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Posts Tagged ‘Catherine/Sofia/Fredericka Holstein-Gottrop-Romanov

Humiliation behind “greatness”? Empress Catherine of Russia. Part 2

The first article described the period of Catherine/Sofia/Fredericka Holstein-Gottrop-Romanov ventured out of Prussia in 1744 (she was 15 years old) to be betrothed to the immature and senile child Peter of Russia; how she suffered humiliation and then managed to bid her time to acceding to power in 1762 as the most powerful monarch of all the Russian Empire.

Most of this period was dominated by King Frederick II, known by history as “Frederick the Great”; Frederick was ruling Prussia and raised and training a strong army for expansion. Empress Elizabeth was the sole powerful monarch in Russia until her death in 1761. Elizabeth had acceded to power by overthrowing young Ivan VI.

Louis 15th was the monarch of France.

Catherine of Russia kept a detailed diary since childhood until she died.

She mastered 3 languages:  French (the most dominant language in all of Europe during the 18 and 19th centuries), German, and then she learned Russian.

She communicated with most of the famous authors and thinkers of her time and supported them financially and politically when in dire need.  She changed from Lutheran to Russian Orthodox Church for political reasons and to be able to accede to the throne; her father sent her a cold letter blaming her for that conversion.

The chamberlain to Empress Elizabeth welcomed the party at the Russian border and wrote:

The daughter is plain but healthy; she is taller than most women 5′ 5″; she resembles her father in facial characteristics:  She has a large nose and heavy chin, but she is taller than normal women.  I noticed from her gait that she suffered frost bites in several toes of her left foot. The mother is a complete snob and cares only of how she look. 

The mother reprimanded her daughter for missing her dad saying: “Your father is an insignificant person, focus to learn the Russian language and don’t think to returning to Prussia for visits.  The guest felt very comfortable in our heated sleighs; they were using carriages in wheels that left many bruises on their bodies.

The mother felt humiliated from the first meeting with Elizabeth who didn’t even look her way or addressed her; she had to wait over 2 years in Russia, relegated close to the servants’ apartment, until her daughter got married in late 1945.

Catherine gave birth to Paul in 1954; she had named him Pavel but Elizabeth changed his name to Paul and didn’t permit Catherine to see and care for her child until her death in 1761; thus, this overwhelming anger of Catherine toward Elizabeth and of her idiot of nephew Peter “who stood there grinning as Elizabeth snatched the baby from my arms”

Catherine wrote in her diary:

“Elizabeth is the bossiest lady I have ever met.  She catered for the minute details and never allowed me to dress as I wished”.

Elizabeth was a tall, svelte, beautiful woman with blue eyes before she died of overweight and aged prematurely.  Elizabeth confronted Frederick II militarily for over 7 years in order to halt Prussia expansion at the detriment of Austria”.  The Russian treasury was depleted when Elizabeth died in 1761.

Peter III was the new Emperor and he used to strut in Prussian army uniforms and declare that Prussia is the better than Russia in every thing and that Frederick II is the greatest monarch.  Catherine never dared to challenge Elizabeth but bid her time until the strong-willed Empress died.

Catherine dreaded that Elizabeth might demand from Peter to divorce her and be sent back to her family that no longer cared for her presence.

In the mean while, Catherine worked on her connections with the highest personality  in the noble class, the military, the clergymen, and foreign diplomats.  She had countless love affairs, especially with military officers such as Gregory Orlov and much later with Gregory Pushkin. A military coup organized by Catherine removed Peter from power, less than a year later, before his official coronation.  Peter was strangled in prison.

The day of the revolt, Catherine went straight to the main cathedral in St. Petersburg and got acclaimed by the archbishop as the new monarch.

The treasury was depleted and the treasurer’s report extended two quick alternative solutions to replenishing the coffer.  The first option was to wage war against China and capture vast lands and serfs.  The second option that Catherine preferred was to seizing vast fertile lands owned by the Orthodox church.

For the next 8 years, Catherine pursued this policy of regaining church lands to the crown.

In 1768, Turkey had enjoyed 5 years of good economic expansion and was buying weapons from France.  Catherine decide to expand in the south before Turkey becomes too powerful militarily.  The Russian army had a string of successful military victories that kept Europe on its toes.

The end result was devastating:  First, treasury was empty again; the treasurer wrote “All the money collected east of the Volga River is not covering the cost of breaking horses sent to the Turkish front.”  The Russian army was tied up in front of Turkey and whatever land acquired could not be used to generating any profit.

In 1970, the plague reached Moscow:  It had already killed over 20,000 in Austria the previous year.  For two years, the plague in Moscow left over 100,000 dead.  It was the custom to quarantine entire districts:  No entrance or exit to these closed areas.  People died of famine more than the plague, especially infants, for lack of food supply.

The well-off in Moscow had long vacated the Capital and a rudiment of police force still existed there.  In 1771, the downtrodden in Moscow overflow the center city and even managed to enter the Kremlin fortress.  Looting and killing of officials was rampant.  Catherine sent regiments headed by Gregory Orlov in September to recapture order.

Orlov realized that the best strategy was to bring food supplies to Moscow.  Teams were organized to gathering corpses and burning them then, collecting the garbage that city governments never “had money” to spend on cleaning the city.  Winter was the other factor that slowed down the dissemination of the plague that died down by the coming spring season.

To make matter worse, a rebellion broke out in the southern region in 1772.  Pugachev, a discharged army officer, was the leader of the revolt; he claimed to carrying the “imperial scars” and to being the incarnation of former emperor Peter (the slain late husband of Catherine).

The rebellion gathered thousands of members and it captured canons and plenty of guns and expanded eastward and entered many cities, including Kazar, the Capital of the Tatar province on the Volga River and 800 kilometer east of Moscow.

The Russian army was tied up on the Turkish front and negotiations for a peace treaty was experiencing a dead lock on Catherine insistence for war reparations.  There were no regiments fit with horses and canons to be dispatched to quell the expanding rebellion.  Catherine dropped the war reparation clause and went after the leader of the revolt.

Paul, the son of Catherine, wrote: “It was the first time I saw a glimpse of a smile on Catherine’s face”:  Catherine entered the court room to listen to the verdict for the hanging sentence of the leader of the revolt.

Once again the crown treasury was empty and Catherine agreed with Frederick II to dividing the Polish Kingdom that had backed Russia in its war against Prussia.  Catherine gained the easter portion of Poland around 1773.  The European nations of France, England, and Austria didn’t like this aggression.

After the treasury was again depleted, Catherine decided to expand into the Crimea Peninsula on the Black Sea.  She first bribed the Turkish king of the province with plenty of gold bars and secured a treaty of favored nation to doing commerce and having a military advisory role.  Russia quickly plotted and started a civil war and then entered heavily the Crimea before Turkey was ready to intervene militarily.

Catherine wrote: “The Crimea is the pearl in my crown”  In fact, Russia secured another water outlet to its navy.

Catherine visited part of her vast empire.  She ventured as far as Kazan by the Volga River (800 km east of Moscow.  The officials of the city boasted that half of Russia commerce is moved on the Volga River. The Empress wrote in her diary: “From my observations of the activities on the river  I know that the city government has far exaggerated the claim.” Currently, it is estimated that two-third of internal trade in Russia is moved on the Volga River.

There were no love affair or any kind of caring between Catherine and her son Paul:  In critical situations, Catherine would summon Paul to attend meetings or parties just to strengthen her legitimacy; in a sense, appeasing the Russian people of a secure succession to the throne. As the second stroke killed Catherine in 1796 at the age of 69 (she had reigned for 34 years) Paul became Emperor.

Paul was harassed by the British because he refused to join the coalition against the French First Consul Bonaparte.  Paul wrote to Napoleon: “You are not an Emperor or a King, but you have proven to be someone who can deliver.  That’s what count to me.

The British Ambassador plotted and assassinated Emperor Paul in 1801.  Three years later, Napoleon annihilated the armies of three emperors (Prussia, Austria, and Russia) who were present at the battle of Austerlitz.

Catherine committed the worst long-term error by focusing on short-term needs to sustaining her hold on power:  She overextended the privileges and rights of the nobility at the expense of the rights of the serfs working the lands.  The nobleman was secured in his title and the ownership of his land (except in cases of treason) and the nobleman could only be judged by his peers.  In the 19th century, Russia was racked by frequent revolts and assassinations of officials. Ironically, Emperor Alexander II was assassinated the day he was to sign the document on the Constitutional Monarchy. The communist Bolchviks took power in 1917 and liquidated the Romanov dynasty.

Catherine was warned plenty of times of the shortsightedness of strengthening the noble classes.  Diderot, the French who published the first encyclopedia, spent three years in St. Petersburg and Catherine met with him for hours almost everyday.  The Empress asked that her discussion sessions be recorded.  Here is a sample of the dialogue:

Diderot: “You have passed laws that made it impossible for serfs to leave their employment, to seeking new masters, and to move without their lords’ permission.”

Catherine: “Only troublemaker of serfs do what you suggested.  For all your new ideas, governing a country is very different from your bookish theories.”

Diderot: “If the world is to change we must begin somewhere.  That place is with new ideas on paper and in books.”

Catherine: “The empty page is always flexible.  I must work with physical human lives.  There are people to be fed and new generations to nurture.  I don’t have the luxury to pause while experimenting.”

In any case, Catherine witnessed the consequences of the French Revolution in 1789 and had plenty of warnings to reform her political system.

I don’t see much “greatness” in just expanding frontiers of an empire simply to replenishing depleted the treasury.

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