The Mons family was one of the many immigrant families who lived in St. Petersburg’s German Quarter during the time of Peter the Great. Although they weren’t nobility, the family became involved in the affairs of the Russian court and was closely linked to several scandals and tragedies.
Perhaps the best-known member of the family was Anna Mons, the daughter of a Dutch merchant. She later became Peter the Great’s mistress.
It appears Peter was greatly taken by Anna, who was widely known as a beauty. Their relationship lasted a full 12 years. However, while there is little doubt Peter genuinely loved Anna, she didn’t seem to care for him except as a source of money and power.
Peter’s first marriage was an unhappy one, and he ended it by forcing his wife to become a nun. He prepared to marry Anna despite her lowly birth, but the discovery that she was having affairs with other men destroyed the relationship and resulted in Anna being placed under house arrest.
Just as Anna fell from grace, her younger brother Willem Mons became the personal secretary and confidant of Peter’s second wife, Catherine I, as well as the manager of some of the emperor’s estates.
He even became the Imperial Chamberlain while he was still in his mid-30s. However, his success caused jealousy among the Russian elite, and there were rumors that his relationship with Catherine was more than professional.
Willem was soon charged with taking bribes and embezzlement and executed by beheading. Some, however, speculate that the real reason for his execution may have been Peter the Great’s jealousy. This theory is given some credence because the trial and execution were unusually quick.
Mons’s body was left to rot on the scaffold, and his severed head preserved in alcohol. There are even stories that Peter forced Catherine to keep the severed head in her bedroom, but these are impossible to verify and are most likely exaggerations.
Mons’s severed head is still being kept as a gruesome exhibit in the Kunstkamera museum in St. Petersburg.