It is rare that relations with a former spouse are good. But those of Peter the Great and Eudoxia were extreme.
Peter was sixteen. His mother Natalya Kirillovna Naryshkin was still engaged in the power struggle struggle which seemed of paramount importance with the Miloslavsky family. So Eudoxia his first wife, was chosen for him by his mother, sight unseen on the advice of Tikhon Streshnev. Her family was popular with the military. Eudoxia and he were together for ten years until he was twenty six.
It was well known that this turned out to be a loveless and bad relationship. Peter felt she did not understand him, or have his best interests in mind. Eudoxia could not accept his infidelities, and was jealous as he slept with many other women and would throughout his life.
Eudoxia was conservative and said by her very clever brother in law Boris Kurakin to be somewhat dull witted, though attractive.Boris Kurakin was married to Eudoxia’s sister Xenia. He left a description of Eudoxia. “…The princess had a handsome face, a mediocre mind and not was not like her spouse. That is why all the happiness between them was lost and her whole family (the Lopukhinas) was ruined… It is true that at first there was love between the two, Peter and his wife. There was a fair amount, but it lasted less than a year. Also his mother and his sister Natalya hated Eudoxia and wanted her husband to have a bad relationship and disagreements, rather than be in love.”
Her family arrived in a swarm (more than 30 people according to Kurakin) and demanded all the important court positions. This left Peter with a dislike for in-laws, who particularly disliked the Lopuhkina family which lasted his entire life. Boris Kurakin called the Lopukhinas “a family of wicked, mean, scandalmongers of little brain, knowing nothing of how to behave in court or in politics.”
The relationship ended when Peter gave Eudoxia a necklace which he always did after he had spent the night with other women. Eudoxia threw the necklace on the floor and trampled it cursing that ‘German’ whore, meaning Anna.Peter decided he would have nothing more to do with Eudoxia after that.
By 1698 his mother had been dead four year and Peter wanted a divorce. There were bad marriages in which kings had mistresses (some men had good marriages in which they loved their wives and did not touch their mistresses. This was more a fashion statement). Frederick IV of Denmark declared he could have more than one wife as he hated the wife he had been forced to marry. Only Frederick William the miserable sadist considered it, as his wife with great justification could not stand him. But he contented himself with a family that hated him. But no king divorced.
The only exception for divorce in the Orthodox religion was for a wife to forsake the world to take religious vows and her husband would be free. A nun’s life was disciplined and with enforced celibate obedience in the convent. Eudoxia did not want to do that. Eudoxia was a mystical believer but had no desire to dedicate herself to God shutting out the world. Also her family had no interest in retiring from their positions in the court.
Peter returned from the Grand Embassy after 18 months in Europe, and immediately went to see his mistress Anna Mons. Then he went to see his son, scrupulously avoided his wife. After two weeks he requested a meeting with his wife in the house of someone else. He had requested she become a nun when he was in Europe and been ignored. Peter asked why she did not do as he asked. His wife countered by asking why he did not love her. From her point of view she had done her duty by producing an heir. She said she could not leave her child and they reached no conclusion. The argument lasted a few days. Then Peter stopped trying to persuade her. In an unprecedented move he had her stuffed in a carriage, and unceremoniously, without escort taken off against her will to a convent.
At the Convent of the Intercession they were shocked. They were used to women from the ordinary rich family. There were real nuns of course and this was a good place to reside. But there were also many women there who had no interest in the religious life forced in to the nunnery by others. Some entered the convent to escape being forced by their families to marry men they hated. Others like Eudoxia had unhappy or vicious husbands who wanted to be free of them. Families sometimes forced girls to take the veil so other children could inherit property; or to punish wayward daughters.
But they had never been asked to deal with a reluctant Consort of a Tzar. Eudoxia was entered into the monastery on September 23, 1698 against her will. Authorities hesitated to shear her hair making her officially a nun because they were convinced that this use of the church to dethrone the Consort of the Tzar was heretical. Besides Peter could change his mind or there could be a political upheaval. After such an event there could be hell to pay and so for nine months they did nothing. But finally they were terrified into compliance by threats from Peter.
Eudoxia parted from Peter on very bad terms and was treated horribly. She was even forbidden to communicate with their eight year old son. Peter did not want her to have any influence on him. They would correspond by smuggled letter through her family or the half sisters of Peter, who were sympathetic to her. She had to write her own brother Abraham for money to maintain a simple household, to purchase the basics of food and clothes and to receive guests offering them a drink. Peter never wrote, sent no money and had his own informers spy on her in the convent.
At first Eudoxia was in denial. She expected Peter to change his mind. Then after some years in the convent she became very bitter. She used her position and considerable remaining influence to encourage widespread sympathy for her.
The clergy knew when she returned to power as the mother of Tzar Alexis, she would help them.
After 11 years during which she heard nothing from Peter, except that he now lived with a woman and had two living children, she took on a very public (and married) lover, Stephan Glebov. He was her prison guard. His family had the estate next door to hers and had exchanged serfs with them. The relationship started with him making sure she had warm clothes in winter. Later she would kiss him in front of others. He cared about her as was shown later on, but some writers also think when her son achieved power Glebov thought she would resume her position as dowager mother and he would be a very powerful figure in the new government.
Years later Peter would once again turned his attentions to her with terrible fury. He would use her as an excuse to rid himself of his many enemies within the Church.