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The 1767 Nakascatherine The Great

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Catherine II may have been the only intellectually minded individual to ever hold the position of Tsar in Russia. She became the most important proponent of Russian modernization. Her unique past along with the consultation of the great minds of her time aided her attempt to usher in a new way of life for Russia. The pinnacle of Catherine II's attempt to implement westernization during her reign was the issuing of her Nakas in1767. Catherine II's Nakas were her instructions for the legislation that was to embody her goals for the westernization and modernization Russia. Though little would result from Catherine II's Nakas, the document and its content are viewed as some of the most enlightened of the era, and would propel Catherine II to a position of respect and honor in the eyes of her people and the world.

Catherine II followed a unique path on her rise to power. Along her way she acquired many traits, beliefs, and ideas that would help guide her to the throne and mold the goals of her of her reign. Catherine II was born with the name Sophia Augusta Fredericka. Her parents were a German prince and princess far removed from the line of power. Catherine II's story of becoming a Russian grand duchess is one of political motivation. Catherine II was born during a time of tension and marriages among the royalty of conflicting nations was a common ploy to help ease tensions. Empress Elizabeth of Russia had selected her to marry the proclaimed heir to the Russian throne Peter III who had also been in line for the throne of Sweden. Catherine II was enthusiastic about becoming the Tsarina and spent eighteen years in Russia prior to her husbands reign being groomed and educated to be ready for that position. As an ambitious student with the full realization of her position in life, "she realized the importance of not offending Russian sensibilities and learned the Russian language and customs" according to Walter G. Moss, author of A History of Russia.(p.268) Catherine II absorbed all there was to know about the Russian way of life while maintaining some of her western values and ideas. She embraced the Russian way of life and converted from Lutheranism to Russian Orthodoxy in 1744 before her marriage to Peter III in 1745. From the start there was tension between Peter III and CatherineII. Catherine II viewed Peter III incapable both as a man and as a ruler which most likely stem from the fact that Peter III "seemed incapable of sexual relations with her, at least in the early years of their marriage" (Moss 268). The tension that mounted from this problem would eventually lead to adulterous affairs. Some of the affairs would later become key factors in Catherine II's rise to power. The extent of the affairs would even lead to the debate over the legitimacy of Peter III's children not only by others but by himself and is quoted as saying in reference to Grand Duchess Catherine's newly birthed daughter, according to G. P.Gooch author of Catherine the Great and Other Studies, to have said, "God knows how my wife became pregnant. I do not know if the child is mine and whether I must claim responsibility for it" (Gooch 13). The question of the legitimacy of both of her children was settled when Grand Duchess Catherine took the matter before Empress Elizabeth. Empress Elizabeth was fond of Catherine and sympathetic to the grand duchesses situation. The Empress not only legitimized Catherine's son as heir but also professed her own frustrations with her nephew, Peter III, and his lack of interest in the marriage saying that, "My nephew is an imbecile. Catherine loved truth and justice and was a very intelligent woman" (Gooch 14). Elizabeth's admiration and acceptance probably contributed to Catherine's later ambition to over throw her husband, Peter III, shortly after his rise to the throne with the passing of Empress Elizabeth. Her ambitions and ability were ever present along her rise to power and, "indeed the Chancelleries of EuropeƐ'... speculated on the inevitable struggle for power between the semi-imbecile Peter and his dynamic wife" (Gooch 15). Catherine's ambitions took control just six months after her husband's rise to power. With the admiration of the Russian people and the loyalty of troops in the capital Catherine was able to overthrow her husband and proclaim herself Empress of Russia with little resistance and no blood shed, with the exception of Peter III himself who would later be killed by Catherine's supporters. Though Catherine II did not do anything to prevent the killing of Peter III she did not condone it. Her feelings about killing Peter III could be seen as her first reform to the monarchy. Catherine II brought with her from her German Lutheran upbringing a value for human life that was not quite as cheap as the traditional Eastern European view. Though out her reign Catherine II would try to usher in her way of thinking and believing and would bring about a new era in Russian history.

Catherine II's rise to power was questionable to many, both in terms of legitimacy and public law. The views of her contemporaries would slowly change their view of the usurper throughout the decades of her reign. She was enthusiastic about imposing her own way of thinking into her rule. Catherine was insistent that Russia was a European nation, surely arising from some respect to her German ancestry, and would try to incorporate her western sentiments and ideals into her political policy. Catherine II was an advocate of the enlightenment movement in the eighteenth century. She admired and adopted many of the enlightened theories concerning life, god, culture, and politics. She was well read in the enlightenment ideas of Montesquieu, Diderot, and Beccaria and even corresponded with the great minds of the movement such as Voltaire. Yet, Voltaire would be one of many that Catherine would have to persuade to accept the validity of her rule. She succeeded with Voltaire and began correspondence him in 1763, and according to A. Lentin author of Voltaire and Catherine the Great, the correspondence "continued with undiminished vigor on both sides until Voltaire's death" Voltaire played a considerable role in Catherine's way of thinking arising from her studying as a grand duchess and going as far as to say, "it was he, or rather his writings, which formed my mind" (Lentin 29). Some believe that Catherine II's rule does not reflect enlightenment



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