Platon Zubov – The Minister of all Ministries: Favoritism in the Late 18th Century


  • Igor Kurukin Russian State University of Humanities



The author studies the role and activities of Platon Zubov, the last favourite of Catherine II, drawing upon documents in the files of the Russian State Archive of Ancient Documents. In 1789 the guard captain became one of the empress’s closest confidants. The long title of the last favourite of Catherine, the Great Platon Zubov demonstrates his multiple duties: ‘His Serene Highness, General Feldzeugmeister, General Director of Fortifications, Captain-General of the Black Sea and Azov Sea Fleet, Black Sea Cossack Corps, Yekaterinoslav, Voznesensk, and Taurida Governor-General, Member of the Military Division, Honorable Benefactor of the Imperial Foundling Hospital and Honorable Amateur of the Academy of Fine Arts’. The tasks Zubov performed by special warrant of the empress and his correspondence with the officials were well in compliance with the work of the office of secretaries-of-state of the empress. His office’s documents, established in 1792, are similar to those compiled by other secretaries-of-state of the time: A. A. Bezborodko, G. R. Derzhavin, D. P. Troshchinsky, and A. M. Gribovsky. More frequently than not, the work of a favourite consisted in providing contact between the empress and her commanders and diplomats. This he could do, according to A.A. Prozorovsky, because of his ‘closeness to the highest throne’. Applying to the favourite helped to solve both major and minor issues that needed to be addressed promptly. Communication with the favourite made it possible to determine the empress’s reaction to issues which could not be discussed with her personally. Many other noblemen (e. g., N. V. Repnin, A. H. Samoylov, I. S. Baryatinsky) hoped to improve their poor finances with the help of Zubov and receive some material aid from the empress or to be otherwise permitted to remit their debts later.

The favourite’s main task, similar to that of other secretaries-of-state, was the reception of petitions of all the subjects of state. He received hundreds of petitions for awards, pardons, titles, leaves of absence, vacancies, payments, pensions and enrollment of children in schools. P. A. Zubov’s Registers of Civil Letters contain dozens of his letters where he asks for patronage for certain people or gives orders soliciting ‘to provide villages’, or a vacancy, or to aid the applicant.

His powers should not otherwise be overestimated. The decentralization of the administrative system after the 1775 reform, and the increased role of the General Procurator and the emergence of the institution of secretaries-ofstate as a means of communication between the monarch and the authorities and petitioners diminished the importance of the favourite as a ruling position. This may be considered a general European tendency, as in the 18th century the first ministers came to the foreground while favourites (both men and women) made part of the court (though the latter and the former are quite often interconnected) and their status in the new system was different as compared to the favourites or ministers of the 17th century.

The case of G. A. Potemkin is an exception rather than a rule, which was due to the personality and unparalleled trust granted to him by Catherine the Great. The empress meant for the new favourite to become a new Potemkin. However, Zubov failed to reach his status. He did not have the talent nor was he able to get the necessary experience because of his inability to leave the court. Obviously, he was not the person to instigate and implement serious actions. That is why Catherine the Great’s legal initiatives (Charter for the State Peasants, Instructions for the Proper Treatment of Affairs, Nakaz to the Senate) failed as they never became more than drafts, to say nothing of the abdication in favour of her grandson Alexander even if this plan existed at all. Thus we see the decline of favouritism as an informal mechanism of superior rule.

Author Biography

Igor Kurukin, Russian State University of Humanities



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How to Cite

Kurukin, I. (2015). Platon Zubov – The Minister of all Ministries: Favoritism in the Late 18th Century. Quaestio Rossica, (3), 200–226.



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