Mons, Anna (d. 1714)

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Mons, Anna (d. 1714)

Longtime mistress of Tsar Peter I of Russia. Born Anna Mons, probably in Moscow, during the 1670s; died in Moscow in August 1714; daughter of Johann Mons (sometimes seen as Monst or Munst), a German innkeeper in Moscow; no formal education; married M. de Kaiserling (Keyserling), in 1711; mistress of Peter I the Great (1672–1725), tsar of Russia (r. 1682–1725), from 1691 to 1703; no known children.

Sometime in 1691, Anna Mons, the teenage daughter of a German innkeeper in Moscow, met Tsar Peter I the Great of Russia. Peter, only 19 at the time, was well over six feet tall and already showing the dynamism and curiosity that was later to make him one of Russia's greatest rulers. He was immediately captivated by Anna's fair-haired beauty but even more by her vivaciousness and ribald sense of humor. Unlike Peter's own wife Eudoxia Lopukhina and most of the Russian women of his acquaintance—who tended to be reserved, secluded, conservative and tradition-bound—Anna Mons mixed easily with Peter's male friends and seemed like a breath of Western fresh air in stuffy Moscow. She soon became his mistress and for the next 12 years the tsar spent far more time with her than with Eudoxia or any other woman. Had Anna been more astute, she might have become Peter's second wife and tsarina of Russia. Instead, through greed and jealousy, she lost the tsar's affection in 1703 as well as many of the perquisites he had bestowed upon her. "She was an exceedingly beautiful young woman," wrote Alexander Gordon, "embued with all the talents to please, except prudence and good sense."

Peter met Anna in the Foreign Settlement (or German Quarter) of Moscow, an area set aside in 1652 by his father Tsar Alexis I for foreigners living in the Russian capital. This sequestering was done not for the convenience of foreign visitors but to isolate Orthodox and superstitious Russians from the way of life and heretical ideas of the increasing number of Westerners attracted to Russia as that country slowly began to modernize and end centuries of isolation and backwardness. One of those who came to Moscow in the second half of the 17th century was Johann Mons, who is variously described as a wine merchant or jeweler from the German town of Minden in Westphalia. He continued in the wine trade, set up an inn, and apparently was relatively prosperous. It is uncertain whether Anna, who had an older sister and at least one brother, was born in Westphalia or Moscow but she certainly grew up in the Foreign Settlement. Like many men and almost all women in Russia at the time, she received virtually no education, could write only in very poor German, and had a limited range of interests. She was pretty, however, and while still in her teens became the mistress of Francis Lefort, a Swiss soldier of fortune who had also settled in Moscow.

For Peter, who grew up in Preobrazhenskoe outside of Moscow and detested traditional Russian court life, the Foreign Settlement acted like a magnet. He would go there to observe Western dress and manners, discuss Western ideas and institutions, and partake in a Western lifestyle. He soon made the acquaintance of Lefort. At first, the two men spent their time drinking beer and discussing military tactics; in time, Lefort became the tsar's most influential advisor and his guide to all things Western. In 1691, on one of his visits to Lefort's house, Peter met Anna Mons. He was intrigued by her Western dress and manners, her easy camaraderie and quick wit. Lefort, sensing the tsar's interest and perhaps his own longterm gain, had no objection to Anna's switching her affections to his imposing Russian visitor.

For the next 12 years, she was the tsar's "loyal friend." Unlike Eudoxia, she was frequently seen in public with Peter and attended social occasions with him. As one of his biographers has remarked, "she could match him drink for drink and joke for joke." The tsar's pleasure in her company was reflected in the gifts he gave her: a new house in the Foreign Settlement, a large estate at Dudino with 295 peasant families to support it, and a portrait of himself set in a diamond-studded frame. In 1698, after an 18-month trip through Western Europe, Peter forced Eudoxia to enter a nunnery and apparently gave serious consideration to marrying Anna Mons. To conservative Russians it seemed that she had "bewitched" the tsar, influencing him to require that those in court wear wigs and foreign dress, and supposedly collecting for herself the beard tax which he had imposed on his subjects. There is no doubt that she profited financially from her relationship with the tsar and promoted the material interests of her friends as well.

Mons' fall from grace came suddenly and unexpectedly in 1703. The precise cause of her denouemont is in dispute. It has been suggested that she was jealous of Peter's new interest in Catherine Skovronsky, an attractive Latvian peasant he had recently met, and sought to win back his affection by openly flirting with Kaiserling, the Prussian ambassador to Russia. It has also been argued that she was attracted by the long-term prospects of marriage to Kaiserling and went along with a suggestion that they request in writing the tsar's blessing of the union. When shown this and other evidence of his mistress' infidelity, the tsar purportedly told Kaiserling: "I brought up Mons for myself; I meant to marry her; you have seduced her, and you can keep her." The vengeful and equally unfaithful ruler deprived Anna of her estate and diamond-studded portrait and placed her under house arrest in the Foreign Settlement. Catherine Skovronsky took her place in his bed, had 12 children, became his second wife in 1712, and 13 years later succeeded him as ruler of Russia as Catherine I . Anna, in the meantime, married Kaiserling in 1711 shortly before his death. She herself died in obscurity in Moscow during August 1714.

sources:

Grey, Ian. Peter the Great: Emperor of All Russia. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1960.

Massie, Robert K. Peter the Great: His Life and World. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.

R. C. Elwood , Professor of History, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada