Empress Anna Ioannovna was a passionate hunter whose favourite pastime was stalking game in the forests around Peterhof. In the place where Alexandria now stands, Prince Alexander Menshikov once owned an estate called Moncourage. After his banishment in 1727, it passed to the crown, becoming the empress’s hunting ground in the early 1730s.

Mikhail Zemtsov transformed the Moncourage Dacha into a hunting lodge for Anna Ioannovna. A large menagerie was built, housing deer, buffalos, boars, bears and even tigers. All the animals and the accompanying husbandry services were run by one of the most important government institutions – the Imperial Hunting Chancellery. Artemy Volynsky was appointed the master of the hunt, charged with keeping the surrounding area well-stocked with game.

In 1740, six hundred hares were transferred from the lands outside Moscow and released at Moncourage. Badgers, foxes, deer and wild goats were also brought there. Anna and her fellow hunters stood in the Temple, a summerhouse right on the seashore, and waited while the gamekeepers herded the animals right under the muzzles of their guns.

Anna Ioannovna also hunted with hounds. For this purpose, special hunting dogs – bassets, beagles, gundogs and dachshunds – were purchased for enormous sums of money in England and France. Far more barbarous was the use of “hunting wagons” at Peterhof. These were special carriages, set up in the middle of a field, from which hunters could shoot in complete safety.

Several days before the start of a hunt, hundreds of wardens would surround a large area of woodland and drive every living creature through the forest. As the circle grew tighter, the game was driven into a long corridor with high walls made of linen. The animals trapped inside the corridor – bears, wolves, elks, deer, hares, goats, boars and lynxes – eventually emerged in a meadow, where the empress was already waiting in her hunting wagon.

As Anna Ioannovna blazed away, her head huntsman, Bohm, reloaded her rifles. The slaughter continued until all the animals were dead. In 1740, in just over two months at Peterhof, the empress shot nine deer, sixteen wild goats, four boars, one wolf, 374 hares, sixty-eight wild ducks and sixteen seabirds. The earth around Moncourage was literally soaked in the blood of hundreds and possibly thousands of animals.

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