'Your Majesty may find it extraordinary that I should answer with a shipment of fruit your letter of 6 August, in which you inform me that you are sending the plan for a treaty, and that of the 8 September, in which you are so good as to share with me equally important intelligence. Things big and small often come from the same source: my watermelons derive from the same principles as our planned alliance...' (To Frederick the Great)
Catherine the Great's letters present a vivid picture of Russia in a momentous age. They also offer a unique account of her personal development and intimate life, her strategic acumen as a diplomat and military commander, and her political skills at the Russian court and in handling foreign monarchs. Born a German princess, Catherine married into the Russian royal family and came to the throne after a coup. As absolute ruler for 34 years she presided over the expansion of the Russian empire,
legislated actively to reform the country in keeping with the principles of the Enlightenment, actively promoted the arts and sciences, and in her correspondence engaged with the most renowned minds in Europe, among them Diderot and Voltaire. Her letters are her literary masterpiece, written to a wide
circle of associates and friends, not least her most celebrated lover and ally, Potemkin. Combining her wit, charm, and quick eye for detail, they entertain and tell the griping story of a self-made woman and legendary ruler.
This edition of the letters offers a taste of Catherine's entire writing career, with biographies of Catherine's addressees, a thorough overview of her reign and an analysis of Catherine's literary skill as a letter-writer. Organized chronologically and thematically into six periods, each section also features an introduction to the domestic, personal and foreign policy contexts out of which her letters emerge.
Note on the Text and Translation
A Chronology of the Life and Reign of Catherine the Great