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 empress by her. The relationship with Peter continued until his death in 1725, when she was forced to leave court. She was a 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 autobiography 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.