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Catherine II or Catherine the Great empress of Russia 1762-96 did much to transform Russia into a modern country Originally named Sophie Fredericke Augusta she was born in Stettin now Szczecin Poland on May 2 1729 the daughter of the German prince of Anhalt-Zerbst At the age of 15 she went to Russia to become the wife of Peter nephew and heir of Empress ELIZABETH Elizabeth died on Dec 25 1761 and Catherines husband succeeded as PETER III The new ruler soon made himself unpopular especially with certain army officers Led by Aleksei ORLOV whose brother Grigori was Catherines lover the officers staged a coup in June 1762 Peter was deposed and subsequentle murdered and Catherine became absolute ruler of the largest European empire whose language she never learned to speak correctly and without accent At the age of 33 Catherine was not only a handsome woman whose numerous love affairs dominate the popular accounts of her life but also unusually well read and deeply involved in the cultural trends of her age She was a tireless worker and knew how to select capable assistants--for example Nikita PANIN in foreign affairs Aleksandr SUVOROV in the military and Grigory POTEMKIN in administration Imbued with the ideas of the Enlightenment Catherine aimed at completing the job started by Peter I--westernizing Russia--but she had different methods Unlike Peter she did not forcibly conscript society into the service of the state but rather encouraged individual initiative in pursuit of self-interest She succeeded to a degree with the upper classes but did nothing for the overwhelming majority of the population--the enserfed peasantry To learn the needs of the country and to gain popularity Catherine in 1767 convoked an assembly of deputies to draft a new code of laws for which she wrote the guidelines--the Nakaz or Instruction Not much came of the venture In 1773 Yemelian PUGACHEV led Cossacks peasants and
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