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Russia Engages the World, 1453-1825
1453 Through the Reign of Ivan the Terrible (1533-1584) The Time of Troubles to the First Romanovs (1598-1682) Peter the Great and His Legacy (1682-1762) The Age of Catherine the Great (1762-1801) The Reign of Emperor Alexander I (1801-1825)


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The Age of Catherine the Great: A Summary of Russian History
Russia Symbol Introduction
Russia Symbol The Husband
Russia Symbol The Enlightened Absolutist Monarch
Russia Symbol Catherine's Foreign Policy
Russia Symbol Paul I
The Age of Catherine the Great: A Summary of World History
The Americas

Russia's Globalization:
A Key

Events marked Russia Symbol are specific to Muscovy/Russia's internal development.
Those marked World Symbol are important world historical or cultural events.
Engagement Symbol indicates specific points of sociocultural or military engagement between Muscovy/Russia and foreign powers or individuals.




Russia Symbol
  Catherine’s Historic Feast
NYPL, Slavic and Baltic Division

Peter III (r. 1761–62), nephew of Empress Elizabeth (r. 1741–61) and grandson of Peter the Great (r. 1682–1725), came to the throne with a flurry of enlightened reforms: he abolished his grandfather’s secret police force; he rehabilitated the dissident Old Believers; he reduced the hated salt tax; he ended compulsory service to the state among the nobility; he liberalized trade for the benefit of the merchants. On the negative side of the ledger, Peter III, who was born in Holstein to a German father, denigrated things Russian and loved all things German. As a consequence, he seemed intent on “lutheranizing” Orthodoxy by, for instance, removing icons from Russian churches; making his Holstein relatives his closest advisors; dressing the army in German uniforms; pulling Russians out of the Seven Years’ War to assure victory for his idol (and Russia’s enemy), King Frederick the Great of Prussia (r. 1740–86); and sending Russian soldiers to war with Denmark over a dispute that involved only Holstein’s and not the empire’s interests. In a short six months, Peter III managed to alienate every important sector of society, including his wife.

Empress Elizabeth had arranged a marriage between her nephew and Sophia of Anhalt-Zerbst. The sixteen-year-old bride converted from Lutheranism to Orthodoxy, took the name Catherine, and generally became russified – unlike her husband, who clung to his German roots. Catherine’s Memoirs of these years recount the quick souring of the marriage because of the difference in temperament. Her recollections, while one-sided, make good reading: she depicts herself as intelligent, warm, diplomatic, sensual, dedicated to duty, believing in Russia’s greatness, and constantly reading great works of literature and politics; Peter, on the other hand, is described as slow, cold, offensive, a poor lover, lazy, a Prussophile, and forever playing with toy soldiers. She also hints that Peter might not be the father of her son Paul (r. 1796–1801). However accurate these portrayals, the fact remains that once Peter became emperor, he threatened to force his estranged wife into a nunnery and marry his mistress. Taking the offensive, Catherine capitalized on the dissatisfaction with the new regime, easily won supporters from among the Russian elite – for instance, the elite guards regiments and individuals such as Princess Ekaterina Dashkova (1743–1810) – and overthrew her husband late in June of 1762. He meekly accepted house arrest but was soon killed, perhaps accidentally.


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