The imperial couple moved into the new Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg. The tsar's eccentricities and policies, including a great admiration for the Prussian king, Frederick II , alienated the same groups that Catherine had cultivated. Russia and Prussia fought each other during the Seven Years' War — , and Russian troops had occupied Berlin in Peter supported Frederick II, however, eroding much of his supports among the nobility.
Peter ceased Russian operations against Prussia, and Frederick suggested the partition of Polish territories with Russia. In July , barely six months after becoming emperor, Peter took a holiday with his Holstein-born courtiers and relatives to Oranienbaum , leaving his wife in Saint Petersburg. On the night of 8 July OS : 27 June ,  Catherine the Great was given the news that one of her co-conspirators had been arrested by her estranged husband, and that all they had been planning must take place at once. The next day, she left the palace and departed for the Ismailovsky regiment , where she delivered a speech asking the soldiers to protect her from her husband.
Catherine then left with the regiment to go to the Semenovsky Barracks, where the clergy were waiting to ordain her as the sole occupant of the Russian throne. She had her husband arrested, and forced him to sign a document of abdication, leaving no one to dispute her accession to the throne. Historians find no evidence for Catherine's complicity in the supposed assassination.
Ivan VI was assassinated during an attempt to free him as part of a failed coup against Catherine: Catherine, like Empress Elizabeth before her, had given strict instructions that he was to be killed in the event of any such attempt. Ivan was thought to be insane because of his years of solitary confinement, so he might have made a poor emperor, even as a figurehead. Although Catherine did not descend from the Romanov dynasty, she descended from the Rurik dynasty , which preceded the Romanovs.
She succeeded her husband as empress regnant , following the precedent established when Catherine I succeeded her husband Peter the Great in Historians debate Catherine's technical status, whether as a regent or as a usurper , tolerable only during the minority of her son, Grand Duke Paul. In the s, a group of nobles connected with Paul Nikita Panin and others considered a new coup to depose Catherine and transfer the crown to Paul, whose power they envisaged restricting in a kind of constitutional monarchy.
Catherine was crowned at the Assumption Cathedral in Moscow on 22 September Inspired by the Byzantine Empire design, the crown was constructed of two gold and silver half spheres, representing the eastern and western Roman empires, divided by a foliate garland and fastened with a low hoop. The crown contains 75 pearls and 4, Indian diamonds forming laurel and oak leaves, the symbols of power and strength, and is surmounted by a The crown was produced in a record two months and weighed 2.
It is one of the main treasures of the Romanov dynasty, and is now on display in the Moscow Kremlin Armoury Museum. Catherine's foreign minister , Nikita Panin in office —81 , exercised considerable influence from the beginning of her reign. A shrewd statesman, Panin dedicated much effort and millions of rubles to setting up a "Northern Accord" between Russia, Prussia , Poland, and Sweden, to counter the power of the Bourbon — Habsburg League. When it became apparent that his plan could not succeed, Panin fell out of favour and Catherine had him replaced with Ivan Osterman in office — Catherine agreed to a commercial treaty with Great Britain in , but stopped short of a full military alliance.
Peter the Great had succeeded in gaining a toehold in the south, on the edge of the Black Sea, in the Azov campaigns. Catherine completed the conquest of the south, making Russia the dominant power in south-eastern Europe after the Russo-Turkish War of — Russia inflicted some of the heaviest defeats ever suffered by the Ottoman Empire, including the Battle of Chesma 5—7 July and the Battle of Kagul 21 July The Russian victories procured access to the Black Sea and allowed Catherine's government to incorporate present-day southern Ukraine , where the Russians founded the new cities of Odessa , Nikolayev , Yekaterinoslav literally: "the Glory of Catherine"; the future Dnipro , and Kherson.
The treaty also removed restrictions on Russian naval or commercial traffic in the Azov Sea , granted to Russia the position of protector of Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire, and made the Crimea a protectorate of Russia. Catherine annexed the Crimea in , 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 , Catherine conducted a triumphal procession in the Crimea, which helped provoke the next Russo—Turkish War. The Ottomans restarted hostilities in the Russo—Turkish War of — This war was another catastrophe for the Ottomans, ending with the Treaty of Jassy , which legitimised the Russian claim to the Crimea and granted the Yedisan region to Russia.
In the Treaty of Georgievsk Russia agreed to protect Georgia against any new invasion and further political aspirations of their Persian suzerains. Catherine waged a new war against Persia in after they, under the new king Agha Mohammad Khan , had again invaded Georgia and established rule in and had expelled the newly established Russian garrisons in the Caucasus.
The ultimate goal for the Russian government, however, was to topple the anti-Russian shah king , and to replace him with a half-brother, Morteza Qoli Khan , who had defected to Russia and was therefore pro-Russian. It was widely expected that a 13,strong Russian corps would be led by the seasoned general, Ivan Gudovich , but the Empress followed the advice of her lover, Prince Zubov , and entrusted the command to his youthful brother, Count Valerian Zubov.
The Russian troops set out from Kizlyar in April and stormed the key fortress of Derbent on 10 May. The event was glorified by the court poet Derzhavin in his famous ode; he later commented bitterly on Zubov's inglorious return from the expedition in another remarkable poem. By mid-June, Zubov's troops overran without any resistance most of the territory of modern-day Azerbaijan , including three principal cities— Baku , Shemakha , and Ganja. By November, they were stationed at the confluence of the Araks and Kura Rivers , poised to attack mainland Iran. In that month, the Empress of Russia died and her successor Paul , who detested that the Zubovs had other plans for the army, ordered the troops to retreat to Russia.
This reversal aroused the frustration and enmity of the powerful Zubovs and other officers who took part in the campaign: many of them would be among the conspirators who arranged Paul's murder five years later. Catherine longed for recognition as an enlightened sovereign. She pioneered for Russia the role that Britain later played through most of the 19th and early 20th centuries as an international mediator in disputes that could, or did, lead to war.
In , she established a League of Armed Neutrality , designed to defend neutral shipping from the British Royal Navy during the American Revolution. From to , Russia fought a war against Sweden , a conflict instigated by Catherine's cousin, King Gustav III of Sweden , who expected to simply overtake the Russian armies still engaged in war against the Ottoman Turks, and hoped to strike Saint Petersburg directly.
Denmark declared war on Sweden in the Theatre War. Peace ensued for 20 years, aided by the assassination of Gustav III in Although the idea of partitioning Poland came from the King Frederick II of Prussia , Catherine took a leading role in carrying it out in the s. In , she formally became protector of the Polish—Lithuanian Commonwealth , which provoked an anti-Russian uprising in Poland, the Confederation of Bar — After the uprising broke down due to internal politics in the Polish—Lithuanian Commonwealth, she established in the Rzeczpospolita , a system of government fully controlled by the Russian Empire through a Permanent Council , under the supervision of her ambassadors and envoys.
After the French Revolution of , Catherine rejected many principles of the Enlightenment she had once viewed favourably. Afraid the May Constitution of Poland might lead to a resurgence in the power of the Polish—Lithuanian Commonwealth and the growing democratic movements inside the Commonwealth might become a threat to the European monarchies, Catherine decided to intervene in Poland. She provided support to a Polish anti-reform group known as the Targowica Confederation.
This spurred Russian interest in opening trade with Japan to the south for supplies and food. Russian local authorities helped his party, and the Russian government decided to use him as a trade envoy. Subsequently, in , the Russian government dispatched a trade mission to Japan, led by Adam Laxman.
The Tokugawa shogunate received the mission, but negotiations failed.
Russian economic development was well below the standards in western Europe. Historian Francois Cruzet writes that Russia under Catherine:. Still, there was a start of industry, mainly textiles around Moscow and ironworks in the Ural Mountains, with a labor force mainly of serfs, bound to the works. Catherine strongly encouraged the migration of the Volga Germans , farmers from Germany who settled mostly in the Volga River Valley region. They indeed helped modernise the sector that totally dominated the Russian economy.
They introduced numerous innovations regarding wheat production and flour milling, tobacco culture, sheep raising, and small-scale manufacturing. In , the Assignation Bank was given the task of issuing the first government paper money. It opened in St.
Petersburg and Moscow in Several bank branches were afterwards established in other towns, called government towns. Paper notes were issued upon payment of similar sums in copper money, which were also refunded upon the presentation of those notes. The emergence of these Assignation rubles was necessary due to large government spending on military needs, which led to a shortage of silver in the treasury transactions, especially in foreign trade, were conducted almost exclusively in silver and gold coins.
Assignation rubles circulated on equal footing with the silver ruble; a market exchange rate for these two currencies was ongoing. The use of these notes continued until Catherine had a reputation as a patron of the arts, literature, and education. The Hermitage Museum , which now [update] occupies the whole Winter Palace , began as Catherine's personal collection.
She wrote comedies, fiction, and memoirs, while cultivating Voltaire , Diderot , and d'Alembert —all French encyclopedists who later cemented her reputation in their writings. The leading economists of her day, such as Arthur Young and Jacques Necker , became foreign members of the Free Economic Society , established on her suggestion in Saint Petersburg in Catherine enlisted Voltaire to her cause, and corresponded with him for 15 years, from her accession to his death in He lauded her accomplishments, calling her "The Star of the North" and the " Semiramis of Russia" in reference to the legendary Queen of Babylon , a subject on which he published a tragedy in Though she never met him face to face, she mourned him bitterly when he died.
She acquired his collection of books from his heirs, and placed them in the National Library of Russia. Four years later, in , she endeavoured to embody in legislation the principles of Enlightenment she learned from studying the French philosophers. She called together at Moscow a Grand Commission—almost a consultative parliament—composed of members of all classes officials, nobles, burghers , and peasants and of various nationalities.
The Commission had to consider the needs of the Russian Empire and the means of satisfying them. The Empress herself prepared the "Instructions for the Guidance of the Assembly" , pillaging as she frankly admitted the philosophers of Western Europe, especially Montesquieu and Cesare Beccaria. As many of the democratic principles frightened her more moderate and experienced advisors, she refrained from immediately putting them into practice. After holding more than sittings, the so-called Commission dissolved without getting beyond the realm of theory.
In spite of this, Catherine began issuing codes to address some of the modernisation trends suggested in her Nakaz. The statute sought to efficiently govern Russia by increasing population and dividing the country into provinces and districts. By the end of her reign, 50 provinces and nearly districts were created, more than double the government officials were appointed, and they were spending six times as much as previously on local government.
In , Catherine conferred on the nobility the Charter to the Nobility , increasing further the power of the landed oligarchs. Nobles in each district elected a Marshal of the Nobility, who spoke on their behalf to the monarch on issues of concern to them, mainly economic ones. In the same year, Catherine issued the Charter of the Towns, which distributed all people into six groups as a way to limit the power of nobles and create a middle estate.
In , the Empress described to Voltaire her legal innovations within a backward Russia as progressing "little by little". During Catherine's reign, Russians imported and studied the classical and European influences that inspired the Russian Enlightenment.
Full list. After earning her degree, Serach moved to Las Vegas to pursue her career in Education. It might take me two tries, but I always got the job. An uninhibited spender, she invested funds in many projects. Main article: Russian history, — Lestocq and Frederick wanted to strengthen the friendship between Prussia and Russia to weaken Austria 's influence and ruin the Russian chancellor Bestuzhev , on whom Empress Elizabeth relied, and who acted as a known partisan of Russo-Austrian co-operation. After finalizing the Nakaz, Catherine brought delegates together from different social and economic classes to form the Legislative Commission, which met for the first time in
Gavrila Derzhavin , Denis Fonvizin , and Ippolit Bogdanovich laid the groundwork for the great writers of the 19th century, especially for Alexander Pushkin. Catherine became a great patron of Russian opera. When Alexander Radishchev published his Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow in one year after the start of the French Revolution and warned of uprisings because of the deplorable social conditions of the peasants held as serfs , Catherine exiled him to Siberia. Firstly I was very surprised at her small stature; I had imagined her to be very tall, as great as her fame.
She was also very fat, but her face was still beautiful, and she wore her white hair up, framing it perfectly. Her genius seemed to rest on her forehead, which was both high and wide. Her eyes were soft and sensitive, her nose quite Greek, her colour high and her features expressive. She addressed me immediately in a voice full of sweetness, if a little throaty: "I am delighted to welcome you here, Madame, your reputation runs before you.
I am very fond of the arts, especially painting. I am no connoisseur, but I am a great art lover. I have said that she was quite small, and yet on the days when she made her public appearances, with her head held high, her eagle-like stare and a countenance accustomed to command, all this gave her such an air of majesty that to me she might have been Queen of the World; she wore the sashes of three orders, and her costume was both simple and regal; it consisted of a muslin tunic embroidered with gold fastened by a diamond belt, and the full sleeves were folded back in the Asiatic style.
Over this tunic she wore a red velvet dolman with very short sleeves. The bonnet which held her white hair was not decorated with ribbons, but with the most beautiful diamonds. Catherine held western European philosophies and culture close to her heart, and she wanted to surround herself with like-minded people within Russia.
Catherine believed education could change the hearts and minds of the Russian people and turn them away from backwardness. This meant developing individuals both intellectually and morally, providing them knowledge and skills, and fostering a sense of civic responsibility. Catherine appointed Ivan Betskoy as her advisor on educational matters. She also established a commission composed of T. Teplov, T. Dilthey, and the historian G. She consulted British education pioneers, particularly the Rev. Daniel Dumaresq and Dr John Brown. The commission studied the reform projects previously installed by I.
They submitted recommendations for the establishment of a general system of education for all Russian orthodox subjects from the age of 5 to 18, excluding serfs. In July , Dumaresq wrote to Dr. John Brown about the commission's problems and received a long reply containing very general and sweeping suggestions for education and social reforms in Russia. Brown argued, in a democratic country, education ought to be under the state's control and based on an education code. He also placed great emphasis on the "proper and effectual education of the female sex"; two years prior, Catherine had commissioned Ivan Betskoy to draw up the General Programme for the Education of Young People of Both Sexes.
It was charged with admitting destitute and extramarital children to educate them in any way the state deemed fit. Since the Moscow Foundling Home was not established as a state-funded institution, it represented an opportunity to experiment with new educational theories. However, the Moscow Foundling Home was unsuccessful, mainly due to extremely high mortality rates, which prevented many of the children from living long enough to develop into the enlightened subjects the state desired.
Not long after the Moscow Foundling Home, at the instigation of her factotum, Ivan Betskoy , she wrote a manual for the education of young children, drawing from the ideas of John Locke , and founded the famous Smolny Institute in , first of its kind in Russia. At first, the Institute only admitted young girls of the noble elite, but eventually it began to admit girls of the petit- bourgeoisie , as well.
Within the walls of the Institute, they were taught impeccable French, musicianship, dancing, and complete awe of the Monarch. At the Institute, enforcement of strict discipline was central to its philosophy. Running and games were forbidden, and the building was kept particularly cold because too much warmth was believed to be harmful to the developing body, as was excess play.
During —, no progress was made in setting up a national school system. She made many educational reforms despite the lack of a national school system. The remodelling of the Cadet Corps initiated many educational reforms. It then began to take children from a very young age and educate them until the age of The curriculum was broadened from the professional military curriculum to include the sciences, philosophy, ethics, history, and international law. After the war and the defeat of Pugachev, Catherine laid the obligation to establish schools at the guberniya —a provincial subdivision of the Russian empire ruled by a governor—on the Boards of Social Welfare set up with the participation of elected representatives from the three free estates.
By , Catherine arranged another advisory commission to study the information gathered about the educational systems of many different countries. He was strongly in favour of the adoption of the Austrian three-tier model of trivial, real, and normal schools at village, town, and provincial capital levels. In addition to the advisory commission, Catherine established a Commission of National Schools under Pyotr Zavadovsky.
This commission was charged with organising a national school network, training the teachers, and providing the textbooks. It also regulated, in detail, the subjects to be taught at every age and the method of teaching.
In addition to the textbooks translated by the commission, teachers were provided with the "Guide to Teachers". This work, divided into four parts, dealt with teaching methods, the subjects taught, the behaviour of the teacher, and the running of a school. Judgment of the 19th century was generally critical, claiming that Catherine failed to supply enough money to support her educational programme.
Throughout Russia, the inspectors encountered a patchy response. While the nobility put up appreciable amounts of money for these institutions, they preferred to send their children to private, more prestigious institutions. Also, the townspeople tended to turn against the junior schools and their pedagogical methods.
An estimated 62, pupils were being educated in some state institutions near the end of Catherine's reign. This was only a minuscule number of people compared to the size of the Russian population. Catherine's apparent whole-hearted adoption of all things Russian including Orthodoxy may have prompted her personal indifference to religion. She nationalised all of the church lands to help pay for her wars, largely emptied the monasteries, and forced most of the remaining clergymen to survive as farmers or from fees for baptisms and other services.
Very few members of the nobility entered the Church, which became even less important than before. She did not allow dissenters to build chapels, and she suppressed religious dissent after the onset of the French Revolution. However, Catherine promoted Christianity in her anti-Ottoman policy, promoting the protection and fostering of Christians under Turkish rule. She placed strictures on Roman Catholics ukaz of 23 February , mainly Polish, and attempted to assert and extend state control over them in the wake of the partitions of Poland.
Catherine took many different approaches to Islam during her reign. Between and , Muslims were actively prohibited from owning any Orthodox serfs. They were also pressured into Orthodoxy through monetary incentives. This commission promised to protect their religious rights, but did not do so. Many Orthodox peasants felt threatened by the sudden change, and burned mosques as a sign of their displeasure. After the "Toleration of All Faiths" Edict of , Muslims were permitted to build mosques and practise all of their traditions, the most obvious of these being the pilgrimage to Mecca , which had been denied previously.
The positions on the Assembly were appointed and paid for by Catherine and her government, as a way of regulating the religious affairs of her nation. In , Catherine approved the subsidising of new mosques and new town settlements for Muslims. This was another attempt to organise and passively control the outer fringes of her country. By building new settlements with mosques placed in them, Catherine attempted to ground many of the nomadic people who wandered through southern Russia. The plan was another attempt to force nomadic people to settle.
This allowed the Russian government to control more people, especially those who previously had not fallen under the jurisdiction of Russian law. Russia often treated Judaism as a separate entity, where Jews were maintained with a separate legal and bureaucratic system. Although the government knew that Judaism existed, Catherine and her advisers had no real definition of what a "Jew" is, since the term meant many things during her reign. When Catherine agreed to the First Partition of Poland , the large new Jewish element was treated as a separate people, defined by their religion.
In keeping with their treatment in Poland, Catherine allowed the Jews to separate themselves from Orthodox society, with certain restrictions. She levied additional taxes on the followers of Judaism; if a family converted to the Orthodox faith, that additional tax was lifted. Converted Jews could gain permission to enter the merchant class and farm as free peasants under Russian rule. In an attempt to assimilate the Jews into Russia's economy, Catherine included them under the rights and laws of the Charter of the Towns of Catherine tried to keep the Jews away from certain economic spheres, even under the guise of equality; in , she banned Jewish citizens from Moscow's middle class.
In , Catherine declared Jews to be officially foreigners, with foreigners' rights. Catherine's decree also denied Jews the rights of an Orthodox or naturalised citizen of Russia. Taxes doubled again for those of Jewish descent in , and Catherine officially declared that Jews bore no relation to Russians. In many ways, the Orthodox Church fared no better than its foreign counterparts during the reign of Catherine.
Under her leadership, she completed what Peter III had started: the church's lands were expropriated, and the budget of both monasteries and bishoprics were controlled by the College of Economy. The endowments were often much less than the original intended amount. Only , rubles of church wealth were paid back. In , to help mend the rift between the Orthodox church and a sect that called themselves the Old Believers , Catherine passed an act that allowed Old Believers to practise their faith openly without interference.
They refused to comply, and in , she deported over 20, Old Believers to Siberia on the grounds of their faith. Old Believers were allowed to hold elected municipal positions after the Urban Charter of , and she promised religious freedom to those who wished to settle in Russia. Religious education was also strictly reviewed.
At first, she simply attempted to revise clerical studies, proposing a reform of religious schools. This reform never progressed beyond the planning stages. By , Catherine excluded all religion and clerical studies programmes from lay education. She transformed the clergy from a group that wielded great power over the Russian government and its people to a segregated community forced to depend on the state for compensation.
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 gifts of serfs and large estates.
The percentage of state money spent on the court increased from Catherine gave away 66, serfs from —72, , from —93, and , in one day: 18 August From 19 April , any bureaucrat holding the same rank for seven years or more was instantly promoted. On 13 September , Catherine decreed that after seven years in one rank, civil servants would be automatically promoted regardless of office or merit. After her affair with her lover and adviser Grigori Alexandrovich Potemkin ended in , he allegedly selected a candidate-lover for her who had the physical beauty and mental faculties to hold her interest such as Alexander Dmitriev-Mamonov and Nicholas Alexander Suk .
Some of these men loved her in return, and she always showed generosity towards them, even after the affair ended. One of her lovers, Pyotr Zavadovsky , received 50, rubles, a pension of 5, rubles, and 4, peasants in Ukraine after she dismissed him in Her sexual independence led to many of the legends about her. Poniatowski, through his mother's side, came from the Czartoryski family , prominent members of the pro-Russian faction in Poland. Catherine, 26 years old and already married to the then-Grand Duke Peter for some 10 years, met the year-old Poniatowski in , therefore well before encountering the Orlov brothers.
In , Poniatowski served in the British forces during the Seven Years' War, thus severing close relationships with Catherine. Catherine supported Poniatowski as a candidate to become the next king. She sent the Russian army into Poland to avoid possible disputes. Russia invaded Poland on 26 August , threatening to fight, and imposing Poniatowski as king. Poniatowski accepted the throne, and thereby put himself under Catherine's control.
News of Catherine's plan spread and Frederick II others say the Ottoman sultan warned her that if she tried to conquer Poland by marrying Poniatowski, all of Europe would oppose her. She had no intention of marrying him, having already given birth to Orlov's child and to the Grand Duke Paul by then. She told Poniatowski [ citation needed ] to marry someone else to remove all suspicion. Poniatowski refused. Prussia through the agency of Prince Henry , Russia under Catherine , and Austria under Maria Theresa began preparing the ground for the partitions of Poland.
Russia got territories east of the line connecting, more or less, Riga — Polotsk — Mogilev. In the second partition, in , Russia received the most land, from west of Minsk almost to Kiev and down the river Dnieper , leaving some spaces of steppe down south in front of Ochakov , on the Black Sea. Later uprisings in Poland led to the third partition in , one year before Catherine's death.
Poland ceased to exist as an independent nation until , in the aftermath of World War I. Grigory Orlov , the grandson of a rebel in the Streltsy Uprising against Peter the Great, distinguished himself in the Battle of Zorndorf 25 August , receiving three wounds. He represented an opposite to Peter's pro-Prussian sentiment, with which Catherine disagreed. Grigory Orlov and his other three brothers found themselves rewarded with titles, money, swords, and other gifts, but Catherine did not marry Grigory, who proved inept at politics and useless when asked for advice.
He received a palace in Saint Petersburg when Catherine became Empress. Orlov died in Their son, Aleksey Grygoriovich Bobrinsky — , had one daughter, Maria Alexeyeva Bobrinsky Bobrinskaya — , who married in the year-old Prince Nikolai Sergeevich Gagarin London, England, — who took part in the Battle of Borodino 7 September against Napoleon , and later served as ambassador in Turin , the capital of the Kingdom of Sardinia.
In , Catherine's close friends informed her of Orlov's affairs with other women, and she dismissed him. By the winter of , the Pugachev revolt had started to threaten.
Catherine's son Paul had also started gaining support; both of these trends threatened her power. She called Potemkin for help—mostly military—and he became devoted to her.
In , Catherine wrote to Potemkin. Days earlier, she had found out about an uprising in the Volga region. She appointed General Aleksandr Bibikov to put down the uprising, but she needed Potemkin's advice on military strategy. Potemkin quickly gained positions and awards. Russian poets wrote about his virtues, the court praised him, foreign ambassadors fought for his favour, and his family moved into the palace.
He later became the de facto absolute ruler of New Russia , governing its colonisation. Potemkin had the task of briefing him and travelling with him to Saint Petersburg. Potemkin also convinced Catherine to expand the universities in Russia to increase the number of scientists.
Potemkin fell very ill in August Catherine worried he would not finish his work developing the south as he had planned. Potemkin died at the age of 52 in According to a census taken from to , Catherine owned , serfs. A further 2. Children of serfs were born into serfdom and worked the same land their parents had. The serfs had very limited rights, but they were not exactly slaves. While the state did not technically allow them to own possessions, some serfs were able to accumulate enough wealth to pay for their freedom.
This is why some serfs were able to do things such as accumulate wealth. To become serfs, people would give up their freedoms to a landowner in exchange for their protection and support in times of hardship. In addition, they would receive land to till, but would be taxed a certain percentage of their crops to give to their landowners. These were the privileges a serf was entitled to and that nobles were bound to carry out.
Catherine did initiate some changes to serfdom, though. If a noble did not live up to his side of the deal, then the serfs could file complaints against him by following the proper channels of law. She did this because she did not want to be bothered by the peasantry, but did not want to give them reason to revolt, either.
In this act, though, she unintentionally gave the serfs a legitimate bureaucratic status they had lacked before. For example, serfs could apply to be freed if they were under illegal ownership, and non-nobles were not allowed to own serfs. In addition, some governors listened to the complaints of serfs and punished nobles, but this was by no means all-inclusive. Other than these, the rights of a serf were very limited. A landowner could punish his serfs at his discretion, and under Catherine the Great gained the ability to sentence his serfs to hard labour in Siberia, a punishment normally reserved for convicted criminals.
The life of a serf belonged to the state. Historically, when the serfs faced problems they could not solve on their own such as abusive masters , they often appealed to the autocrat, and continued doing so during Catherine's reign, though she signed legislation prohibiting it. For example, she took action to limit the number of new serfs; she eliminated many ways for people to become serfs, culminating in the manifesto of 17 March , which prohibited a serf who had once been freed from becoming a serf again. During her reign, Catherine gave away many state-owned peasants to become private serfs owned by a landowner , and while their ownership changed hands, a serf's location never did.
However, peasants owned by the state generally had more freedoms than those owned by a noble. While the majority of serfs were farmers bound to the land, a noble could also have his serfs sent away to learn a trade or be educated at a school, in addition to employing them at businesses that paid wages. Only in this way could a serf leave the farm for which he was responsible. The attitude of the serfs towards their autocrat had historically been a positive one.
Because the serfs had no political power, they rioted to get their message across. But usually, if the serfs did not like the policies of the tsar, they saw the nobles as corrupt and evil, preventing the people of Russia from communicating with the well-intentioned tsar and misinterpreting his decrees. Far away from the capital, they were also confused as to the circumstances of her accession to the throne.
The peasants were discontented because of many other factors, as well, including crop failure, and epidemics, especially a major epidemic in Wehmeyer, Karrie A. Add to Wish List. Close Preview. Toggle navigation Additional Book Information. Description Table of Contents Editor s Bio. Wehmeyer, J. Shogren, Michael L.
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