Enlightened monarchy in Russia

"Enlightened monarchy" in Russia called the state policy, which led the Empress Catherine II, who ruled in 1762-1796. In the style of its leadership of the country, it was guided by the then Western standards. What was the policy of enlightened absolutism? Prussia, the monarchy of the Habsburgs, France - all these countries, like Russia, then adhered to this course. It consisted in carrying out reforms that renewed the state structure and abolished some feudal survivals.

The power in the country remained exclusively in the hands of the autocratic ruler. This feature was the main contradiction, which differed the policy of enlightened absolutism. The Habsburg monarchy, Russia and other major European powers embarked on the path of reform as a result of the emergence of capitalism. The changes were tightly controlled from above and therefore did not become full-fledged


The Russian enlightened monarchy arose under the influence of French culture, which shaped the views of Catherine II, her entourage and a large part of the educated people of the country. On the one hand, it was the fashion of aristocrats on etiquette, European dresses, hairstyles and hats. However, French influences reflected on the spiritual climate of the nobility.

Rich merchants and trade people, as well as high-ranking officials, began to get acquainted with the Western European humanitarian culture, history, philosophy, art and literature even under Peter I. In the era of Catherine, this process reached a peak. It is the educated aristocracy that is the social support of the monarchy in the period of enlightened absolutism. Books and visiting foreigners laid progressive ideas in representatives of the nobility. Rich people began to travel often to Europe, to learn the world, to compare Western customs and customs with Russian ones.

The "Order" of Catherine

Catherine II came to power in 1762. She was of German descent, had European education and habits, corresponded with the great French enlighteners. This "intellectual baggage" affected the style of government. The Empress wanted to reform the state, make it more effective and modern. This is how the enlightened monarchy of Catherine II appeared.

Already in the same year, 1762, the adviser of the Empress Nikita Panin gave her a draft reform of the imperial council. The statesman argued that the previous system of government is ineffective because it allows the emergence of influential favorites. The transition from absolutism to an enlightened monarchy was also in the fact that Catherine opposed herself to the former rulers of the post-Petrine era, when all sorts of courtiers ruled politics.

In general, Panin proposed to create an advisory body. Ekaterina rejected his project, deciding to supplement this document. Thus, a plan for a complete restructuring of the old legislation was born. The main thing that the Empress wanted to achieve was order in governing the country. To do this, it was necessary to completely rework the old laws and add new ones.

Soon, Catherine established the Commission to create a draft of the new Code. As a recommendation for her, the Empress composed "Nakaz". It contained more than 500 articles, in which the main principles of the legal system of Russia were formulated. Catherine's document referred to the writings of the great thinkers of the time: Montesquieu, Beccaria, Just, Bilfeld. The Nakaz reflected everything that was an enlightened monarchy in Russia. The peculiarities, content, and significance of this document went back to the ideology of advanced educators.

The theoretical reasoning of Catherine was even too liberal and therefore not applicable to the then Russian reality, as they struck the interests of the privileged nobility, the mainstay of state power. Anyway, many of the prince's arguments remained only within the limits of goodwill. On the other hand, in "Nakaz" Ekaterina stated that Russia is a European power. So she confirmed the political course laid down by Peter I.

Layers of the Russian population

Catherine II believed that an enlightened monarchy in Russia was based on the social division of society. Ideal state, she called the absolutist model. The Empress explained her faithfulness to the "natural" right of some to rule, and others to be governed. Catherine's postulates were justified by references to the history of Russia, where the autocracy had the most ancient roots.

The monarch was called not only a source of power, but also a figure consolidating the entire society. He had no restrictions, in addition to ethics. The monarch, Catherine thought, was supposed to show indulgence and provide "the bliss of all and everyone." The enlightened monarchy aimed not at limiting the freedom of people, but in directing their energy and activities towards achieving common prosperity.

The Empress divided Russian society into three main strata: nobility, philistinism and the peasantry. Freedom, she called the right to do what remains within the law. The main instrument of the state was proclaiming laws. They were built and formulated according to the "spirit of the people", that is, the mentality. All this was to provide an enlightened monarchy of the second half of the XVIII century. Catherine II was the first Russian ruler to talk about the need for humanization of criminal law. She considered the main goal of the state not to punish criminals, but to prevent their crimes.


The economic pillars on which the enlightened monarchy was held were property rights and agriculture. The main condition for the prosperity of the country, Catherine called the hard work of all Russian classes. Calling agriculture the basis of the country's economy, the Empress did not dissimulate. Russia in the second half of the eighteenth century remained a deep agrarian country, in which industry lagged far behind the European one.

Many villages in the reign of Catherine II were declared cities, but in essence they remained the same villages with former occupations of the population and appearance. This contradiction was the agrarian and patriarchal nature of Russia. Even with imaginary cities, the urban population of the country was no more than 5%.

Russian industry, like agriculture, remained feudal. In factories and manufactories, forced labor was used everywhere, since the labor of free-hired workers cost enterprises an order of magnitude more. Meanwhile, the Industrial Revolution has already begun in England . Russia mainly exported semi-finished products and natural raw materials. Finished products to the external market the economy almost did not produce.

Court and religion

The last chapters of Catherine's "Punishment" were dedicated to the courts. The enlightened monarchy in Russia, briefly speaking, could not interact with society without this arbitrator. Judicial proceedings were of fundamental importance, which the Empress could not fail to understand. Catherine delegated this institution many functions. In particular, the court was supposed to defend the principle of freedom of religion, which extended to all residents of Russia. The theme of religion Catherine touched on in her correspondence. She was an opponent of the forcible conversion of non-Russian peoples of the country to Christianity.

The enlightened monarchy is a state firmly based on following the rules and laws. That's why the Catherine's Set Committee banned the holding of extraordinary court hearings. Also, the Empress spoke out against the oppression of freedom of speech. However, this did not prevent her from bringing down repression on those who, in her opinion, infringed on the state order with their publications.

The peasant question

The main dilemma faced by an enlightened monarchy in Russia was the future of serfdom. In the era of Catherine II the slavish position of the peasants was never abolished. But it was serfdom that was most criticized by the progressive sections of society. This social evil was the object of attacks of satirical magazines by Nikolai Novikov ("Purse", "Truten", "Painter"). Like Radishchev, he did not await the cardinal changes initiated from above, but he was imprisoned in the Shlisselburg Fortress.

The error of serfdom was not only in the most inhuman slave status of the peasants, but also in the fact that it hampered the economic development of the Empire. Freedom was necessary for estates in order to work for their own benefit. Work on the landlord, who harvested crops and earnings, a priori could not be effective. Enrichment of the peasantry occurred only after its liberation in 1861. The enlightened monarchy of Catherine II, briefly, did not dare to this step for the sake of maintaining internal stability, which consisted in the absence of a conflict between the authorities and the landlords. The rest of the transformation of the empress in the village in this case remained only decorations. It was her period of government - the era of the greatest enslavement of peasants. Even with the son of Catherine Paul I, the commerce declined, becoming a three-day one.

Criticism of autocracy

French rationalism and the ideas of the Enlightenment pointed to the shortcomings of feudal forms of state government. This was the origin of the first criticism of the autocracy. The enlightened monarchy, however, was just an unlimited form of power. The state welcomed the reforms, but they had to proceed from above and not touch upon the main thing - the autocracy. That is why the era of Catherine II and her contemporaries is called the era of enlightened absolutism.

The first to publicly criticize the autocracy writer Alexander Radishchev. His ode "Liberty" was the first revolutionary poem in Russia. After the publication of "Travel from St. Petersburg to Moscow" Radishchev was sent into exile. Thus, the enlightened monarchy of Catherine 2, though positioned as a progressive state, did not allow freethinkers to change the state system.


In many respects the transition from absolutism to an enlightened monarchy was due to the activities of major scientists. The main luminary of the Russian science of the XVIII century was Mikhail Lomonosov. In 1755 he founded the Moscow University. At the same time, enlightenment utopianism was propagated in the Masonic lodges, which became extremely popular among the nobility.

In the second half of the 18th century a new network of closed educational institutions appeared, in which children of noblemen, merchants, clergy, soldiers, raznochinstva studied. All of them had a pronounced class nature. Here, as elsewhere, the advantage was in the hands of the nobles. For them, all kinds of buildings were opened, where teaching was conducted according to Western European standards.

Folding reforms

The activity of the Commission of the Catherine II is best demonstrated by the relationship between the concepts "absolute monarchy" and "enlightened absolutism". The Empress tried to create a state that was like those models that were described by the main European thinkers of the 18th century. However, the contradiction was that the Enlightenment and absolute monarchy could not be compatible. Preserving the autocratic power, Catherine herself hampered the development of state institutions. However, not a single European monarch of the Enlightenment decided on radical reforms.

Perhaps Catherine would have gone on to make further transformations, if not for several dramatic events of the second half of the 18th century. The first occurred in Russia itself. It is a question of the Pugachev uprising that swept the Urals and the Volga region in 1773-1775. The revolt began in the midst of the Cossacks. Then it enveloped the national and peasant strata. The fortresses thundered the estates of the nobles, they killed yesterday's oppressors. At the peak of the uprising, under the control of Emelian Pugachev, there were many large cities, including Orenburg and Ufa. Catherine was frightened by the biggest riot in the last century. When the troops defeated the Pugachevites, the authorities reacted, and the reforms ceased. Later, the era of Catherine became the "golden age" of the nobility, when their privileges reached the maximum scale.

Other events that influenced the views of the Empress were two revolutions: the war for the independence of the American colonies and the revolution in France. The latter overthrew the monarchy of the Bourbons. Catherine became the initiator of the creation of an anti-French coalition, which included all major European powers with the same absolutist way of life.

Cities and townspeople

In 1785, the Charter of Honor was issued to the cities, in which Catherine regulated the status of city residents. They were divided into several categories on social and property grounds. The first class of "real urban inhabitants" included property owners nobles, as well as clergy and bureaucracy. Then followed the guild merchants, guild craftsmen, nonresident, foreigners, villagers. Separately distinguished eminent citizens. They were people with university degrees, owners of large capitals, bankers, owners of ships.

The privileges of man depended on the status. For example, eminent citizens were given the right to have their own garden, a country yard and a carriage. Also, people with electoral rights were defined in the charter. Philistinism and the merchants received the rudiments of self-government. The diploma enjoined every three years to organize meetings of the wealthiest and most influential townspeople. Elective judicial institutions - magistrates were established. The situation, formed due to reading and writing, was preserved until 1870, that is, before the reforms of Alexander II.

Noble Privileges

Simultaneously with the Chartered Cities, an even more important Charter of Nobility was issued . This document became a symbol of the entire era of Catherine II and the enlightened monarchy as a whole. He developed the ideas laid down in the Manifesto on the Liberty of the Nobility, adopted in 1762 under Peter III. The Charter of Catherine said that the landlords - the only legitimate elite of Russian society.

The noble title was made hereditary, inalienable and extended to the entire noble family. His aristocrat could only lose his property if he committed a criminal offense. So Catherine enshrined in practice her own thesis that the behavior of all the nobles without exception had to correspond to their high position.

Due to their "noble origin" the landlords were freed from corporal punishment. Their property rights extended to different types of property and, most importantly, to serfs. Nobles could become entrepreneurs at will, for example, engage in maritime trade. People of noble origin were allowed to have factories and factories. The aristocrats did not apply personal taxes.

Nobles could create their own societies - Noble Assembly, who had political rights and own finances. Such organizations were allowed to send the monarch the projects of reforms and reforms. Meetings were created on a territorial basis and were attached to the province. These self-governing bodies had the leaders of the nobility, whose appointment was carried out by the governors.

The letter of gratitude completed the long process of exaltation of the estate of the landlords. The document recorded that it was the nobles who were considered the main driving force in Russia. On this principle the entire national enlightened monarchy was based. The influence of the nobility gradually declined under the successor of Catherine Paul I. This emperor, as heir, who was in conflict with his mother, tried to abolish all its innovations. Paul allowed to apply corporal punishment to the nobility, forbade them to address him personally. Many decisions of Paul were abolished under his son Alexander I. However, in the new XIX century, Russia has already entered a new stage of its development. Enlightened absolutism remained a symbol of one era - the reign of Catherine II.

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