Mussorgky’s Old Castle


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Modest Mussorgsky by Ilya Repin, 2 – 5 March 1881 (

I eliminated my post on the Emancipation Reform of 1861. Although the Emancipation Reform of 1861 had deleterious effects on many Russians, Mussorgsky (21 March 1839 – 28 March 1881) became an alcoholic because extreme behaviour was fashionable in his days. (See Modest Mussorgsky,

However, those who turned to the “worship of Bacchus” did not necessarily become alcoholics. Mussorgsky did, and it led to his death.

Repin‘s portrait of Mussorgsky, the eyes in particular, is one of his finest paintings.

Love to everyone 💕


The Old Castle 

Une larme (A Tear)


Above the Eternal Tranquillity by Isaac Levitan, 1894 (

© Micheline Walker
17 November 2018

Frederick the Great


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Frederick the Great by Anton Graff, 1781

We are looking at our last and perhaps most prominent enlightened despot, Frederick the Great of Prussia (24 January 1712 – 17 August 1786). Frederick the Great was a member of the Hohenzollern dynasty. He was a warrior who inherited a very large army from his father: 80,000 soldiers. Mirabeau would say that Prussia was not a country that had an army, but an army that had a country:

« La Prusse n’est pas un pays qui a une armée, c’est une armée qui a un pays. »
(See Frederick the Great,

The Monarch as a Young Man

Frederick was the son of Frederick William I of Prussia a disciplinarian who did not shy away from beating his son. Young Frederick attempted to flee to England with a friend, Hans Hermann von Katte ( 1704 – 1730), intending to work for George II of Britain. George II was the Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg (Hanover). Flight was impeded. Frederick William I had the two lads imprisoned, at Küstrin. King Frederick William I spared his son’s life, but Hans Hermann von Katte was beheaded and Frederick William I insisted that his son watch the execution.


Although Frederick married Elisabeth Christine of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel-Bevern when he was crown prince, he did not live with his wife. It appears he was not attracted to women. As a very young man, he may have been attracted to boys, but one can only speculate on Frederick the Great’s sexuality. Although he was not attracted to women, Frederick made sure his wife lived comfortably. He was succeeded by his nephew, Frederick William II of Prussia.

Frederick the Composer

Frederick’s passion was his “profession,” to quote Catherine the Great of Russia. He was an aristocrat and “born to rule.” Other than his “profession,” Frederick was an excellent musician. He played the flute and was a surprisingly prolific composer. Harmony, counterpoint and form are demanding disciplines. Additionally, one’s melodies are the product of inspiration. Frederick was gifted. Frederick the Great ( provides a list of Frederick’s compositions. It may not be a complete, but it is very impressive: 100 sonatas for the flute as well as four symphonies, etc. Frederick had a music room at Sanssouci, his castle in Potsdam, and his flute teacher was no less than Johann Joachim Quantz (30 January 1607 – 12 July 1773). 

The Flute Concert of Sanssouci by Adolph Menzel, 1852, depicts Frederick playing the flute in his music room at Sanssouci as C. P. E. Bach accompanies him on a harpsichord-shaped piano by Gottfried Silbermann. (Frederick the Great, 

Voltaire in Prussia

King Friedrich der Große admired all things French, Voltaire especially. Frederick, who learned French as a child, initiated a correspondence with Voltaire in 1736, before Frederick William I’s death. In the 1750’s, Voltaire moved to Prussia, at Frederick’s invitation. He was named chamberlain and appointed to the Order of Merit. Voltaire also received a salary of 20,000 French livres a year. He had rooms at Sanssouci (without worries), Frederick the Great’s castle at Potsdam, and also lived at Charlottenburg Palace. French was spoken at the Prussian court. Voltaire spent three years in Prussia. A misunderstanding separated host and guest, but the two reconciled. Frederick the Great was delighted to have known Voltaire. (See Voltaire,  

Die Tafelrunde by Adolph von Menzel: guests of Frederick the Great at Sanssouci, including members of the Prussian Academy of Sciences and Voltaire (third from left). Next to Voltaire, wearing red, is Casanova. (Frederick the Great,

The Anti-Machiavel

The influence of French philosophes and British intellectuals led Frederick the Great to write an “idealistic refutation” ( of Niccolò Machiavelli’s 16th-century’s Prince, entitled the Anti-Machiavel, published in 1740. Voltaire edited Frederick the Great’s Anti-Machiavel, also providing footnotes. A combined edition was published. Summarizing the Anti-Machiavel would be difficult, but, basically, it describes the king as “the first servant of the state.”

Peter the Great and Catherine the Great westernized Russia, but they also organized it. As for Frederick the Great, the most enlightened of despots, he modernized Prussia. All three despots also promoted, to a greater of lesser extent, religious tolerance. King Frederick the Great joined Freemasonry, as did many of his contemporaries.

In Prussia, the heart of the future German Empire, it became possible to occupy positions formerly reserved for the nobility. Bourgeois could be judges and senior bureaucrats. Frederick welcomed immigrants and he allowed freedom of the press and literature. Moreover, not only was he a musician, but he was also a patron of musicians and artists. He reformed the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Although it is incomplete, one of Frederick’s finest achievements was the Prussian Civil Code. Civil codes organize a nation. Catherine II the Great of Russia also worked on devising a code of laws.


Frederick the Great was a fine and well-educated leader. He believed, however, that his “profession” had made him what he was. It hadn’t. One does not need to be an aristocrat to govern well. In short, Frederick was an exceptional leader and an extremely gifted gentleman, brilliant, who happened to be a king, and a despot.

Yet Frederick was also convinced that the Prussian landed noblemen, the Junkers, were the backbone of the state, and he continued accordingly to uphold the alliance between crown and aristocracy on which his kingdom had been built.


Sources and Resources

  1. Britannica’s Video on Sanssouci (without worries)
  2. Frederick the Great,
  3. Voltaire,
  4. Encyclopedia Britannica
  5. Concert for Flute at Sanssouci by Adolph von Menzel

Friedrich II der Große. Concerto for flute and string orchestra in G – Allegro 1/3

Frederick the Great (Frederick the Majestic)

© Micheline Walker
15 November 2018




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Oak Grove by Ivan Shishkin, 1887 (

It was a slow day and a cold day. I could not write. But I could sense winter approaching. Je n’ai qu’une saison. C’est l’hiver.

Yvan Shishkin (25 January 1832 – 20 March 1898) was a Russian landscape painter associated with the Peredvizhniki movement.

Forest Path by Yvan Shishkin, 1863 (

The video I have inserted combines images by Yvan Shishkin and music by Mussorgsky, one of the Five. You will hear bells.


Love to everyone 💕

Mussorgsky — Prelude to Khovanshchina (1872-1880)

Portrait of Shishkin by Ivan Kramskoi, 1873 (

© Micheline Walker
11 November 2018

Sweden’s Age of Liberty, Part Two


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Gustav III, King of Sweden by Alexander Roslin, 1777

Sweden’s Age of Liberty

  • Charles XII’s death (1719)
  • Peter the Great’s victory (1721)

Between 1611 and 1721, Sweden was an Empire and between 1796 and 1718, it was ruled by absolutist King Charles XII (b. 17 June 1682 – 30 November 1718 [aged 36]). Charles XII was killed during the Siege of Fredriksten, in 1718. In 1731, Voltaire wrote a History of Charles XII (Histoire de Charles XII), the last ruler of the Swedish Empire. After his death, Sweden and its allies lost the Swedish Empire to the Tsardom of Russia, henceforth a Tsardom and an Empire. As we have seen in an earlier post, Peter the Great wanted access to seas, which, to the west, was the Baltic Sea and, by extension, the Baltic provinces and the Baltic states. Peter I was successful in his quest, but he ended Sweden’s age of “greatness.”

However, and ironically, Charles XII’s death and Sweden’s defeat provided a window of opportunity for the development of a rudimentary parliament in Europe. Sweden had lost its “greatness,” but it had entered its Age of Liberty, or Age of Freedom. Sweden’s Age of Liberty is:

a half-century-long period of parliamentary governance and increasing civil rights, beginning with Charles XII‘s death in 1718 and ending with Gustav III‘s self-coup in 1772.

(See Age of Liberty,

In 1719, Count Arvid Horn (6 April 1664 – 17 April 1742), President of the Privy Council Chancellery of Sweden, transferred power from an absolute monarchy to a parliament, Sweden’s Riksdag of the Estates, a name used by the Estates when they assembled.

Charles XII was childless. He was succeeded by Ulrika Eleonora, his sister, who abdicated because power was in the hands of the Riksdag of the Estates. Her husband Landgrave Frederick I of Hesse-Kassel, a prince consort, would serve as King Frederick I of Sweden until 5 April 1751.

The Treaty of Nystad (10 September 1721)

Frederick I of Sweden signed the Treaty of Nystad (1721) which ended the Great Northern War (1700 – 1721). Sweden surrendered Swedish EstoniaSwedish Livonia  (which had capitulated in 1710) and Southeast Finland (Kexholmslän and Karelia), in exchange for two million silver thaler.


Treaty effects: pre-war Sweden in yellow, Russia in green, Russian gains indicated. (

The Riksdag of the Estates

  • the Riksdag of the Estates vs Britain’s Parliament
  • the Hats and the Caps (Nightcaps)
  • Arvid Horn

The Riksdag of the Estates differs from Britain’s Parliament. It may consist of two parties opposing one another. During the Age of Liberty, the Riksdag opposed the Hats (les Chapeaux) and the Caps (les Bonnets). I noted the role played by the Hats and the Caps in the short version of this post. But I should add that the “Horn Period” was a better Age of Liberty than the period during which the Hats ruled.

His strong hand kept the inevitable strife of the parliamentary factions within due limits, and it was entirely owing to his provident care that Sweden so rapidly recovered from the wretched condition in which the wars of Charles XII had plunged her.

(See Arvid Horn,

The Two Kings

  • Frederick I and Adolph Frederick
  • The Hats: Wars and Greatness

As for the relationship between the Riksdag of the Estates and the kings who reigned during the Age of Liberty, it reflects to a large extent, the rule of the Hats and the Caps. I have mentioned the Russo-Swedish war of 1741-1743. Sweden, the former Swedish Empire, was defeated and, under the terms of the Treaty of Åbo, it had to cede territory east of the Kymi river to Russia. Elizabeth of Russia demanded that pro-absolutist Adolph Frederick from the House of Holstein-Gottorp be the future king of Sweden. As a result, members of the house of King Frederick I of Sweden, the Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel, were eliminated from the line of succession.

Under pro-absolutist Adolp Frederick of the House of Holstein-Gottorp, the Riksdag of the Estates was attacked twice: the Coup of 1756 and the very serious December Crisis of 1768. (See Sweden’s Age of Liberty, 8 November 2018.)

The Hats also involved Sweden in the Pomeranian Theatre of the Seven Years’ War. Sweden lost 40,000 men in a war France did not win. Sweden suffered immense losses seeking the “greatness” it had lost.

The End of the Age of Liberty

According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, the reason for the transfer from absolutism to its Age of Freedom was “the complete failure of the policy of ‘greatness’ connected with the Carolingian [Charles XII] absolutism.” In 1772, Gustav III‘s self-coup re-introduced absolutism. Gustav III is described as a popular king. He was when he modelled his absolutism on his uncle, Peter the Great of Prussia’s enlightened despotism. But what of the people’s will?

They [enlightened desposts] typically instituted administrative reform, religious toleration, and economic development but did not propose reforms that would undermine their sovereignty or disrupt the social order.

(See Enlightened Despotism, Britannica.)

However, they felt, as did Empress Catherine the Great of Russia, that aristocracy is their “profession.” Elizabeth of Russia used the Treaty of Åbo as a coup. She became an Empress of Russia and named her successor: Peter III of the House of Holstein-Gottorp. In Sweden, kings and queens were elected! When Gustav IV lost Finland, he was deposed by officers of his army and various notables. He had to abdicate and go into exile, never to return. A democracy is a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” (See Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburgh Address,

The Age of Liberty‘s early Riksdag of the Estates took all powers away from monarchs. This would change as Swedish democracy developed, a process usually marked by trials and errors. The Age of Liberty can be viewed as an experiment in democracy. Matters  change. Arvid Horn’s grew increasingly neutral, and his neutrality was opposed. Ulrika Eleonora, Charles XII’s sister, abdicated because she refused to be a figurehead. But, although King Charles XIII was prematurely senile, he was involved in the drafting of the Instrument of Government of 1809, Sweden’s constitution. It was not developed unilaterally and it remained unchanged until 1974.

In fact, to what extent was Charles XII an absolute monarch? Voltaire preferred Charles XII to Peter the Great.

The form of government instituted in Sweden under King Charles XI and passed on to his son, Charles XII is commonly referred to as absolute monarchy; however, the Swedish monarch was never absolute in the sense that he wielded arbitrary power.

(See Absolute Monarchy,

However, Gustav III tried to abolish the Privy Council of Sweden and propably did so out of fear. Gustav III’s Union and Security Act of 1789, “swept away most of the powers exercised by the Swedish Riksdag.” He “severely curtailed” the Freedom of the Press Act of 1766. (See Gustav III,

However, Sweden defeated Russia at the Battle of Svensksund, Gustav III demonstrating leadership and “greatness.” But such “greatness,” Sweden had probably outgrown in its Age of Liberty.


Swedish warships fitted out in Stockholm in 1788; watercolor by Louis Jean Desprez

Love to everyone 💕


Sources and Resources

Johan Agrell – Violin Concerto in D major

©Micheline Walker
9 November 2018

Sweden’s Age of Liberty, Part One


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Count Arvid Horn, President of Privy Council Chancellery of Sweden (Photo credit:

This post is an abridged version of a second post.

Sweden’s Age of Liberty

  • The Riksdag of the Estates
  • Count Arvid Horn

Count Arvid Horn (6 April 1664 – 17 April 1742), who was named a Privy Councillor in 1705 and a Count, in 1706, under absolutist King Charles XII‘s reign, distanced himself from absolutism. After the death of Charles XII (b. 17 June 1682 – 30 November 1718 [aged 36]) an absolute monarch, Arvid Horn transferred the power of the Queen, Ulrika Eleonora, to the Riksdag of the Estates, a ‘parliament.’ In other words, Sweden had a Riksdag of the Estates, but under an absolute monarch, the Swedish Riksdag had no power. This could be described as the flaw in Sweden’s early democracy. The king had died and Arvid Horn could shift his power to the Riksdag of the Estates, but what if the king had not died?

Therefore, we cannot compare Sweden’s Riksdag to Britain’s constitutional monarchy. In England, the death of a king or queen could not lead to the dissolution, or the near dissolution of Parliament. In other words, in Britain, power could shift from one party to another in Parliament, but the reigning monarch remained and laws received royal assent, a form of veto.

It remains that Sweden had a parliament before Montesquieu‘s Spirit of the Laws was published, anonymously, in 1848, and placed on the Index (list) of prohibited books, the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, promulgated by the Roman Catholic Church, in 1559.

Consequently, when king Charles XII was killed, Sweden had its Riksdag of the Estates. Had it not been for the existence of the Riksdag of the Estates, however imperfect, Arvid Horn, President of the Privy Council Chancellery of Sweden, could not have transfered the power of deceased absolutist King Charles XII to anyone.

Two Elected Kings

Between 1719 to 1772, the Riksdag ruled Sweden. Two elected kings would ‘reign’ during this period. Queen Ulrika Eleonora succeeded Charles XII, but abdicated in favour of her husband, elected King Frederick I of Sweden because no power was vested in the Monarchy.

Frederick I of Sweden and Ulrika Eleonara had no children. Empress Elizabeth of Russia agreed to return part of Finland to Sweden, if Adolph Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp were elected King of Sweden. Empress Elizabeth of Russia also chose as her heir the future Peter III of Russia, Catherine the Great‘s husband. Adolph Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp  would be the Age of Liberty‘s second king.

Two Coups

  • Coup of 1756
  • Decenber Crisis of 1768

King Adolph Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp was a rather weak king. However, he was the husband of Louisa Ulrika of Prussia (Frederick the Great‘s sister), who believed in the divine rights of kings and wanted to reinstate absolutism. She put pressure on her husband, Adolph Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp. Adolph Frederick attacked the Riksdag of the Estates twice. The first attack was the Coup of 1756, which failed. The second attack was the more successful December Crisis of 1768, when Adolphe Frederick refused to sign state documents and abdicated.

The End of the Age of Liberty

When Adolph Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp abdicated, Sweden’s Riksdag of the Estates was weakened, but it stayed afloat. In 1772, King Gustav III used a self-coup to reinstate not absolutism, at least not at first, but enlightened absolutism, modeled on his uncle Frederick II the Great of Prussia’s enlightened absolutism. Gustav III’s self-coup ended the Age of Liberty. Absolutist King Gustav III would be assassinated in 1792, a year before King Louis XVI of France was executed by guillotine, on 21 January 1793.

In short, during its Age of Liberty (1719-1772), Sweden had two kings, but they did not rule, another flaw. The ruler was the Riksdag of the Estates, a form of parliament which consisted of two parties, the Hats (les Chapeaux) and the Caps (les Bonnets). One could dominate the other.

The Caps (les Bonnets), under the leadership of Arvid Horn, threw their lot in with Russia or they remained more or less neutral. Count Arvid Horn’s increasing neutrality was opposed. So Arvid Horn retired to his home, Ekebyholm Castle. As for the Hats, they chose to ally themselves with France. They waged war against Russia, the Russo-Swedish War of 1741-1743, and participated in the Seven Year’s War. These were disastrous wars for Sweden.

Gustav IV Adolf’s arrest during the Coup of 1809 (

The Instrument of Government

In 1809, King Gustav III’s heir, King Gustav IV of Sweden, lost Finland to Russia. His defeat in the Finnish War prompted a revolt: the Coup of 1809. Gustav IV Adolf was forced to abdicate and to go into exile. On 6 June 1809, Sweden’s National Day, the Riksdag of the Estates and King Charles XIII adopted the Instrument of Government that remained in effect until 1974. Charles or Carl XIII was childless, hence the search for a crown prince. As we know, Jean-Baptiste Jules Bernadotte was elected crown prince of Sweden who would reign as Charles XIV John of Sweden.

This story is told and beautifully illustrated in rodote.FR


Love to everyone 💕

Johan Helmich Roman – Drottningholm Music


Gustav IV by Per Krafft the Younger (

© Micheline Walker
7 November 2018
(to be continued)


Alexander Borodin, Russia’s “Five”


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The Slavic Composers by Ilya Repin, 1872 (

Time flies. So I am not altogether finished a post on Sweden’s Age Liberty which began a little before Peter the Great defeated the Swedish Empire and ended in 1821 and lasted until Swedish King Gustav III‘s self-coup of 1872, which takes us to the House of Bernadotte (27 September 2018).

I’m nearly done.

I thought of writing a little in-between post introducing Alexander Borodin, one of The Five (composers), or The Mighty Handful, whose goal was to capture the very soul of Russia’s culture. They gave Russian music its idiom. The Five are Mily Balakirev (the leader),  César Cui, Modest MussorgskyNikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Borodin. All lived in Saint Petersburg.

Borodin is exceptional. He was a doctor and scientist. Music was not his profession, but who could tell? His lyricism is a major characteristic of Borodin’s compositions and these are numerous. In the Steppes of Central Asia has an exotic flavour. It is a tone poem, one continuous and rather short piece of music.

The piece I selected does not feature bells. It therefore differs from Modest Mussorgsky‘s Night on Bald Mountain, Une nuit sur le mont chauve, 🎶which is the very first piece of music I was introduced to. Among my early memories of the red brick house are my father’s late night gatherings with music lovers. Chauve means bald. We could see chauves-souris (bats) flying about.

So, we will not hear bells in Borodin’s In the Steppes of Central Asia (Mongolia), composed in 1880. However, a wide range in volume is typical of the music of the Five, and Borodin’s.

My main source is’s entry on Borodin’s lovely piece and my own knowledge. I have studied music, every aspect, all my life.

Love to everyone 💕

Altan Khan (1507–1582) (

© Micheline Walker
5 November 2018






Catherine the Great by V. Borovikovsky


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1794 portrait of Catherine, age approximately 65, with the Chesme Column in the background by Vladimir Borovikovsky (Tretyakov Gallery) (Photo credit:

In my last post, credits for the image above were left incomplete. I tried to add the name of the artist, but could not access the post. The artist is Vladimir Borovikovsky. The portrait is housed in the Tretyakov Gallery, in Moscow.

Britannica’s Video

Moreover, the link to Britannica’s video on Catherine the Great was moved.

Finally, (2nd part) provides a concise and fascinating discussion of Catherine’s life, times and accomplishments. (See Catherine the Great,


Mussorgsky was one of The Five (composers) (the Mighty Handful) who attempted to give the music of Russia a typically Russian idiom. Remember the bells.



Modest MussorgskyNight on Bald Mountain (ca 1858)

The Rooks have come back by Alezei Savrasov, 1871, Ipatiev Monastery in Kostroma

© Micheline Walker
2 November 2018



Enlightened Despotism in Russia


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Enlightened Despotism

We are returning to our Enlightened despots. In the Encyclopedia Britannica,

Enlightened despotism, also called benevolent despotism, [is] a form of government in the 18th century in which absolute monarchs pursued legal, social, and educational reforms inspired by the Enlightenment. Among the most prominent  enlightened despots were Frederick II (the Great)Peter I (the Great)Catherine II (the Great)Maria TheresaJoseph II, and Leopold II. They typically instituted administrative reform, religious toleration, and economic development but did not propose reforms that would undermine their sovereignty or disrupt the social order.

(See Enlightened Despotism, Britannica)

Among the despots named above, Frederick II (the Great), King of Prussia, is our most prominent figure. He belonged to the Hohenzollern dynasty. But we must step back to Peter I (the Great) (9 June 1662, Moscow – 8 February 1725, Saint Petersburg) who defeated the Swedish Empire, and Catherine II (the Great) (21 April 1729, Prussia – 6 November 1796, Russia) who did not allow a disastrous marriage to rob her of her “profession” as an aristocrat. Both Peter I and Catherine II were despots, but they expanded and developed Russia in every way.  They are as Britannica defines enlightened despots. In this regard, both looked to Europe as a model and, in the case of Catherine II, mainly France. In the 18th century, French became the language of the Russian court and courtiers dressed as did Europeans. But soon Catherine dazzled Europe.

Posthumous Portrait of Peter the Great by Paul Delaroche, 1838 (Photo credit:

Peter I (the Great) 1689 – 1725

Given Peter I the Great‘s passion for conquest, we need to see maps. For instance, Peter I, of the Romanov dynasty, who reigned jointly with his sick half-brother Ivan V, from 1689 to 1725, wanted a port to the north, but west of Arkhangelsk, a port that abutted on the Arctic Ocean. In 1703, he founded Saint Petersburg, located north of Moscow, on the Neva River.

The Neva flows into the Gulf of Finland, thereby providing access to European countries and facilitating the westernization of Russia which, to a large extent, characterizes Russian enlightenment. Peter I (the Great) was ordained Emperor of “all the Russias” after defeating the Swedish Empire, in 1721, three years after King Carl XII of Sweden was killed at the Siege of Fredriksten, in 1718.

Map of the Baltic Sea  (


Russian Expansion Britannica

Peter I, the son of tsar Alexis of Russia, had been exiled from the Kremlin during the regency of his half-sister Sophia (1782 – 1789), by his half-brother Fyodor III (1676 – 1782). Contrary to his siblings, Peter was very healthy and played at war, organizing battles, with boys of lesser birth. (See Peter the Great, Britannica.) He also mingled with Moscow’s intellectually freer European citizens who “kindled” his interest in navigation and the mechanical arts. He shared his mother Natalya Kirillovna Naryshkina‘s progressive ideas. Peter founded the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1724.

Peter is associated with the Northern War, the Russo-Turkish Wars, the Persian War and numerous conflicts. (See Peter the Great), Britannica.)

The Russian Empire, in 1796

See Digital Collection

Britannica Video on Catherine the Great

Catherine II (the Great ) 1762 – 1796

Empress Catherine II (the Great) was born Sophie Friederike Auguste, Prinzessin (princess) von Anhalt-Zerbst (Britannica). In 1745, she married Peter III of Russia, or Karl Peter Ulrich zu Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp, born in Kiel. Peter III is described as follows:

He was extremely neurotic, rebellious, obstinate, perhaps impotent, nearly alcoholic, and, most seriously, a fanatical worshipper of Frederick II of Prussia, the foe of the empress Elizabeth [Peter I’s successor].

(See Catherine II (the Great), Britannica.)

Catherine therefore resolved to become Empress of Russia. She relinquished her name, Sophie, and learned Russian. By marriage, she belonged to the House of Romanov, the ruling house of Russia, but her mother was Princess Johanna Elisabeth of Holstein-Gottorp. Although Catherine had lovers before she became Empress, it seems that she bore Peter III at least one child, a Romanov, who would reign as Paul I of Russia (1796 – 1801).

Catherine II was charming.

It was easy for Catherine, with the help of the senators, high officials, and officers of the guard regiments (led by her lover Grigory Orlov and his brothers), to overthrow Peter on June 28 (July 9, New Style), 1762. Thus began the long and important reign of Catherine II, whom her admiring contemporaries named ‘the Great.’

(See Catherine II (the Great), Britannica.)

This was a coup d’état. Peter III had to abdicate and was assassinated eight days later. We cannot ascertain that Catherine played a role in Peter III’s assassination. At any rate, Peter III had blemished his image by disengaging a victorious Russia from the Seven Years War against Prussia. However, before Peter III‘s death on 17 July 1762, he and Catherine II issued a Manifesto on Freedom of the Nobility, which “freed Russian nobles from compulsory military or state service.” (See Catherine II the Great, As noted in an earlier post, in 1774, twelve years after Peter III’s assassination, Catherine may have married Grigory Potemkin, who also played a public role during the reign of Catherine II. (See Catherine II (the Great), Britannica.)

Would that Catherine II had abolished serfdom. She planned to do so, but didn’t. Catherine owned serfs and gave serfs to former lovers. But it should be noted that during most, nearly all, of Catherine the Great’s reign (1729 – 1796), slavery had not been abolished. Nor had serfdom been repressed in France and other European countries. (See History of Serfdom, Scandinavian countries were an exception. They had no serfs, but several European monarchs profited from the slave-trade. In Russia, serfdom was abolished in 1861, under Tsar Alexander II (29 April 1818 – 13 March 1881).

Catherine did not frame a constitution, but Catherine’s Instruction could be considered a draft of this constitution, or its white paper.

1794 portrait of Catherine, age approximately 65, with the Chesme Column in the background, by V. Borovikovsky (Tretyakov Gallery(Photo credit:

The French Enlightenment & the French Revolution

Catherine admired Montesquieu and Rousseau. As we have seen, she bought Denis Diderot‘s library, making him its custodian for the rest of his life. Moreover, she and Voltaire shared letters. Despots, however, fear the people they control, and their fear leads them to control even more. After the terror Yemelyan Pugachov‘s Cossack troops inspired in 1774, Catherine was afraid.

Catherine now realized that for her the people were more to be feared than pitied, and that, rather than freeing them, she must tighten their bonds.

(See Catherine II (the Great), Britannica.)


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.’

But Catherine was born, rather than elected, to privilege.


Despots they were. But Peter the Great and Catherine II (the Great), Peter in particular, enlarged Russia considerably, as the third map above indicates (See Digital Collection). They also organized Russia. Catherine II created several towns and promoted intellectual and cultural growth. As noted above, Peter’s model had been Europe, but France was Catherine’s chief model. However, the execution, by guillotine, of French King Louis XVI dampened Catherine’s admiration for France. Louis XVI was a fellow aristocrat by profession, as Catherine saw aristocrats. She was then approaching her own sudden death.

France and Europe may have been Peter I and Catherine II’s models. But our two enlightened despots’ leadership may also be considered a model.


Sources & Resources


Love to everyone 💕

Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov – Scheherazade (1/5)

© Micheline Walker
1st November 2018









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Spring Bouquet by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1866 Fogg Museum (Harvard Art Museums), Cambridge, MA, US

Jean-Marc, the somewhat timid groom below, was Jean-Pierre’s best friend. He flew to Quebec for Jean-Pierre’s funeral.

Jean-Marc married my sister Thérèse. They had lovely girls: Danielle, Anne and Dominique. We lost Dominique, but Danielle and Anne are fine. As for Thérèse, she died of septic shock ten years ago. She and Jean-Marc lived in British Columbia.

Ten years later

Last summer, Jean-Marc remarried. His bride is the widow of a friend he lost to a plane crash. Jean-Marc also had a plane, but did not use it after his friend’s fatal crash. He therefore met his new bride when they were much younger. Destiny brought then together again. Her name is Marguerite.

Jean-Marc was an excellent husband to my sister and he will be an excellent husband to his second wife. He sold the house where he and Thérèse had lived and moved to his bride’s townhouse. It’s a brand new life.


I met Jean-Marc before Jean-Pierre brought him to our house. I went to a figure-skating show. Jean-Marc was the fellow who came from one end of the skating rink, gained speed, and jumped over several barrels, landing gently.

If my memory serves me well, barrels were added twice. He would therefore skate back to his starting position, entertaining the crowd, and jump over the barrels again, landing gently.

He and my sister were turtledoves and I think it’s happening again. Often, the second marriage is better than the first. Jean-Marc needed a companion. In my opinion, he’s found an angel.

I wish them both every happiness.

Love to everyone 💕

Edvard Grieg Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, Op. 65
Aaron Dyer

© Micheline Walker
26 October 2018




Mostly Diderot & Catherine II ‘the Great’


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Claude-Joseph VernetThe Shipwreck, 1772, oil on canvas, Patrons’ Permanent Fund and Chester Dale Fund, 2000.22.1 (National Gallery of Art, UK)


Horace Vernet Joseph Vernet Tied to a Mast in a Storm, c. 1822, Musée Calvet, Avignon, photograph by André Guerrand

This post isn’t about Claude-Joseph Vernet, Horace Vernet‘s grandfather, nor is it about Händel. It is about me, briefly, but my main characters are philosophe Denis Diderot  (1713 – 1784) and Catherine II the Great (1729 – 1796) of Russia, an enlightened despot. Denis Diderot was a co-editor, with Jean Le Rond d’Alembert, of the very ambitious Encyclopédie (1751 – 1766). He admired artist Claude-Joseph Vernet, whom he praised in his delightful Regrets sur ma vieille robe de chambre (Regrets on my Old Dressing Gown), a short text. I believe Regrets sur ma vieille robe de chambre (text) has been translated into English, but I could not find a translation. Catherine II the Great was a German princess, the daughter of Christian August, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst, who became Empress of “all the Russias.”

Russian despots, Peter I the Great and Catherine II, the Great, enlarged Russia. Peter wanted access to various seas, the Baltic Sea, to begin with. He defeated the Swedish Empire shortly after Charles XII, a despot, was killed at the Siege of Fredriksten, in 1718. In 1703, Peter I the Great founded Saint Petersburg and, in 1721, Russia became an empire as Sweden entered its Age of Liberty.

Enlightened despotism is quite the topic. For instance, Russian despots, Peter I the Great  and Empress Catherine II the Great westernized Russia, which is not insignificant. Catherine befriended Denis Diderot. When Diderot tried to provide his daughter with a dowry, his only recourse was the sale of his library, a considerable collection. Catherine bought it and made him custodian of his collection. He did not have to part with his books. He travelled to Russia and spent several months at Catherine’s court. When he was dying, she rented a comfortable room for him.

In 1745, Catherine married Russian Tsar Peter III, who was assassinated. Catherine gave serfs to her lovers and a castle to at least one of her favourites, Grigory Potemkin, whom she may have married, but the ‘affair’ was over in 1776. Although I am certain Voltaire did not approve of serfdom, he entertained a long friendship, letters mainly, with Empress Catherine II the Great.

Madame Geoffrin’s salon in 1755, by Anicet Charles Gabriel Lemonnier. Oil on canvas, Château de MalmaisonRueil – Malmaison, France

Diderot did not enter a profession. He wanted to write. At one point, Madame Geoffrin, the famous salonnière, gave him furniture and a new dressing gown. He may have spent money. In Regrets sur ma vieille robe de chambre, Diderot writes that he should not have parted with his old dressing gown.

Mes amis, gardez vos vieux amis. Mes amis, craignez l’atteinte de la richesse. Que mon exemple vous instruise. La pauvreté a ses franchises ; l’opulence a sa gêne.

[My friends, keep your old friends. My friends, fear the infringement of riches. Let my example be a lesson to you. Poverty has its freedoms; opulence, its constraints.]

Diderot would gladly have discarded everything, so there would again be coherence and, therefore, beauty to his lodgings. But he would not let go of a painting by Claude-Joseph Vernet. Everything matched: a lovely ensemble.

Si vous voyiez le bel ensemble de ce morceau ; comme tout y est harmonieux ; comme les effets s’y enchaînent ; …

[If you saw…]


My little story is barely worth telling. I tried to make a doctor’s appointment for my friend who suffers from Ménière’s Disease. He’s nearly deaf. So, I wanted to talk to my doctor to see if he could help. My friend’s doctor is an intern and my doctor supervises interns. It’s the same office, but he can do things interns cannot do. This doctor always returns my calls, but this time, he didn’t. Last evening, I wrote to my friend to inform him that I doubted my doctor would phone. But, as I was about to press “send,” tears welled up in my eyes…

This morning, I turned to music, my refuge. I love this aria by Händel. The singer is Canada’s Karina Gauvin FR / Karina Gauvin EN.

Sources and Resources

Regrets sur ma vieille robe de chambre is a Wikisource publication FR

Love to everyone  💕

“V’adoro, pupille” from Händel’s Giulio Cesare

© Micheline Walker
24 October 2018