Catherine the Great and Enlightened Despotism

Catherine’s cordial relations with the greatest thinkers of her day were no mistake, writes A. Lentin, but an integral part of her statecraft.

Catherine’s relations with the philosophes, unlike those with her lovers, were no mere after-dinner relaxation, but an integral part of her statecraft. Politician to the finger-tips, she sought their attention, not simply out of vanity, but with the very material purpose of consolidating her position at home and abroad.

On the one hand, she wished to strengthen her hand against the Russian nobility: to show them, through her dealings with the philosophes, that here was no ordinary woman, no empty figurehead, of which, in the age of palace revolutions that followed the death of Peter the Great, they had used and discarded plenty; but a woman of remarkable ability in her own right, a monarch capable of active and creative rule.

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