Maria was born in Istanbul as the daughter of prince Dimitrie Cantemir. She was very well educated. From 1711, she lived in Russia, and in 1720, she became involved in a relationship with Emperor Peter. Maria followed Peter to Astrakhan in 1722, where she gave birth to a son by him. The child died in 1723, possibly poisoned by the physician of Empress Catherine. Catherine regarded Maria as a threat and was afraid of being replaced as an empress by her. The relationship with Peter continued until his death in 1725, when she was forced to leave court. She was the lady in waiting to princess Natalia in 1727–28 and to Empress Anna Ivanovna in 1730–31. After this, she hosted a literary salon in Saint Petersburg.
She is also mentioned in the famous biography of the Swedish slave Lovisa von Burghausen. Burghausen was the slave of Maria's father in 1713-1714, and credited Maria and her sister Smaragda with having saved her from freezing to death during a punishment, by allowing her to sleep in their bedroom instead of in an unheated stone room in the middle of winter.