Catherine the Great is remembered as one of the greatest reformers of Russia. During her reign, Catherine continued the reforms begun by Peter the Great that ultimately led to the emergence of Russia onto the worldwide stage of politics.
Catherine was a German princess whose original name was Sophie Augusta Fredericka. She was born on April 21, 1729 at Settin, Pomerania to Johanna Elizabeth and the Prince Christian Augustus. On August 21, 1744 Catherine married Peter III, the Grand Duke of Holstein and heir apparent to the Russian throne, in the biggest ceremony ever performed in Europe. Peter III was crowned ruler of Russia in 1761. Peter proved to be a very unpopular and inept sovereign and was murdered in June of 1762 in a coup staged by the Imperial Guards. Catherine was named empress and ruled for more than thirty years.
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Catherine proceeded to "Westernize" Russia. However, unlike Peter the Great, Catherine scorned force and instead focused on pursuing individualistic endeavors. Her reforms went even farther after a failed peasant revolt in 1773 led by Yemelian Pugachev threatened Eastern Russia. As a result, Catherine the Great instituted several drastic reforms within the Russian society. First, she established the Free Economic Society (1765) to encourage the modernization of agriculture and industry. Second, she encouraged foreign investment in economically underdeveloped areas. Third, Catherine relaxed the censorship law and encouraged education for the nobles and middle class.
During Catherine's reign, Russia also achieved great military success and gained large tracts of land. Following two successful wars against the Ottoman Empire, Russia annexed Crimea, which gave it access to the Black Sea. In addition, Russia's control over Poland and Luxembourg allowed it to annex three separate tracts of land.
By the time of her death on Nov. 17, 1796, Catherine the Great had pushed Russia into the modern era. Moreover, Russia entered the modern era as a dominant player in the world.
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The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Russia and The Soviet Union: "Catherine The Great," (London; Cambridge University Press, 1982) pp. 458-460 & pp. 95-97.