How was Catherine II, of Russia, considered an example of an Enlightenment figure?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Catherine II (the Great) can be considered an Enlightened Despot, as she did bring Enlightment style ideas and reforms to Russia; however those reforms soon proved impractical, and she quickly abandoned them.

Catherine strengthened local governmental institutions, severely restricted torture in Russia, improved educational facilities, and allowed some degree of religious toleration. A fervent disciple of the philosophes, Catherine corresponded frequently with Voltaire, offered to have the Encyclopaedie published in Russia when French authorities banned it and introduced the use of French in Russian polite society. It was her plan to make Russia the most enlightened country in Europe.

Catherine's enlightenment vision halted however when a rebellion broke out led by Emilian Pugachev, who claimed to be her late husband, Peter III. Since most of those who supported the rebellion were peasants, Catherine decided that her greatest allies were the nobility. To that end, she freed nobles from paying taxes, extended the institution of serfdom, confiscated Orthodox Church lands which she distributed to her favorite nobles. By the end of her reign, Russian peasants were in worse shape than at its beginning.

Catherine also had no qualms about participating in the three partitions of Poland which caused that nation to cease to exist until the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 re-created it.

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