“The world,” said Catharine one day to the French minister, “will not be able properly to judge of my administration till after five years. It will require at least so much time to reduce the empire to order. In the mean time I shall behave, with all the princes of Europe, like a finished coquette. I have the finest army in the world. I have a greater taste for war than for peace; but, I am restrained from war by humanity, justice and reason. I shall not allow myself, like Elizabeth, to be pressed into a war. I shall enter upon it when it will prove advantageous to me, but never from complaisance to others.”
A large number of the nobles, led by the chancellor of the empire, now presented a petition to Catharine, urging her again to marry. After a glowing eulogium on all the empress had done for the renown and prosperity of Russia, they reminded her of the feeble constitution of her son Paul, of the terrible calamity a disputed succession might impose upon Russia, and entreated her to give an additional proof of her devotion to the good of her subjects, by sacrificing her own liberty to their welfare, in taking a spouse. This advice was quite in harmony with the inclinations of the empress. Count Orlof, one of the most conspicuous nobles of the court, and the prime actor in the conspiracy which had overthrown and assassinated Peter III., was the recognized favorite of Catharine. But Count Orlof had assumed such haughty airs, regarding Catharine as indebted to him for her crown, that he had rendered himself extremely unpopular; and so much discontent was manifested in view of his elevation to the throne, that Catharine did not dare to proceed with the measure. It is generally supposed, however, that there was a sort of private marriage instituted, of no real validity, between Catharine and Orlof, by which the count became virtually the husband of the empress.
Catharine was now firmly established on the throne. The beneficial effects of her administration were daily becoming more apparent in all parts of Russia. Nothing which could be promotive of the prosperity of the empire escaped her observation. With questions of commerce, finance and politics she seemed equally familiar. On the 11th of August, 1673, she issued an imperial edict written by her own hand, in which it is said,
“On the whole surface of the earth there is no country better adapted for commerce than our empire. Russia has spacious harbors in Europe, and, overland, the way is open through Poland to every region. Siberia extends, on one side, over all Asia, and India is not very remote from Orenburg. On the other side, Russia seems to touch on America. Across the Euxine is a passage, though as yet unexplored, to Egypt and Africa, and bountiful Providence has blessed the extensive provinces of our empire with such gifts of nature as can rarely be found in all the four quarters of the world.”