Catherine the Great

On this date in 1729, Catherine II, the rationalist Empress of Russia, was born as Sophia Augusta Friederika in Germany. The daughter of the Prince of Anhalt-Serbst, she was groomed at 14 to be the future wife of Peter, the disreputable heir to the Russian throne. Sophia moved to Moscow to be educated for her position. Her name changed to Catherine when she was received into the Russian Church, and married in 1745. She and colleagues, allegedly including her lover Orlov, deposed Peter III in a popular coup d'etat in 1762. He was later strangled in prison. Catherine admired and corresponded with French rationalists such as Voltaire and Diderot, launched reforms, transformed St. Petersburg, wrote stories, and was a patron of the arts who helped to pave the way for the great 19th century flowering of art, music and literature in Russia. Catherine responded to peasant revolts and the French Revolution with increasing conservatism, but remained a Deist. D. 1796.

“As Empress, Catherine endeavoured to enforce the enlightened humanitarian views of the great French Rationalists, with whom she was in complete sympathy. Her reforms, in regard to education, justice, sanitation, industry, etc., were of great value.”

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—Joseph McCabe, A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Rationalists

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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