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Catherine the Great vs. Elizabeth I
Elizabeth I of England and Catherine II or Catherine the Great of Russia were both of noble birth. Elizabeth was the only surviving child of Henry VIII and his second queen, Anne Boleyn (911 Encyclopedia 2004). She was born on September 7, 1533 at Greenwich Palace almost 200 years before the birth of Catherine the Great of Russia. Elizabeth's death was met with much frustration and bitterness by her parents who wanted a male who could inherit the throne. Her parents' marriage was considered invalid ab initio under Roman or English canon law, which did not allow her father to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth's mother. Anne was also charged with adultery, owing to her pre-contract with Lord Percy and Henry's previous relationship with Anne's sister, Mary Boleyn. With Anne's inability to provide a surviving male heir to Henry, she was beheaded. Elizabeth, thus, lost hereditary title to the throne and her early childhood was just painful as her older sister, Mary Tudor, who was separated from her mother, Catherine of Aragon. By an act of Parliament, Elizabeth was ranked behind Edward and Mary Tudor. When Henry VIII married Catherine Parr, she had Elizabeth and Edward educated together mainly at the old Hatfield House, presently the Marques of Salisbury stables. Edward died of respiratory illness and Mary Tudor became queen. Under Mary's reign, Elizabeth became the center of plots and persecution. The Spaniards, who supported Mary Tudor, yearned hard for Elizabeth's execution and sent her to the Tower in March 1554. The Englishmen, especially great nobles like Howards and Gardiner, would not allow the beheading of a Tudor. Mary's huge efforts at depriving Elizabeth legitimate rights to the throne failed. Elizabeth was moved out of the Tower, under the charge of Sir Henry Bedingfields and then received by the court. She awaited the end of Mary's reign at Hatfield until she succeeded her the same year (911 Encyclopedia).
Both Elizabeth I of England and Catherine II of Russia were very strong women who demonstrated that there was nothing unnatural or unholy about women heading an empire At 25, Elizabeth I ascended the throne of England as a woman meant to reign and have empire over men. She was confronted with arduous and complex problems, characterized by social unrest, political villains and international failures (Williams). But Elizabeth was determined, charismatic and reasonable enough to handle these enormous tasks and challenges. She worked to restore royal supremacy and cut away from Rome, compromise on certain religious issues, and come to terms with the need to secure the support of the common people, most of whom were Protestant and anti-Rome. She made loyalty to England through the Queen stronger than loyalty to Rome. Those who went in an opposite direction were beheaded (Williams).
One of Elizabeth's assets and major successes was her ability to choose the right people to implement her policies and to serve her for life, rather to just to satisfy their own selfish goals (Williams). Her principal secretary and later her lord treasurer, William Cecil, was such valuable find. Cecil was very talented and diligent and made governing an honored profession. Unlike the Queen's court flatterers, Cecil possessed anachronistic compromising skills in the area of religion. Elizabeth also maintained a moderate position between the extremes of Geneva and Rome: she was heavily anti-Catholicism but insisted on retaining royal privilege. She took the Anglican Church as that middle way rather than be influenced by the harsh doctrines of Calvin and Knox. A combination of shrewdness, tenacity and majestic self-display enticed her subjects to become loyal to her and help unify the country against foreign aggression. Her astutely programmed and implemented image campaign elicited the adulation of subjects to herself as the shining symbol of the destiny of England. Although she did not wield absolute authority, she still made critical and major decisions and established and implemented central church and state policies. She re-established English Protestantism in the country and it was during her reign that England became a naval world power and experienced much peace and prosperity. The English Renaissance, a period of amazing developments in the field of literature, emerged under Elizabeth, appropriately called the Golden Age or the Elizabethan Age.
Industrial development also attained a peak during Elizabeth's reign. England acquired immense economic independence and sea power and encouraged exploration, such as expeditions by Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and other sea dogs. The East India Company was established in 1600, the same year William Shakespeare's play, "Hamlet," was first staged. Coinage was also reformed. An early industrial revolution began to emerge. A new Poor Law was also passed in 1563 (Williams).
Catherine the Great of Russia was likewise a well-remembered great despot and great reformer of Russia. She was a German princess, originally named Sophie Augusta Fredericka, whom her aunt, Empress Elizabeth of Russia, chose to be married to her son, Peter the Great. This vibrant, well-educated and fun-loving woman learned French and English ideas on modern government from teachers, including the then outlandish concept of all persons being equal (Erickson 1994). She was influenced by a female relative on living independently and without regard for norms and criticism. Even her husband Peter was envious about Catherine's sense and exercise of freedom. She continued the reforms started by Peter and to the extent of making Russia emerge into the front stage of world politics.
Peter proved to be an unpopular and ineffective sovereign. The Imperial Guards staged a coup in 1762, murdered him and installed Catherine into the Russian throne as monarch (Smirnov). She ruled as the Empress for 30 years, focusing on individualistic endeavors rather than force. Her drastic reforms established the Free Economic Society to encourage the modernization of agriculture and industry, elicited foreign investment in economically underdeveloped areas, relaxed the censorship law and encouraged the education of nobles and the middle class.
Like England under Elizabeth I, Russia under Catherine II also became a huge military and navigational power (Smirnov), which secured large tracts of land. Upon the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in two wars, Russia under Catherine II acquired Crime, which gave Russia access to the Black Sea. Russia also soon gained control over Poland and Luxembourg and, thereafter, acquired other tracts of land. Neither Elizabeth I nor Catherine II had legitimate authority to the monarchies they held. Elizabeth was the product of an illegitimate union between Henry and Anne, while Catherine II succeeded to the throne of a murdered husband-emperor. Called the "Virgin Queen of England," Elizabeth I never married and her sexual conduct was never called under question. In the meantime, Catherine II was scandalous for having a number of lovers. Even her son and successor, Paul I, was rumored to have been sired by a lover, Serge Saltykov.
Elizabeth secured the loyalty and adulation of her people through a careful public relations campaign that linked her to the destiny of England. Catherine II, on the other hand, at first introduced a code of laws, which created a legislative commission to represent all classes, except the serfs (Wikipedia 2005). Because of the Pugachev uprising of 1773 to 1774, Catherine dissolved the commission and reorganized Russian provincial administration in 1775 in order to have greater control over the rural areas. In 1785, she issued a charter, which gave the gentry legal petitioning power, relieved nobles from state service and taxes, improved their status and entrenched their position over their serfs and land.
In the field of the arts and culture, Catherine adhered to the Enlightenment trend of the time and considered herself a "philosopher on the throne (Wikipedia 2005)." Like Elizabeth I, she was knows as a patron of the arts, literature and education. She was said to have written comedies, fiction and memoirs and read Voltaire, Diderot and D'Alembert who acknowledged her patronage in their writings. She was also able to entice Leonhard Euler, the mathematician from Berlin, to come to Saint Petersburg.
Both Elizabeth I and Catherine II exuded sharp instincts and powerful determination. But their thrusts differed. Elizabeth I endured imprisonment at the Tower until released by the nobles and by popular sentiment for a Tudor. It was this sentiment and loyalty to the crown that protected her and eventually made her Queen. Catherine, on the other hand, used her sharp instincts to work for her in detecting the goings at the Russian court when she arrived there to marry Peter the Great. Her natural canny ability, reinforced by the weak personality of Peter, led her to discover the short link between the indulgent court and the torture chambers and the Siberian exile. It was through her astute maneuvers and manipulations that she became the Empress of Russia at the age of 32 and the murder of Peter within weeks of her ascension to the throne (Smirnov).
Elizabeth came under the care of the latter queens who had her get an education along with her brother Edward. She…[continue]
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