Peter the Great 1675-1725, abhorred his first wife Eudoxia. The two had a miserable marriage arranged by his mother when he was sixteen. She was stupid, and argumentative. He was intelligent, slept around and had no respect for her. Finally he sent her to a nunnery dissolving the union after nine years and three children, albeit against her will. She may not have loved him, but she loved being the royal consort. Thirty years and one dead lover, two convents and a jail cell later, she was freed by her grandson, Peter II.
But he always said he loved Catherine his second wife, the former Marta Skavronskaya, who was considered to have been beautiful when young, and to be graceful and clever when her looks faded.
Catherine was unassuming, as hyperactive as he, and funny. She could drink with her husband, and calm him. She held him when he had epileptic seizures and rebuked him in private when he had made an ass of himself. Peter took her on campaigns because he liked her company. She would follow protocol no matter how tiresome or involved for the sake of the public. Catherine did not complain, give him trouble or assume airs (Massie, page 376 -377).
She was not noble. In fact she was an orphan and peasant, who had learned the ways of intellectual Germans as the head of household for Reverend Gluck. After being captured in war she became mistress to some high ranking Generals before she became mistress to him. But as Queen the army loved her. The New Men; men of talent if not of character, all supported her. She saved many of them from well deserved executions and banishment (Bain, Romanovs, page 396).
Peter loved her for 23 years, thirteen of which were after the wedding.
But he was not faithful to either wife. Peter did not like to sleep alone. He had a 12 year serious relationship with Anna Mons whom he met the the year after he was married to Eudoxia. He also slept with her friends. When he began his relationship with Catherine, he was still with her. Then he found Anna had fallen in love with a German diplomat five years before when he was gone on the Great Embassy and although long over, he placed her under house arrest for two years, and ended the relationship.
He slept with noble women, whores and mistresses when he was away from Catherine; and others when he was not, including her ladies in waiting. If there were no women to sleep with, he would use aides as pillows, and they could not move an inch (Von Staehlin, page 233).
Catherine ignored his indiscretions or laughed with him. Peter wrote things like “I have sent my mistress back to you, for I would not have been able to resist the temptation if I had kept her here” (Anisimov, page 25).
He rewarded the aristocratic women by giving them husbands and their families promotions, although he was notoriously stingy with whores and the servants. His women were young or his age, simple or smart, and they included one hunchback. He could and did sleep with almost everyone he wanted to. He was the movie star of his day in Russia. A list of his better known aristocratic mistresses follows.
Maria Matveev, the grandchild of the adviser to his father, was 25 years younger than Peter who was in his late 40s. She was a lady in waiting, beautiful, graceful, and had been raised in Vienna by her father who was a diplomat.
He told her she was to have no other admirers and that she would be his most important mistress.
Peter arranged her marriage to Alexander Rumyantsev as a reward for finding his son in Austria. He was made a Brigadier General. She continued to sleep with Peter, and he was sent far from his wife. It was rumored that Peter was her real ‘husband’. The paternity of her children was questionable, especially her son Peter who was to become a famous Field Marshall in charge of the Russian army.
Maria Cantemir was his mistress during his final four years. He was 48 when they met, she was twenty one. She was the daughter of the highly educated former ruler of Moldavia, Dimitri Cantemir. Her father gave Peter assistance in his second war against the Ottoman Empire, which he lost. Cantemir was to be a puppet of the Turks, which was the cause of his resentment, but he only ‘ruled’ 3 weeks.
The family moved to Russia and lived on an estate in Kharkov.
Maria was very clever, and well educated. She knew ancient Greek and Latin, Italian, some mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, literature, history, drawing and music.
When Peter was having problems with Catherine for the last three months of his life, they were close. Some authors have suggested if her son had lived he might have left Catherine for her, as he was desperate for a male heir. But the child was born dead (Waliszewski, page 287).
When Peter died, Maria was thrown out of the court by Catherine.
Eudoxia Chernichov, was another of his mistresses. The daughter of an aristocratic family, she became his mistress at fifteen in 1708, when he was 36. Her parents were granted an estate. She was married the next year at his command to Grigory Chernichov, who became a Senator and General on the Admiralty board as a reward. The affair continued after the marriage and there is some question about the paternity of her children.
When Peter thought she had given him a venereal disease, her husband was ordered to beat her for making him sick (Troyat, page 265). It’s unlikely she had syphilis. She outlived Peter by twenty years.
But she was famous for her erratic, and vicious behavior and for telling investigators about the miscarriage and infanticide of the famous Mary Hamilton.
Mary Hamilton was a lady in waiting and mistress to Peter. She was investigated for making remarks about Catherine eating wax to make her complexion pale. Catherine heard her rounding a corner. But the trivial matter became serious when Eudoxia Chernichov testified that she had aborted a pregnancy, and later killed her new born child. They also found several items belonging to Catherine while going through her room.
Catherine asked Peter to pardon Mary. Peter’s sister in law Praskovia pleaded for her too.
To the very end she expected to be pardoned, and at Peter’s request she wore a gown of white silk with black ribbons. But Peter told her on the scaffold “I cannot violate laws both human and divine to save your life. Accept your punishment in the hope that God will pardon you if you repent.” (Troyat, page 266).
Her head was cut off with a sword not an ax as a favor. Peter was said to pick her head up, kiss it, and give an anatomy lesson. She was executed at the age of 25, on March, 14th 1719.
Other women he slept with included Elizabieta Sieniawska the most powerful woman in Poland. She was three years older than Peter, brilliant, shrewd and most famous in their relationship for dismissing the German head of her orchestra after Peter talked of firing all his foreign officers. In order to teach him a lesson she then asked him how the music sounded without the conductor, which of course was discordant. He also talked about turning the areas his nemesis Charles XII would pass in Russia into deserts in advance of his attack, at which point she told him the story of a man turning himself into a eunuch to spite his wife.
Of note was his brief relationship with the brilliant hunchback Varvara Aseneeyev to whom he often turned for advise. He told her “I do not think anyone will fall in love with you poor Varvara, you are too ugly. But I will not let you die without experiencing love.” (Waliszewski, vol I, page 254-255)
Peter also slept with whores whom he paid poorly and servants. Most accepted his advances, some did not. When Peter made known his attraction to one servant girl at court, Catherine took her into her rooms as a personal attendant. It is likely the girl had solicited the help of Catherine. Peter found her there and his wife said “She is pretty isn’t she? Can I have her?” After that he left the girl alone (Lamb, page 208).
When Peter was told that Charles VI of Austria punished adultery with death; Peter said “Is that possible? I should have thought that so great a prince had more judgment: without doubt, he fancied that his people were too numerous.” (Von Staehlin page 325).
Catherine ignored his famous womanizing and came to accept it. John Bell a contemporary who worked for him wrote “Many people represented Peter as a tyrant because they repeated stories picked up at ale houses. This was not his character. He was just and prudent and his humanity over balanced his failings. His greatest weakness was women.” (Bell, vol II, page 356)
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