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Catherine II: Effects of the French Revolution

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Updated: 05.12.2003

Catherine, like all the crowned heads of Europe, felt seriously threatened by the French Revolution. The divine right of royalty and the aristocracy was being questioned, and Catherine, although a "friend of the Enlightenment," had no intention of relinquishing her own privileges: "I am an aristocrat, it is my profession."

In 1790 the writer A.N. Radishchev, who attempted to publish a work openly critical of the abuses of serfdom, was tried, condemned to death, then pardoned and exiled. Ironically, the sentiments Radishchev expressed were very similar to Catherine's Instruction of 1767.

Next, Poland, encouraged by the example of France, began agitating for a liberal constitution.

In 1792, under the pretext of forestalling the threat of revolution, Catherine sent in troops and the next year annexed most of the western Ukraine, while Prussia helped itself to large territories of western Poland. After the national uprising led by Tadeusz Kozciuszko in 1794, Catherine wiped Poland off the map of Europe by dividing it between Russia, Prussia, and Austria in 1795.

Catherine's last years were darkened by the execution of Louis XVI, the advance of the revolutionary armies, and the spread of radical ideas. The Empress realised, moreover, that she had no suitable successor. She considered her son Paul an incompetent and unbalanced man; her grandson Alexander was too young yet to rule.

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