Catherine the Great

Catherine’s vision was to create a better Russia through helping the people.  She recognized how vast her empire was and decided it would be better managed if divided into separate provinces.  The Statute on Provincial Administration created “a much more significant administrative presence in the provinces than been there before” ((Kaiser and Marker 242)) .  The Statue on Provincial Administration creates a more structured, organized role of power for those in charge of the provinces by clearly stating  how the provinces are to be run; for example, “Each province shall establish a criminal court”  (Kaiser and Marker 242)) .   The Statute also establishes the difference in ranks, “The vice-governor, chief of police, chairman of the criminal court, chairman of the civil court,… shall be considered to have a rank of five…” ((Kaiser and Marker 243)) .  Catherine’s organization of the provinces allows her to govern more easily while providing more organization to the provinces throughout all of Russia.

The Charter to the Town truly encapsulates how Catherine was enlightened and what she wished to do for Russia.  Catherine wanted to reform all of Russia, and The Charter to the Town does just that by “clarify[ing] the status of several social groups, to define their privileges and responsibilities to the state, and to give a formal identity to their corporate existence” (Kaiser and Marker 321)) .  Laws in the charter clearly state how “inhabitants of each town” are encouraged and expected to participate in town actives, particularly economic, creating a sense of nationality ((Kaiser and Marker 322)) .  Catherine also provides numerous rights to the working class through this charter, securing the social structure even more and bettering the lives of the townspeople.  Catherine the Great was an enlightened monarch because she reformed Russia by creating a more organized ruling system and by helping to better people’s situations in Russia.




An Enlightened Monarch

Catherine establishes many new reforms for establishing the bureaucracy as well as containing the power of the nobility. With the military commanders set up by Peter the Great removed after his death, Catherine establishes a new system for governing the massive expansion of land that is Russia. She appoints the leaders for these provinces, so they are loyal to her and thereby she centralizes her power. What makes these reforms Enlightened however are the responsibilities she gives to these governors, as well as the fact that she is writing all of these, taking an active role in her governance. These administrations are expected to establish welfare systems, build bridges and roads for the people, as well as education, orphanages, and poor houses. ((Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. 242)) It was not simply just a way for her to control Russia, but she reflects what Peter did in establishing things for the good of the Russian people, not only her own power. The Enlightenment ideals that clearly had a hold on Catherine’s mind are shown here as she seeks to educate her people, and take care of them but also the absolutist ideals of autocratic rule. The picture shown at the bottom demonstrates how Catherine wanted people to know that she was actively involved in the process of writing the law as well as enforcing it.

Catherine demonstrates a tremendous amount of skill by allowing the nobles to have a small amount of power and in return she stays on the throne. ((Kaiser 245)) Her vision of uniting Russia under her rule to become a more educated state, as well as one that took care of it’s people is shown in her law codes and charters. While she undoubtedly put many people in serfdom, she sees the majority of this going towards the glory of the state. By establishing schools and a welfare system throughout the country, she is making Petersburg closer to everyone through a more progressive way. This is truly enlightened as she realizes that Russia must move forward, but she also preserves many of the traditions as she knows her legitimacy is shaky.

How does her vision compare and contrast with the vision of Peter the Great?




Female Rule – Western Europe vs. Russia

Catherine the Great ‘s fame derives from her leadership and rule of Russia during eighteenth-century Russia. Like all autocrats during the time, she received criticism from countless different sources. However, Brenda Meehan-Waters argues that criticisms of Catherine differ along the lines of the sources’ areas of origin. In particular, Meehan-Waters suggests that Western European and Russian writers differ in that “Russian writers viewed her more positively and displayed much less agitation over the female issue. Catherine is desexualized to the extent that she is treaded as an individual rather than as a women.” ((Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. 383-384.))

Meehan-Waters examines the writings from the period of Catherine the Great’s reign. These writings, all published by men, carry various perspectives ranging from foreign ambassadors to Russian leaders to Western philosophers (who were also her patrons) such as Voltaire. One fact becomes clear through these writings – whether they criticized or praised Catherine – Westerners often placed her sex at the center of their ideas while Russian authors rarely commented on it. Western authors would associate her positive characteristics with her masculine side while they portrayed her shortcomings as feminine qualities. ((Kaiser, Reinterpreting, 382.)) While Russian writers such as G.S. Vinsky criticized Catherine, Meehan-Waters notes that such critics not base their qualms on her womanhood. ((Kaiser, Reinterpreting, 382.)) Despite identifying the differentiating narratives coming out of Western Europe and Russia, Meehan-Waters offers little in a reason for why such a difference exists.


Meehan-Waters notes that Russian had many female autocrats throughout the eighteenth century while few existed in Western Europe. Does Russia’s familiarity with empresses explain the lack of emphasis on Catherine’s sex?

Potemkin 2

This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 70 years or less – from

Potemkin, one of Catherine’s advisors and former lovers, was the center of much scrutiny and debate among her foreign critics. They saw Potemkin as an example of how women were overcome with sexuality and allowed themselves to be dominated by their lovers.

Reforming Tsars in 18th Century Russia

In Cynthia Whittaker’s The Reforming Tsar: the Redefinition of Autocratic Duty in Eighteenth-Century Russia, she discusses the idea of the reforming tsar. She specifically explores how this idea shaped the Romanov dynasty, the Russian people, and the emerging country of Russia during the Eighteenth Century. Peter the Great created the idea of the reforming tsar through his reshaping of Russia into an innovative country with a strong European influence. After his death later Tsars began to take on the idea of the reforming Tsar because the people of Russia saw Peter’s reign as successful. The introduction of new ideas and laws became instrumental during each new Tsars reign. Russia wanted to feel like they were leading the change in the world. One of the main points in Whittaker’s article is that the Russian people’s belief in the Reforming Tsar is what kept the Romanov line in power for so long. The line was eventually destroyed because the ideas of the Russian people surpassed the laws of the country.

Some of the main ideas that Peter introduced never came in to fruition but as later Tsars followed his lead a huge change happened in Russia. First Secularization began with Peter taking power away from the church and lessening the amount of people, such as monks and nuns, working in the church. Peter saw the importance of respecting laws and working for the state over the unquestioning faith in God that previously permeated Russia. He certainly did not mean to eradicate the Russian Orthodox Church all together but to lesson its control. His second main idea was expand education throughout Russia. This did not happen until years after his death but many of the Tsars, such as Elizabeth, that follow him showed their position as a Reforming tsar through the expanding of education and the creation or reinstating of colleges. The third was the specification of the Law. Catherine the Great played a huge part in this clarification of how the legal system should run.

The people of Russia were looking for a Monarch who could fulfill the role that Peter the Great created. The folklore about his extraordinary reign spread throughout Russia and made the idea of the Reforming Tsar a requirement. What needs to be acknowledged is that because of the illiteracy of a huge part of Russia the passing down of knowledge through folklore was common. With this comes the problem of changing information and this caused much of the ideals regarding Peter the Great to be exaggerated. Many of his reforms did not actually last but the idea of his power did and it shaped the Romanovs and all of Russia.




Whittaker, Cynthia H. “The Reforming Tsar: The Redefinition of Autocratic Duty in Eighteenth- Century Russia.” Slavic Review 51.1 (1992): 77. Web.

The Problem of Female Rule – Catherine the Great

Portrait of Catherine II (1763)

Portrait of Catherine II (1763)

In the article Catherine the Great and the Problem of Female Rule, Brenda Meehan-Waters argues that Western European writers and Russian writers view the reign of Catherine the Great differently, and that these views reveal cultural reactions towards women in positions of power. Western foreigner ambassadors and correspondents alike of Catherine II almost always bring into discussion the fact that she is a women and the traits that differentiate men and women. Foreigners describe her as having “a masculine force of mind” with a “weakness vulgarity attributed to her sex” and as “an ambitious and unnatural women” giving the impression that “there was something inherently perverse in female ambition”. ((KM 380 – 382)) In general, the authors states that Westerners who felt threatened by the idea of a women ruler responded either by denying that Catherine held any real power or they exaggerated her negative qualities, therefore making her sound less qualified.

Russians, on the other hand, rarely brought up the fact that she was a women. There are two exceptions to this that the author brings up. Karamzin contrasts the masculinity and femininity of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great and states that their reign complements the other but also attributes masculine traits as positive and negative traits as feminine. Sumarokov too has similar viewpoints articulates that there are strong and weak rulers and Catherine falls in between the two. ((KM 380-381)) In general though, Russians rarely focus on her femininity. The author points out that there was no ideological battle on female rule in Russia as there was in Western Europe, adding evidence that the sex of the ruler was less important to Russians. In fact, Russian empresses are often found in poetry as viewed as great warriors and strong figures. Another reason as to why the Russians view Catherine’s reign more positively is the old Byzantine idea of a hermaphroditic being that united the principles of both sexes. ((KM 384))

At the very end, Meehan-Waters points out that we more often study the reasons why Russians don’t judge her based on sex, and not why Europeans do judge her in this way and that this take on it is backwards.


Why do you think we assume that the Russian’s acceptance of a female is abnormal? How can this be explained by referring to leading Western thinkers?,_Tretyakov_gallery).jpg

Catherine II and Enlightenment Reforms

In Catherine’s Statute on Provincial Administration, she hoped to strengthen provincial governments and create a more efficient system than seen before. In the statute, there is a clear desire for a separation and distinction of powers between upper land courts and district courts, followed by a concern for those who are struggling, as evident in the Noble Wardship, which must house noble widows and children.  The Bureaus of Public Welfare’s concern for the establishment of public schools reflects the Enlightenment support of secular education as well.There is also evidence of gentry political participation as the town mayors and officials are elected by ballot every three years. The Charter to the Nobility most obviously reflects Catherine’s hope for gentry participation local administration. After outlining the specific rights and privileges of the elites, the nobility are both permitted and encouraged to assemble and articulate their needs and interests to the Governor. However, the nobility’s most important obligation is always to the state, to whom they may “spare neither labor nor even life itself in service”. In rising the position of the gentry, Catherine also extended and strengthened serfdom. This unfortunate side-effect perhaps reflects the rationalism of the Enlightenment, or more specifically the concept that the end justifies the means.

Catherine The Great’s Enlightened Policies

From the minute Catherine the Great seized the thrown in 1762, enlightened policies were enacted. That very year, She published The Manifesto Freeing the Nobility From Compulsory Service. In this script she grants the release of all nobility from the Table of Ranks, and preserves this right for future generations to come. Within this document Catherine stresses the new right to travel, showing her desire for a more cultured and global perspective for the nobility. Although the Manifesto repeals Peter the Great’s Table of Ranks, it also praises his work for progressing the military as well as civil and educational affairs. These are certainly traits of Peter’s reformist campaign that Catherine wished to continue in later documents such as The State on Provincial Administration along with other enlightened values. In this document Catherine develops multiple administration positions within the Gubernii, after the Pugachev Revolution in the South revealed the lack of control the state had in these regions. She also creates programs that resemble a form of public welfare and programs that had never been offered to the lower class before. These structural adjustments include requiring a health care clinic to be in every region with at least one doctor and apprentice so the trait could be passed down. Education was now public and encouraged for all classes, and also in the control of the state by using administrative boards in each region. Article Sixty-Four includes the process of elections and terms in order to have new ideas always being in a position of authority. In 1785 the Charter to the Nobility provided many privileges to this group of people but also held them accountable for crimes committed as everyone in Russia was now under the law. Catherine’s vision of Russia was a perpetual state of progress where the Monarch continued to act as a patriarch for all of it’s citizens.

1.) Which one of Catherine’s reforms were most well perceived in Russia? How should the Nobility view Catherine after these laws were enacted?

2.) Is Catherine the Great the most effective Tsar in Russia’s History of reformist rulers?

Cynthia Whittaker and the Reforming Tsar

In her article “The Reforming Tsar: The Redefinition of Autocratic Duty in Eighteenth Century Russia” published in Slavic Review in 1992, Cynthia Whittaker claims that the reign of Peter the Great and his reforms led to an era of new rulers with a new mentality and aim of becoming a “reforming tsar” instead a “good tsar.”

Overall, this is a reflection of how Peter’s reign changed rule in Russia.  Firstly, the transition from “good tsar” to “reforming tsar” marks how Peter transitioned Russia from a medieval era to a modern one.  The connotation behind a “good tsar” is one that’s tied more to passivity as well as a strong upholding of the Russian Orthodox faith. The connotations change when addressing the notion of a duty to the people as well as the state, ensuring reform happened for “the common good.”

Whittaker goes on to summarize how Peter’s reign was succeeded by a string of incompetent heirs until Catherine the Great came to rule after a coup d’etat.  In this time (especially during the reign of Anna) Russians looked back to the time of Peter with great nostalgia.  There was a theme to this nostalgia by evidence Whittaker presents of how tales of Peters came into popular culture through traditional legends, such as when “he [brought] two lovers together, save[d] a child from a burning hut, execute[d] a foreman for mistreating his coal miners” (pg. 89).  This entails that Peter the Great was a hero of the common-folk.  His deeds set expectations for his successors from all levels of society.

Because Peter the Great set these expectations of new monarchs, being a “reforming tsar” was a new role they had to fulfill, and each one, especially Catherine II, took the notion of a “reforming tsar” to fit the need and time period of their reign.  For example, when she ascended to the throne, she stated ” . . . state your grievances, say where the shoe pinches you.  We will try to reform it.  I have no particular system.  All I want is the common good” (pg. 92).  Her reforms included reorganization of the Senate, secularization of church land, improvements in town planning and in medicine, as well as new commercial policy, among other things (pg. 92).  Like Peter, her reforms brought enlightenment to Russia and she was able to be a contemporary “tsar of reform” for her time.

Question for class:

Whittaker mentions it is astounding the autocracy could survive until 1917, which is partially due to how the notion of a “reforming tsar” became myth.  What else could have led to the tsar system’s survival for so long?

Document Analysis

From the beginning paragraph this paper, a document analysis of Peter the Great and Catherine II, clearly warranted an A. The information within each paragraph developed a clear path that aimed towards the goal of proving the thesis statement. The thesis itself expressed a clear and focused argument as well as a well organized perspective, which according to the “writing rubric” is required in order to receive an A. Furthermore only when necessary did the author include quotations in order to further prove his argument. Besides it being absolutely necessary, the majority of the paper was composed of paraphrasing of the historical documents, rather than quoting, in order to further their argument.

Each of the topic sentences within the paper expressed a controvertible statement in which always related back to the thesis statement, thus providing another requirement in receiving an A. Each sentence following the topic sentences also followed the “writing rubric” by staying within the focus of the topic sentence along with working towards proving the thesis statement.

Specifically speaking, the authors paragraph about Catherine’s reforms, which were the “Statute on Provincial Administration”, the “Charter to the Nobility”, and the “Charter to the Towns”, expresses the necessary requirements for an A. The author states and explains each of Catherine’s reforms as well as discusses Catherine’s reasons for creating each document, such as providing a response to the rise of the serf and peasant rebellion known as Pugachev’s Rebellion; thus providing the answers to the “five W questions” like “what?” “how?” and “why?”, which are crucial to any history paper.

When looking at the mechanics of the document analysis it, like the other aspects of the paper, expresses the requirements in order to receive an A. The author uses the correct Chicago formatting style by including footnotes on each page. The author writes with an active voice instead of a passive voice as well, which is also particularly important when writing a paper about history. The only mechanical error found within this otherwise mechanically flawless paper consists of a few grammatical errors.

Ultimately this paper provides every aspect needed for an A. It  initially presents a logical and well organized argument that directly answers the prompt. Furthermore each following paragraph continues in a detailed, logical way with the author writing in chronological order of Peter and Catherine’s reforms all the while remaining in the focus of proving the thesis statement.

Document Analysis 2 Paper Review

This document analysis, which discussed the reforms of Peter I and Catherine II, deserved the A it received. The writer included necessary contextual information for their audience, ensuring that readers would understand the topic. The writing itself is very concise, with each sentence aiding in proving the analysis’s thesis. When absolutely necessary, the author chose to use quotes to prove their point, but mostly paraphrased the historical documents in order to further his argument.

The topic sentences are controvertible and relate directly back to the thesis statement of the document analysis. Making these statements controvertible rather than factual is one of the many reasons that this paper is deemed an ‘A’. The sentences within each paragraph all stay within the constraints of the topic sentence and work towards the ultimate goal of proving the thesis.

In particular, the first body paragraph about Peter’s Table of Ranks incorporates all of the features necessary for receiving an exemplary grade. The paragraph concisely explains the Table of Ranks (providing the “what?” and “how?”) and discusses some of Peter the Great’s motivations for penning the document (providing the “why?”). Direct quotations are completely absent from the paragraph, as the author instead decided to paraphrase information from the document.

Overall, the document analysis provides a well thought out, logical argument, which answers the prompt given. The progression of the analysis is also logical, as the author chose to first discuss Peter I’s reforms and then transition to the reforms of Catherine II. The discussion of Catherine II’s reforms makes the transition seamless because the author first discusses those reforms which were similar to Peter the Great’s, and then continues on to discuss the reforms which were different from those of Peter the Great.

In regards to mechanics, the author correctly cites documents within footnotes on each page. The paper is written using active (rather than passive) voice, which is an important component of any papers written discussing history. Aside from a few grammatical errors and a few spelling errors, the document analysis is completely free from mechanical error.