3. The Emperor Who Forced His Wife to Keep Her Lover’s Head in Her Bedroom
Late in his reign, rumors made the rounds that Peter the Great’s wife, the Empress Catherine, was having an affair with her private secretary, Willem Mons. Gossip had it that the duo were lovers, and that Willem Mons’ sister, Matryona Balk, had played matchmaker. One of the juicier tales held that “Peter had found his wife with Mons one moonlit night in a compromising position in her garden“. Whether or not Peter had actually witnessed his wife getting it on with her secretary, he did get word of the lurid stories about his wife.
So the emperor had Mons arrested and hauled off in chains, on charges of embezzlement and abuse of trust. His sister Matryona, the supposed matchmaker, was also arrested, publicly flogged, and exiled to Siberia. On November 28th, 1724, eight days after his arrest, Willem Mons was publicly beheaded in Saint Petersburg. While that was going on, Catherine put on a public display of indifference towards her secretary’s fate, which probably saved her own head. However, Peter put on a final demonstration of his power, in a bid to test whether his wife’s indifference was genuine. He had Mons’ head preserved in alcohol and put in a glass jar, which he then placed in Catherine’s bedroom.