Mary Hamilton (lady in waiting)

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Mary Hamilton awaiting execution.

Mary Hamilton, or Maria Danilovna Gamentova (died 14 March 1719), was the lady-in-waiting of Empress Catherine I of Russia and a royal mistress of Tsar Peter the Great of Russia. She was executed for abortion, infanticide, and theft and slander of Empress Catherine. She is pointed out as one of the possible inspirations for the song Mary Hamilton.

Mary Hamilton was a member of the Scottish family Hamilton, whose ancestor Thomas Hamilton had emigrated to Russia during the reign of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, and was probably the daughter of William Hamilton and the cousin of Evdokiya Grigorievna Hamilton. She became lady-in-waiting to Empress Catherine in 1713, arousing attention with her beauty and love life, and became the lover of Tsar Peter. She also had a lover, Ivan Mikhailovich Orlov. When Orlov betrayed her with Peter's other lover, Avdotya Chernysheva, she tried to win him back by giving him items stolen from Catherine.

She had an abortion in 1715 by taking a medicine for constipation, and gave birth secretly in 1717, after which she drowned the baby.

In 1717, Orlov was interrogated about some of Peter's missing documents. He confessed his relationship with Hamilton and accused her of having an abortion. Avdotya Chernysheva accused Hamilton of spreading the rumour that Catherine ate wax to keep her skin pale. When Catherine had Hamilton's room searched, several stolen objects belonging to Catherine were found there. Hamilton and Orlov were both arrested and imprisoned in the Fortress of Saint Petersburg. Mary Hamilton confessed to theft and to killing her newborn infant, but refused to testify against Orlov despite torture.

In November 1718, Mary Hamilton was found guilty of abortion, murder of her infant, and theft of jewelry belonging to the Empress; she was sentenced to death. Both Empress Catherine and Tsarina Praskovia Saltykova asked Peter for mercy on her account but without result. She was executed, dressed in white, by decapitation on 14 March 1719. She was decapitated by sword instead of an axe, as Peter had promised her that the executioner would not be allowed to touch her. After the execution, the Emperor took up the head, gave a lecture about its anatomy, kissed it, and then threw it away. The head of Mary Hamilton was thereafter preserved at the Russian Academy of Science at least until the reign of Catherine the Great.


  • Гамильтон, Мария Даниловна // Энциклопедический словарь Брокгауза и Ефрона: В 86 томах (82 т. и 4 доп.). — СПб., 1890—1907.
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