• MATA HARI – La Belle Enchantresse...

Margaretha ZELLE – "La Belle Enchantresse" – the Mata Hari: Wife, Mother, Exotic Dancer, Courtesane and finally, executed as a Spy. One of the most interesting, fascinating and an archetypically representative "Femme Fatale" to exist during those "crazy ye


Who has never been interested in this story of intrigue, wealth, skulduggery and tragic love?

If you have the time and the inclination, it makes for an interesting read.

She was evidently in the beginning a complete nonentity one of those "bright lights" that attracts the imagination of the public because of her sexuality and mores (like the Kradashian woman of today) shines a little too brightly and then falls foul of circumstances and the larger "machine" of society that grinds her down to inexistence.

Such stories reoccur every so often as to Harry Harbord MORANT ("The Breaker") and Australian fighting in the Boer War who also became the scapegoat of greater powers and who is the next subject to be shared here a little later.


Margaretha Geertruida "Margreet"MacLEOD(neZELLE) had been born on the 7 August 1876 in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. Better known by her adopted stage nameof Mata Hari, Margaretha was the eldest girl of four children born toAdamZELLEand his first wifeAntje van der MEULEN.

Despite traditional assertions that Mata Hari was partly of Javanese i.e. Indonesian descent, scholars have nevertheless concluded that she had neither Asian nor Middle Eastern ancestry and that both her parents had indeed been of Dutch origin.

Her father owned a hat shop, had made successful investments in the oil industry, and become affluent enough to give Margaretha a lavish early childhood that until the age of 13 included exclusive schools.

However, her father went bankrupt in 1889 and her parents divorced followed by her mothers death in 1891.

After her father remarried, the family fell apart and Margaretha moved to live with her godfather, Minheer Visser of Sneek in which town she also subsequently studied to be a kindergartenteacher.

It was whilst during her studies that she soon after had her first exposure to be importuned by a man in this case her Headmaster: the trauma of which caused her to leave home and live with her Uncle.

In those days it had not been uncommon as it still is within certain communities to advertise for a wife and, aged 18, Margaretha saw an advertisement posted by a certain Dutch Colonial Army Captain,RudolfMacLEOD, who had been stationed in what was then the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and whom she was to marry in Amsterdam when he returned home on furlough in July 1895.

Her Mother-in-Law came from an upper-class Dutch family which circumstance finally allowed her to find some financial stability in her life.

The newly-weds moved toMALANG on the east side of the island ofJAVA and though they had two children a boy,NORMANand a girl,JEANNE the marriage was not a success as her twenty-years-older-than-her husband was not only an alcoholic but also physically abusive.

When the soon disenchanted Margaretha discovered that he also kept a concubine which, though socially acceptable within the society and circumstances of the period this was to provide the last straw that broke the camels back.

She subsequently moved-in with another Dutch officer, studied Indonesian Dance with a local company and it was at this time that she had adopted what was to be her later stage name of Mata Hari (Local Malay language = Eye of the Day).

She was eventually persuaded to return to her husband: but then their children fell ill as a consequence of the treatment for Syphilis and its subsequent complications which they had supposedly contracted from their parents.

Though her daughter survived, it was not enough to keep the couple together and on their eventual return to the Netherlands, Margaretha divorced her husband and though he was ordered to support them he didnt do so and Margarethas subsequent penury later caused her to surrender her daughter back to her father.

Jeanne died soon thereafter aged barely 21: again, the suspicion being that the cause had been caused by further syphilis-related treatments and their subsequent complications.

With her freedom and her youth still in hand, Margaretha then moved to Paris in 1903 where she performed as a circus horse rider using the name Lady MacLeod, and, struggling to make ends meet, she also posed as an artist's model.

Two years later now using her adopted Stage Name and persona of Mata Hari, she began to win fame as an exotic dancer benefitting from the popularity of bothIsadoraDUNCANandRuth St DENISwho were contemporary dancers to herself andrecognisedleaders in the early Modern Dancemovement.

Around the turn of the 20th century, such performers whether theatrical, artistic, poetic or choreographic had a tendency to look towards both Asia and Egypt for their inspiration and this movement would later bereferred-toas the period of "Orientalism".

Mata Hari who was promiscuous, flirtatious and openly flaunting of her body captivated her audiences and from the debut of her act at theMuse Guimeton13 March 1905 she became an overnight success.

Margaretha soon became the long-time mistressof the millionaireindustrialist,mile tienne GUIMETwho had foundedthe Muse on whose stage she was often to perform.

Although Mata Hari's claims about her origins were fictitious, it was very common for entertainers of her era to inventcolourfulstories about their origins as part of the show.

Within her act, she posed as a Javanese Princess of priestly, Hindu birth pretending to have been immersed in the art of sacred Indian dance since childhood and it was during this period of her life that Mata Hari was photographed on numerous occasions posing either completelynude,or otherwise very nearly so.

As a performer, Mata Hari brought a carefree provocative style to the stage in her act, which garnered wide acclaim.

The most celebrated segment of her performance was to be the progressive shedding of her clothing until the only thing left on her body was abe-jewelledbreastplateand a few ornaments upon both her arms and head.

However, she never allowed herself to be seen entirely naked as she was self-conscious about the small size of her breasts: and also, for the sake of decency she would wear a body-stocking for her performances, similar incolourto her own skin.

Her act was successful because it elevated exotic dance to a more respectable status and so broke new ground in a style of entertainment for which Paris was later to become world-famous.

Her style and free-willed attitude made her a popular woman, as did her eagerness to perform in exotic and revealing clothing as well as her posing for provocative photos: all of which facilitated her mingling in wealthy circles.

Since most Europeans at the time were unfamiliar with the Dutch East Indies, Mata Hari was thought of as exotic, and it was assumed that her claims were genuine.

One evidently enthused French journalist wrote in a Paris newspaper that Mata Hari was "so feline, extremely feminine, majestically tragic, the thousand curves and movements of her body trembling in a thousand rhythms."

Another Viennese journalist after seeing one of her performances wrote that Mata Hari was "slender and tall with the flexible grace of a wild animal, and with blue-black hair" and that her face "makes a strange foreign impression.

However, although she continued to schedule important social events throughout Europe, by the 1910s she was also emulated by myriad other imitators of the genre and was generally held in disdain by serious cultural institutions as a dancer who didnt know how to dance.

By 1915, Mata Hari had put on quite a lot of weight and this had started to reflect on her performances so that early in that year she took on her last show and from then onwards focused her life more on continuing her alternative iteration as a successful courtesan: who was anyway known more for her eroticism than for her beauty.

She developed relationships with high-ranking military officers, politicians, and others in influential positions in a number of other European countries and these relationships or liaisons with various powerful men frequently took her across international borders.

Whereas,prior to World War l, Margaretha had generally been viewed as an artiste and a free-spirited bohemian, as the war approached, she had begun to be seen by some as a wanton and promiscuous woman even, perhaps, a dangerous seductress.

It was within this context that the last part of Margarethas life evolved and it was also during these difficult times that her free-wheeling activities were to cause her to belimnedwith the suspicions that she was more of a spy than a lover

During this war, the Netherlands had remained neutral and, as a Dutch subject, Mata Hari was thus able to cross national borders with relative ease: though, in order to avoid any proximity to different battlefields, she would travel between France and the Netherlands by passing through either Spain or Britain.

Inevitably, the notoriety of her reputation, the fluidity of her movements coupled to the noted, various associations formed with people in high places, soon caused her to fall under the focus of various Security forces.

At one point during this war she had had an intense affair with a twenty-five-year-old Russian pilot serving with the French Captain Vadim Maslov whom she had vaunted was the love of her life and whose presence on the Western Front had supposedly occurred as part of a 50,000 strong, Russian Expeditionary Forcesent in the Spring of 1916 to fight against the Boshe.

During his first summer, the young Captain had been shot down during a dogfight with the Germans and badly wounded causing the subsequent loss of his sight in both of eyes.

This had occasioned Mata Hari to seek permission to visit her wounded lover at the hospital where he was staying near to the Front where, even though a citizen of a neutral country, she would not normally have been allowed to travel.

The case and her request came to the attention of the Deuxime Bureau(French Military Security) and she was told that she would only be granted permission if she should agree to spy on the Germans.

Prior to the war, Margaretha had performed in her role asthe the MataHari on several occasions before theCrown PrinceWILHELM the eldest son ofKaiser Wilhelm lland nominally a senior German general on the Western Front.

So it had been the Deuxime Bureaus belief that she might be able to obtain information by seducing the Crown Prince and get him to reveal some military secrets.

As it happened, Wilhelms involvement had been minimal even though German government propaganda had promoted his image as a great warrior:posterisinghim as the worthy successor to the long-established Hohenzollern monarchs who had made Prussia both strong and powerful.

The reality had actually been otherwise as it was pretty much common knowledge within those higher circles that the next Kaiser was a womanizing playboy noted for his drinking, partying and intriguing with far-right-wingpoliticians whose fundamental end-game had been to have his father declared insane: so that he could be deposed.

Unfortunately,Captain Georges LADOUX Margarethas contact at the Deuxime Bureau was completely unaware that the Crown Prince had never, even before the war, commanded a unit larger than a regiment: and yet he had still offered her one million Francs if Margaretha could seduce him so as to provide France with intelligence about the German militarys intentions.

Two-and-a-half-years later, whilsttravellingfrom Spain via England, she had been arrested and brought to London where she was interrogated at length during November 1916 bySir Basil THOMSON, Assistant Commissioner atNew Scotland Yardin charge of counter-espionage and to whom she was eventually toadmit admitworking for the Deuxime Bureau.

Subsequently released, the French authorities never acknowledged her affiliation with them due to the embarrassment and international backlash it could cause between the two allies.

So, toward the end of that year, on leaving the luxury of her suite in the London Savoy, she had travelled back to Madrid where she had arranged to meet with the German Military Attach, aMajor Arnold KALLE to whom she asked if he could arrange a meeting with the Crown Prince.

During their meeting, Margaretha had supposedly offered to share French military secrets with Germany in exchange for money though whether this was because of greed or part of her attempting to set up a meeting with Crown Prince Wilhelm, remains unclear.

The following January, Major Kalle transmitted radio messages to Berlindescribing the helpful activities of a German spy code-named H-21, whose biography so closely matched Margarethas that it was patently obviousAgent H-21could only have been none other than the Mata Hari.

Unfortunately for Margaretha, the Deuxime Bureau had intercepted the messages and, from the information they contained, had also easily themselves identified H-21 as being the Mata Hari.

As the transmissions had been broadcast using a code that the German intelligence knew had already been broken by the French, it is supposed that this was effected in order to contrive her arrest on her return to France.

PerhapsGeneral Walter NICOLAI,the Chief Intelligence Officer of the German Army, had become frustrated by the Mata Hari who had previously only provided him with scuttlebutt and tittle-tattle reflecting the most mundane of Parisian gossip concerning the sex lives of either French politicians or generals and so had decided to terminate her employment by exposing her as a German spy to the French.

Prior to her meeting in Madrid with the German Miltary Attach, the Deuxime Bureau of the French War Ministry had let Margaretha obtain the names of six Belgian agents: five of whom were suspected of having submitted fake material and to have been working for the Germans whilst the sixth was suspected of being a double-agent for both Germany and France.

Two weeks after her trip to Madrid, the double-agent had been executed by the Germans whilst the other five had continued their operations: and it is this fact that eventually damned Margaretha as it was considered proof by the Deuxime Bureau that the names of all six spies had been communicated by her to Major Keller.

A short while later on her return to Paris during February 1917 Margaretha was arrested in her room at the Hotel Elyse Palace on the Champs Elyses and was put on trial the following July accused of spying for Germany and being consequently responsible for the deaths of at least 50,000 soldiers.

However, whilst both the French and the British Intelligence services had been convinced of her perfidy, there had been no actual, tangible proof other than some supposed secret ink discovered in her room and which the Mata Hari had claimed to be part of her make-up trousseau.

Her principal interrogator BOUCHERON who was also to be her Trial Prosecutor had grilled her intensively during the pre-trial Instructions and established that her background had been entirely made-up

That the Mata Hari was anything but a Javanese Princess by origin: and it is this grey area within her background that had proved sufficient to cast doubt on the overall veracity of her claims, or of her fundamental honesty.

During her interrogations, Margaretha had also admitted to Boucheron that she had accepted 20,000 francs from a German diplomat in the Netherlands to spy on France but had also insisted that she had only passed-on to the Germans snippets of entirely trivial information as her loyalty was completely true to her adopted nation, France.

It is during these interrogations that she is said to have declared A harlot, yes! But a traitor never..!

She was perhaps also unlucky in that her former handler at the Deuxime Bureau Ladoux had also been preparing a case against her by casting all of her activities in the worst possible light and even going so far as to engage in tampering evidence: so as to damn her even more mercilessly.

Circumstantially, during the Spring of 1917, the French nation had been badly shaken by theGreat Mutiniesamongst the regiments who had failed miserably and disastrously following the debacle of theNivelle Offensivewhich together with a series of national strikes, had caused many of the people to believe that France might quite simply collapse.

At the time of her trial, a new government formed underGeorges CLEMENCEAUhad come into power and within this context it was perfectly propitious that a German Spy, could be blamed for everything that had gone wrong with the war to that date and so the Mata Hari most conveniently was presented to the public as the perfect scapegoat.

In reality, as always, the Media were used by the Government to greatly exaggerate her importance and her petty misdeeds were fed to satiate the hunger of the Wolves representing the paranoia and public opinion of the common man.

Indeed, the British historian,JulieWHEELWRIGHTwas later to state: "She really did not pass-on anything that you couldnt find in the local newspapers in Spain" and she continued by describing Margreet as "... an independent woman, a divorcee, a citizen of a neutral country, a courtesan and a dancer: which made her a perfect scapegoat for the French, who were then losing the war. She was kind-of held-up as an example of what might happen if your morals were too loose.

The most terrible and heart-breaking moment for the Mata Hari occurred during the trial when her lover Maslov who by then was a deeply embittered man as a result of having entirely lost his sight in combat had declined to testify on her behalf: telling her he couldn't care less if she was convicted or not and it was reported that his ex-lover had fainted when she learned that she had been so abandoned by him.

Added to her woes had been the Courts obstructions to her Defence Attorney the veteran international lawyerdouardCLUNET who faced impossible odds: being not only denied permission to cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses but neither to directly examine his own witnesses.

Bouchardon, the Prosecutor, used the national angst and the fact that Margreet was actually a woman, as evidence of her guilt, saying: "Without scruples, accustomed tomakeuse of men, she is the type of woman who is born to be a spy."

At her trial, Margreet continued to vehemently insist that her sympathies had always been with the Allies and had repeatedly declared her passionate love for her adopted homeland, France.

However, the nation and the Government was out for blood and so at the age of 41 Margreet Mata Hari was found guilty and sentenced to be executed by firing squad.

Standing before the platoon of 12, selected soldiers wearing "a neat Amazonian tailored suit, especially made for the occasion, and a pair of new white gloves" she had both refused a blindfold, or to be bound and, at the last, ever flirtatious, she had defiantly blown a kiss to her executioners before falling to the cruel volley of their assault.

Her final moments as witnessed by an observer stated that after the volley of shots rang out "Slowly, inertly, she settled to her knees, her head up always and without the slightest change of expression on her face. For the fraction of a second, it seemed she tottered there, on her knees, gazing directly at those who had taken her life. Then she fell backward, bending at the waist, with her legs doubled up beneath her."

TheCoup-de-Gracewas administered by a non-commissioned officer who walked up to her body, pulled out his revolver, and had shot in the head her where she lay so as to make sure she had been properly executed and was dead.

  • The sad epitaph to her life was that as popular as she had been whilst alive, following her execution, the Mata Hari's body was not claimed by any family members and so was accordingly used for medical study.

Her head was embalmed and kept in the Museum of Anatomy in Paris and in 2000, the archivists there had discovered that it had disappeared possibly having been removed as early as 1954 when the museum had been relocated.

The Margaretha Geertruida Zelle iteration of the Mata Hari has often been portrayed as afemme fatale a dangerous, seductive woman who uses her sexuality to effortlessly manipulate men: and yet, there were others who saw her differently.

In the words of the American historians NormanPolmerand Thomas Allen, she was "nave and easily duped", a victim of men rather than a victimizer.

Post Script:

Mata Hari's sealed trial and related other documents were scheduled to be declassified by the French Armyin 2017, one hundred years after her execution.

  • Sources and References:
  • Wikipedia
  • La Viefulgurantedu Mata Hari.
  • others.