On November 27, 1724, Wilhelm Mons, who served as gentleman-in-waiting for Catherine, the wife of Emperor Peter the Great, was executed on bribery charges -- in reality for being Empress Catherine’s minion. Ironically, the unfortunate lover happened to be the brother of Anna Mons, Peter the Great’s mistress, rumored to have been his only true love.
Peter the Great, a very controversial person, was said to have fathered over 100 illegitimate children, at the same time having truly cherished relationships.
At the age of 17 Peter, yielding to his mother’s will, married Evdokia, a beautiful but narrow-minded girl who was unable to fulfill Peter’s need for spiritual connection, which made him look for it elsewhere. After three years Evdokia found out about another woman, Anna Mons, a simple girl. Peter fell truly in love with her and practically moved in with her to the German community, later moving Evdokia out of the way by sending her to a convent.
Anna, though very flattered by Peter’s feelings – he actually wanted to make her his wife – did not reciprocate, happy to just live a quiet life growing exotic vegetables. Peter’s heart was broken when she found herself a German lover while the Emperor was away on his European tour. Devastated and hurt, Peter, still so much in love with her, limited his punishment to locking his shrewd love up in her house.
To relieve Peter's pain, Aleksandr Menshikov, his closest associate, found him a captive girl from Lithuania, baptized as Catherine, who had immediately charmed Peter with her outgoing and cheerful nature. The Emperor fell in love with her practically at first sight; she was the only one to fully understand him and knew ways to put out his hysteric fits. Their correspondence revealed how dearly Peter loved her: he sent her dried flowers and peppermint leaves she loved and reproached her for not writing him back.
Peter’s romantic experience with foreign women of low class instigated him to issue a series of decrees allowing marriages between members of social groups, as well as international marriages on the condition of preserving the Orthodox faith. Per Peter’s decree, defrocked monks and divorcees also had a chance to build a family. It was because of Catherine, who he intended to make Empress, that he ruled that a successor to the Emperor was to be appointed by the Emperor currently in power. Shortly after Peter named Catherine the first Russian Empress, he learned what had already been known throughout all of St. Petersburg, let alone his circle – that his wife cheated on him with the brother of his beloved Anna Mons, Wilhelm.
The trial lasted several days, as Wilhelm was charged with bribery and other minor crimes; however, the real reason of the Emperor’s rage was never voiced. During questioning Wilhelm was discreet about his affair with the Empress, which earned Peter’s gratitude. In a few days Wilhelm Mons was beheaded. To fully punish his wife, Peter brought her to the execution dock to witness the entire process, but she managed to handle the tragedy with dignity. On that day she attended her daughter’s engagement ceremony, and when she came back to her chambers, elated and happy, she found a bowl filled with alcohol on her table, with the head of Wilhelm Mons floating in it. Peter eventually forgave his wife, as he still loved her.
After Peter’s death, Catherine conducted mourning services twice a day, always crying and making the court circle wonder how many tears she had in store. She eventually became Empress with the support from Peter’s associates, but only enjoyed her sovereignty for two years.