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Catherine the Great


        Catherine II or Catherine the great was born in 1729 as a German princess originally named Sophie Fredericke Auguste von Anhalt- Zerbest.  She was born in Stettin, Prussia. When she was 15, she was sent to be married to Grand Duke Peter of Holstein, heir to the Russian throne.  Catherine learned about the customs of Russia, converted from the Lutheran religion to Russian Orthodoxy, and became very devoted to her new country and faith.  Because her husband was mentally unstable, Catherine had him arrested in 1762, months after he inherited the throne from Empress Elizabeth.  Peter III was then killed by the brother of Catherine's lover, Alexey Orlov.  Catherine then ruled for 34 years, trying to listen to the will of the people.  She wanted to become a wise ruler by following Montesquieu's Spirit of Laws.  She unsuccessfully tried to separate the judicial, legislative, and executive branches.

        In her mission to civilize Russia, she created numerous schools and founded a small educational system.  Catherine also established hospitals and helped fight the spread of diseases and plague.  However, she increased the practice of serfdom in her country and did not care much for the peasants.  In 1796, serfs made up 53.1% of peasants and 49% of the population in Russia.  Catherine was a patron to the arts and enjoyed Enlightenment ideas.  She was a talented writer and journalist.  Catherine wrote many politcal things, such as  A Decree on Serfs and Proposals for a New Law CodeCatherine the Great also expanded Russia's empire greatly into central Europe.  In 1783, Catherine won a port on the Black Sea, which gave Russia access to the Mediterranean Sea.  She added 200,000 square miles of Polish and Turkish lands to Russia.  All of this was a result of Catherine wanting Russia to be a European not an Asian state.  Catherine the Great died in 1796 from a stroke while she was supposedly planning a war against France.