Mata Hari a true spy story.

When it comes to centuries old, real-life spy thrillers, the story of Mata Hari is one of intrigue, betrayal, and many lovers scorned. According to historical sources, the life of Mata Hari (Indonesian For “Eye of The Day”) was one that did not end well. Along with her lawyer, a French Priest and two Sisters of Charity not far from her side, the firing squad played a large role in her final act on October 15, 1917. Inquiring from her lawyer on whether she had to wear a white blindfold — then refusing to be blindfolded was the last bold act of this accused spy’s life before her body was blasted with two bullets according to Eyewitness To History. One bullet was from one of the twelve riflemen. The second bullet was noted to have come from a non-commisioned officer’s revolver, which entered the side of the vilified spy’s temple as noted by Eyewitness To History.

This well-documented execution that became “cause célèbre,” was later noted by the German government to have been taken in vain after being put to death as a traitor by France. Whether she became a double agent or an outright traitor to France, Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod had crossed many lines and entered many bedrooms of men for the day and night. Whether Ms. MacLeod became a target of jealousy by high-ranking officials in the French government, or the French government needed some scapegoats for their status as a nation in the war, Margaretha was not able to defend herself well enough to be vindicated in the French court and save herself from a death sentence.

The Early Life of Margaretha Geertruida Zelle

Born on August 7, 1876, in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod (née Zelle) was known as an exotic dancer, and also one who was considered quite a lover of many men in high positions in both France and Germany. According to Biography.com, Margaretha Zelle, at 21, married a Dutchman who was 20 plus years older than her. Rudolf MacLeod, who had put an ad in the Dutch newspaper for a suitor, caught the attention of a beautiful, black-haired woman with olive skin who had responded to his newspaper ad.

The couple ended up having two children together — a boy and a girl. After being stationed with her husband based on his military service, she traveled with him while her husband worked for the East India company. But, after nine years of marriage, her husband started to have a serious issue with alcohol and rage concerning the attention that his wife was getting from other military officers, the couple separated. Rudolf ended up taking his daughter, as well as the couple’s son, had died mysteriously through an alleged poisoning by a houseworker when Margaretha and her son were in the West Indies in 1899, according to History.com. After moving to Paris, France as a result of her divorce, she became a French Diplomat’s mistress who helped her forge a new career as a dancer.

Ms. McLeod eventually earned quite a following as an exotic dancer, stripper, and much later, a double agent, and an infamous spy. Many of these men that she received the attention of end of fighting on both sides of the battlefield during World War I. And as a Dutch citizen, Margaretha MacLeod was considered a neutral actor as World War I was starting to flare up across Europe in 1914.

Mata Hari posing for a photo.

Fading Attention

Although Margaretha McLeod had quite a successful act integrating elements of South Asian symbolism into her act at one point, which got a lot of attention as a dancer in Paris, France, age did not help her career. When she started turning 40, her age started taking away from her business as a showgirl. More and more young female entertainers were sapping her opportunities to gain more work and more importantly, her time on the stage.

Because of this changing work scenario for Margaretha MacLeod and due to age, she decided to become a sex worker, which was one of the only roles she thought was going to make her money. During this timeframe that she was seducing military men and government officials, she knew it as an income source, but not one involving national security matters for the French or German government. At this point, seducing German officers was fair game for her, when it came to earning income. Ms. McLeod was a Dutch citizen with no military allegiance to either France or Germany before World War I was at full bore. Because of these circumstances, she had the luxury of going from country to country with a suitcase at the ready in Europe to earn her keep as a seducer of many men.

French Assignments

As World War I was starting to draw on, the British and French governments were starting to watch her every move and gather intelligence on her. And this was due to the contacts Ms. McLeod had made with important German military men and diplomats during these sexual trysts. Historians note that Margaretha accepted a mission to be a secret agent for France on behest of French army captain, George Ladoux in 1916. Mr. Ladoux was later responsible for testifying against her when her case of spying was brought to court due to these charges of espionage.

She was also noted to have admitted taking 20 thousand Francs from Germans for information that Margaretha said she gave, but had downplayed its importance. Indeed, during her trial in France for her allegedly spying for Germany, she said that the information she gave a certain German attaché for money was not very significant information, but a little bit of gossip. She admitted that was only about getting paid well so that she could buy nice items for herself like furs and other accouterments, and not about being one that would be a traitor to the country of France.

Interesting to note that this German attaché was supposed to have named her as a secret agent for Germany in communications that were sent back to Berlin during the middle of World War I. The French government, according to Biography.com, were noted to have intercepted this communication sent by the German attaché was known to have paid Margaretha MacLeod rather handsomely. Whether the money was an easy way to bait her or lure her into their trap, or a real example of paying off an informer with intelligence the Germans could ultimately use to gain an edge in the war, the activity ultimately led to her death.

Biography.com noted that some historians believe that the Germans had also suspected her of being a spy for France, so they set her up to look like a double agent by sending communications that they knew that the French would intercept and use against her. Still, other historians noted that she could have a been a German double agent, and the French government had every right to charge her as spying on behalf of their enemy.

With any story of love, war, and treason, getting the right historical information can be one of great struggle and conquest to suss out. And in the case of the exotic Dutch dancer, Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, getting mixed up with the wrong bedfellows and characters at the wrong time in world history can bring about infamy. Indeed, it is better to be true to your word, then to end up on the wrong end of the revolver.

Posted by Library War

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