death on 17th November 1796 (Rodger, 2005).

Under her direct governing, the Russian Empire expanded, improved its administration, and continued to modernize along Western European lines. Catherine’s rule re-vitalized Russia, which grew stronger than ever and became recognized as one of the great powers of Europe. She had successes in foreign policy and oversaw sometimes brutal reprisals in the wake of rebellion – most notably Pugachev’s Rebellion (Isabel, 1979). Catherine the great was a legendary figure.

Catherine, throughout her long reign, took many lovers, often elevating them to high positions for as long as they held her interest, and then pensioning them off with large estates and gifts of serfs. The percentage of state money spent on the court increased from 10.4% in 1767 to 11.4% in 1781 to 13.5% in 1795.Just as the church supported her hoping to get their land back, Catherine bought the support of the Bureaucracy by making promotion up the 14 ranks automatic after a certain time period, regardless of position or merit. Thus, the bureaucracy was populated with time servers (Reddaway, 1931).

Reign of Catherine the Great (1762-1796)

Catherine II (Russian), also known as Catherine the Great reigned as Empress of Russia from 9th July 1762 after the assassination of her husband, Peter III, just after the end of the Seven Years’ War until her death on 17th November 1796. She was thirty-three years old when she ascended the Russian throne. She had survived a loveless marriage, in which “ambition alone sustained her” (Hans, 1961). Ignored by her husband, Peter III, she dedicated her time to learning the Russian language, studying the writings of the philosophies, and adapting cleverly to her new environment skills which constitute important aspects of her reign.

During her reign, Catherine extended the borders of the Russian Empire in south reion and west region to absorb New Russia, Crimea, Northern Caucasus, Right-Bank Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and Courland. The main two powers were the Ottoman Empire and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. She added some 200,000 miles² (approximately 518,000 km²) to Russian territory.

Catherine agreed to a commercial treaty with Great Britain in 1766, but stopped as soon a s she realized there will full military alliance. Although she could see the benefits of Britain’s friendship, she was wary of Britain’s increased power following their victory in the Seven Years War, which threatened the European Balance of Power.

Catherine annexed the Crimea in 1783, nearly nine years after the Crimean Khanate had gained nominal independence, which had been guaranteed by Russia, from the Ottoman Empire. As a result of her first war against the Turks, the palace of the Crimean khans passed into the hands of the Russians. In 1786, Catherine conducted a triumphal procession in the Crimea, which helped provoke the next Russo-Turkish War.The Ottomans re-started hostilities in the second Russo-Turkish War (1787–1792). This war proved catastrophic for the Ottomans and ended with the Treaty of Jassy (1792), which legitimized the Russian claim to the Crimea and granted the Yedisan region to Russia.

From 1788 to 1790 Russia fought in the Russo-Swedish War against Sweden, a conflict that was fueled by her cousin, King Gustav III of Sweden. He expected to overtake the Russian armies still engaged in war against the Ottoman Turks and hoped to strike Saint Petersburg directly. But Russia’s Baltic Fleet checked the Royal Swedish navy in a tied battle off Hogland (July 1788), and the Swedish army failed to advance. After the decisive defeat of the Russian fleet at the Battle of Svensksund in 1790, the parties signed the Treaty of Värälä on 14th August 1790 returning all conquered territories to their respective owners and confirming the Treaty of Abo. Peace was ensued for 20 years, which was aided by the assassination of Gustav III in 1792.


Rodger A.M (2005) Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649–1815, London, p.328

Isabel M. (1979) the Foundation of the Russian Educational System by Catherine II, Slavonic and East European Review: 369-395

Reddaway, W. F. (1931) Documents of Catherine the Great, The Correspondence with Voltaire and the Instruction of 1767 in the English Text of 1768, Cambridge University Press, (England), (Reprint (1971)

Hans, N. (1961) Dumaresq, Brown and Some Early Educational Projects of Catherine II”, Slavonic and East European Review: pg 229-235