Skip to main content

Elizabeth Petrovna

Elizabeth Petrovna

The Russian empress Elizabeth Petrovna (1709-1761) ruled from 1741 to 1761. Her reign was marked by Russia's continuing Westernization and growth as a great power.

Born in Moscow on Dec. 18, 1709, Elizabeth was the daughter of Peter I and Catherine Alekseyevna. Her education, emphasizing French, German, and the social graces, was designed to prepare her for marriage to a member of European royalty. However, all efforts to provide a suitable husband, including her father's attempt to arrange a marriage between her and Louis XV of France, failed. The beautiful and vivacious Elizabeth was forced to accept a life of spinsterhood but not one of chastity. Over the years she had many lovers, chief among them Alexis Razumovsky.

Elizabeth spent the first 3 decades of her life in political obscurity during which time the Russian throne passed, after the death of Peter I, to a succession of her relatives: her mother, as Catherine I; a nephew, as Peter II; a cousin, as Empress Anna; and finally her young cousin Ivan VI, whose mother, Anna Leopoldovna, served as regent.

That obscurity was lifted in 1741, when a movement began to remove the allegedly pro-German regent and her son Ivan VI and to install Elizabeth as empress. In November of that year, supported by Alexis Razumovsky, Elizabeth accepted the role of legitimate claimant to the throne. She led a detachment of guardsmen to seize the regent and her son and then dramatically proclaimed herself empress of Russia.

An intellectually limited and sensual person, Elizabeth gave little attention to the day-to-day business of government. She was shrewd enough, however, to see the importance of some political matters, particularly those that personally concerned her. To protect her position, she dealt harshly with any who might become threats, among them the family of the former regent, whom she kept imprisoned. Although Elizabeth made neither domestic nor foreign policies, she influenced both through her choice of officials and her response to their counsel.

Some notable domestic changes occurred during Elizabeth's reign. The number of Germans in the government was reduced. The privileges of the landed nobility were enhanced at the expense of the serfs. The process of Westernization was accelerated by the introduction of structural improvements in St. Petersburg; the opening of the first Russian university, in Moscow, in 1755; and the establishment of the Academy of Arts in 1757.

Elizabeth took pride in the advance of her country as a great power during her 20 years as empress. In the latter part of her reign, when Russia was at war with Prussia, she followed the battle reports closely. With victory almost in sight, Empress Elizabeth died on Dec. 25, 1761.

Further Reading

Robert Nisbet Bain, The Daughter of Peter the Great (1899), is both readable and useful. A more recent work is Tamara Talbot Rice, Elizabeth, Empress of Russia (1970). See also Herbert Harold Kaplan, Russia and the Outbreak of the Seven Years' War (1968).

Additional Sources

Empress Elizabeth: her reign and her Russia, 1741-1761, Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press, 1995. □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Elizabeth Petrovna." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . 15 Dec. 2018 <>.

"Elizabeth Petrovna." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . (December 15, 2018).

"Elizabeth Petrovna." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved December 15, 2018 from

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

The Chicago Manual of Style

American Psychological Association

  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.