In what ways and how was Catherine the Great of Russia an enlightened despot?

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larrygates | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Catherine the Great was a keen scholar of Enlightenment thinkers and was determined to bring their ideas to Russia when she became Empress. To that end, when the Encyclopedie was banned in France because of its atheistic tone, she offered to publish it in Russia. She restricted the use of torture, expanded and strengthened local government, and improved education in Russia. It was Catherine who encouraged the use of French at the Russian court. She also allowed limited religious freedom, and seemed to be aware of the effect of her power as ruler on the common people. She once wrote to Denis Diderot:

You write on paper; but I write on human skin which is far more ticklish.

Sadly, Catherine's reforms and enlightenment ideas ended with the revolt led by Emelian Pugachev, who claimed to be her late husband, Peter III. The rebellion was particularly bloody, and Catherine determined that her reforms were a mistake. She became convinced that the peasants were dangerous and her only true allies were the nobility. To reward them, she freed the nobility from paying taxes and extended serfdom to areas where it had previously not existed. So Catherine was an enlightened despot, but only for a limited time.

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