Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Catherine the Great Convenes Her Empire

     In 1766 Catherine the Great called on representatives from "all free estates of the realm" to convene so that they could review the current laws and suggest news laws which would enhance the empire.  Even free peasants sent representatives.  Russians were so impressed with her desire to rule with care and humanity that they offered to add "the Great" to her name.  She declined, saying she had not yet earned that title.
     It may not be surprising that the 564 delegates got little accomplished (besides flattering their Tsaress).  What I think is interesting is that the bond between the peasant and the monarch, seen so often in history (see here, and here, and here), expresses itself.

The discussions in St. Petersburg were providing even more unproductive and divisive than those in Moscow.  The commission continued to stumble along, burdened by procedure, by conflicts of class, and by the generally impossible nature of the task...Many peasant delegates simply transferred their limited rights to speak to nobleman from their districts.  The few free peasants who did speak concentrated on grasping their chance to lay their complaints before the empress herself.  Catherine, listening as they jumbled together every abuse, burden, and future fear, realized how far they were—and how far she was not—from Montesquieu.  By the autumn of 1768, still without seeing any concrete results, the empress was tired.  The commission had dragged on for eighteen months through more than two hundred sessions and not one new law had been written.
—Robert K. Massie.  2011.  Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Women.  Page 360.  Random House, NY, NY.

By the way, it is a fantastic book.  Robert K. Massie is my favorite biographer, whose biography of Peter the Great is even better.

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