The Emperors and Empresses of Russia: Rediscovering the Romanovs

By A. A. Iskenderov; Donald J. Raleigh | Go to book overview

Empress Catherine II,
1762-1796

Described by poet Alexander Pushkin as "a Tartuffe in a skirt and crown," Catherine II (the Great) has long captured the historical imagination. Because Soviet historians had neglected her reign or else characterized it in abusive terms, Aleksandr Borisovich Kamenskii's sketch of Russia's other eighteenth-century "great" ruler attracted considerable attention when it appeared in the Soviet Union in 1989.

Kamenskii's rich essay touches upon many of the historiographical issues associated with Catherine's years in power, and treats the matter of personality in some detail. Unprincipled like other eighteenth-century rulers, skilled in the art of dissembling, Kamenskii's Catherine continued Peter's course in regard to problems of state, but in many ways was prisoner to the country's past that Peter helped shape. Since it was not in Catherine's power to mitigate the ills of serfdom or to abolish the institution ("she would have been swept away by an enraged nobility"), Catherine designed her domestic policies to reinforce the absolutist state--and her own position. Insofar as her various reforms did not alter the status of Russia's social estates, Kamenskii sees "movement forward" when she was empress, but only within the framework of the "feudal structure," which, he argues, actually reached its apogee under Catherine.

Avoiding the ambiguous evaluations of Catherine often encountered in the historical literature, Kamenskii provides a sober assessment that is sympathetic but not uncritical. He more than admits her unbridled ambition, concluding that "her primary goal was to stay in power by any means." Although he disparages her expansionist foreign policy, he sees her sincere interest in discussing civil liberties and humanism as what made her a dangerous topic of

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The Emperors and Empresses of Russia: Rediscovering the Romanovs
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The New Russian History ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • About the Editors and Contributors vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction xiii
  • Emperor Peter I, 1682-1725 3
  • Empress Anna Ivanovna, 1730-1740 37
  • Empress Elizabeth I, 1741-1762 66
  • Emperor Peter III, 1762 101
  • Empress Catherine II, 1762-1796 134
  • Emperor Paul I, 1796-1801 177
  • Emperor Alexander I, 1801-1825 216
  • Emperor Nicholas I, 1825-1855 256
  • Emperor Alexander II, 1855-1881 294
  • Emperor Alexander III, 1881-1894 334
  • Emperor Nicholas II, 1894-1917 369
  • Suggestions for Further Reading 403
  • Index 405
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