Two Members of the Inner Circle at War

 

Alexander Danilovich Menshikov was the very clever and very corrupt commoner friend of Peter. When Peter died he ran everything, though Peters wife was made Tzarina. He received presents from European leaders; and was so brilliant that Peter consulted him on every decision he made for 20 years,

But he was also known as the man who could not turn down a bribe, even working at cross purposes with Peter.  When Peter  had, had enough he replaced him but not before Menshikov had made himself, someone who had started with almost nothing, into the richest man in Russia. Peter was going to execute him before he died. But his wife who was very fond of him made him more rich and powerful.

He wanted to come from an old aristocratic family.  His real family consisted of  very small aristocrats around Minsk in Belarus, not worthy of the attention of the court, barely more than free farmers. Peter and he became friends as teenage bombardiers at Preobrazhensky where Peter learned his military craft.

Alexander Menshikov before he became very rich, at 24

Menshikov made up a fake genealogy saying he came from a great Lithuanian family and when he  bought a house for his four sisters, Marie, Tatyana, Praskovia and Anna in Moscow after 1695 when their father died; he trained them to fit into society, lie and marry well. From the outside it looked quite normal, but the inside was beautiful.(Menshikov is also thought to have had a brother Gabriel of whom nothing is known except they met for a street festival and got drunk together). His ambitions for his family, in particular his sisters, were endless.

Three of his sisters did as he made clear they should. Menshikov’s sister Marie, married into the very important and aristocratic Golovin family. Her husband Alexei was the brother of Fyodor Golovin, an Admiral. His sister Tatyana married Ivan Kalinovich Pushkin, who was allowed the high privilege of being steward of Praskovia Saltykova, the wife of Peter’s half brother Ivan the co-Tzar.  Menshikov’s sister Praskovia, married Alexei Ivanovich Dashkov, he was an ambassador to the Ottoman Empire and a Privy Counselor. 

But his sister Anna, the youngest loved Anton Devier who was a New Man working for Peter. He was a commoner from a Jewish family and when he caught them in an intimate embrace Menshikov exploded.

Realistically Anton Devier was perfect, and Anna was not so beautiful. He was a remarkable man, but quite different than Menshikov, incorruptible, honest and pleasant.

Anna sister of Alexander Menshikov

Devier was not aristocratic. Anton Devier’s father Manuel, was a Portuguese Jew who had settled in Amsterdam as a result of the Inquisition. The family had converted 100 years before but were practicing Judaism in secret. They left for Holland when they feared being exposed.

Once in Russia, Devier the cabin boy noticed by Peter the Great in Holland in 1697  for his great competence; was made a Captain in nine years, a Major in ten,  a Lieutenant Colonel in thirteen and then an Adjunct General.

Devier spoke several languages and had elegant manners.  Peter who was moody and often depressed, liked him very much because he was even tempered and cheerful all the time. Also he liked to drink and was sociable.

But when Menshikov found him “making love” to his sister Anna, when she was eighteen and Devier thirty, rich and successful he went insane.  Menshikov could see his plans for an aristocratic genealogy were being thwarted His family more  pitiful and obscure than the real lineage of Menshikov.

Peter was informed and Menshikov tried to get permission from to have him beaten to death in prison.

Anton Devier at 30

 

Peter laughed and told Devier that he could marry Anna; and he even made Menshikov walk her down the isle and give her away while he fumed. Peter and Catherine were very fond of him. He was one of the only people given permission to enter the workshop of Peter unannounced.

Workshop of Peter the Great

 

A few months after the wedding Peter made him head of all public services in St. Petersburg.  They had four sons, Peter, Anton, Ivan, Alexander and a daughter named Anna after his wife.  His wife Anna and daughter of the same name both served as ladies in waiting for Catherine. Later Devier was a tutor for both of Peter’s daughters Elizabeth and Anna.

Menshikov became more powerful than ever running the country for Catherine. He did not ever forget a wrong and when he was defacto running Russia in what was to be his last three months of power, he had Devier tortured, exiled and beaten on the charge of being disrespectful to the Empress as she was dying. Devier was drunk but the real crime was that Devier opposed the ambition of Menshikov to marry his own daughter to Peter II. Menshikov sent him to the far reaches of Siberia and let his sister pick her place of exile.

While in Siberia for 12 years Devier built a naval school, roads, ships, port facilities and equipped the expedition of a Dane named Vitus Bering working for Russia, who found and named the Bering Strait. In the end he outlived Menshikov by 15 years.

He was brought back to the capitol by an old student, the Empress Elizabeth. She made him a General in Chief on her staff.

 

 

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