It is believed that Prince Alexei, son of Peter the Great, czar of Russia, was poisoned while in prison on a charge of lese-majeste (injurious affront to the sovereign, or high treason) at the citadel of St. Paul and St. Peter in 1730.
During his incarceration, Alexei allegedly became ill, and a soldier in his father’s army, Marshal Viede, ordered Henry Bruce — one of Alexei’s attendants — to explain to a local pharmacist the severity of Alexei’s condition. To establish a sense of urgency, Viede followed Bruce to the pharmacy and told the pharmacist, known as Beer, that the medication must be prepared quickly as Alexei was suffering from a stroke.
The prince died at 5 p.m., several hours after the medicine was administered. Before his death, he suffered massive convulsions and other symptoms that resembled stomach poisoning, but before his funeral his father, Czar Peter, ordered his son’s internal organs destroyed before the body was placed in its coffin.
The question of Peter’s guilt in the death of his son has long been debated by historians. That he felt Alexei was plotting either his overthrow or abdication is fairly certain. Peter had a deep-rooted distrust of all his advisors, as well as family members.
He had been deceived when assuming the throne of Russia by his early-day counselors into believing that his country was a thriving, happy country, and not until he personally investigated the poverty and near-starvation existence of his people did Peter learn the true state of affairs.
From that point, Peter the Great was a man who suspected plots, lies, and conspiracies at every turn, especially in his own household, which had fostered an overly ambitious son, Alexei.
There are those who believe that Peter himself visited his son in prison prior to his death, and that a confession to the crime of treason may have been given by Alexei under torture.
In the end, the czar did attend his son’s funeral and was seen to weep and kiss his son’s lips in the open coffin.