Zelle alias Mata Hari was born in Leeuwarden (NL)
on 7 August 1876.
At the beginning of the 20th century she moved to France where she started
a career as a nude dancer. She became famous and moved in the highest
circles of Europe. Her fame made it easy to travel to various European
countries. Even during the war. So, the French Secret Service asked
Mata Hari to mingle with the Germans and find out as much as she could.
However, during her first mission something went wrong and she was arrested
by the British Intelligence Service. All of her alibis were watertight,
so the British agents had to release her. In the meantime, the French
too got suspicious.
It also became clear that German army officers were paying her. Officially
it was to keep them company but the French intelligence office wasn't
so sure about that. When she tried to cross the French border, to visit
one of her lovers, she was arrested by the French Secret Service and
During one of these long sessions, she succumbed and confessed to be
a German spy, known under the pseudonym of H21.
The trial that followed was nothing but a showcase. The French were
convinced that she was: "one of the greatest spies of the century,
responsible for the death of tens of thousands of soldiers". She
was found guilty and condemned to death. On 15 October 1917 she was
shot by a firing squad.
born Aug. 7, 1876, Leeuwarden, Neth.
died Oct. 15, 1917, Vincennes, near Paris, Fr.
byname of Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod, née Zelle
dancer and courtesan whose name has become a synonym for the seductive
female spy. She was shot by the French on charges of spying for Germany
during World War I, although the nature and extent of her espionage
activities remain uncertain.
The daughter of a prosperous hatter, she attended a teachers' college
in Leiden. In 1895 she married an officer of Scottish origin, Captain
Campbell MacLeod, in the Dutch colonial army, and from 1897 to 1902
they lived in Java and Sumatra. The couple returned to Europe but later
separated, and she began to dance professionally in Paris in 1905 under
the name of Lady MacLeod. She soon called herself Mata Hari, said to
be a Malay expression for the sun (literally, “eye of the day”).
Tall, extremely attractive, superficially acquainted with East Indian
dances, and willing to appear virtually nude in public, she was an instant
success in Paris and other large cities. Throughout her life she had
numerous lovers, many of them military officers.
The facts regarding her espionage activities remain obscure. According
to one account, in the spring of 1916, while she was living in The Hague,
a German consul is said to have offered to pay her for whatever information
she could obtain on her next trip to France. After her arrest by the
French, she acknowledged only that she had given some outdated information
to a German intelligence officer.
According to Mata Hari's story, she had agreed to act as a French spy
in German-occupied Belgium. She did not bother to tell French intelligence
of her prior arrangement with the Germans. She later said that she had
intended to secure for the Allies the assistance of Ernest Augustus,
Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg in Germany and heir to the dukedom of
Cumberland in the British peerage.
Apparently, British sources informed French intelligence of Mata Hari's
negotiations with the German official in The Hague. French suspicion
of her duplicity increased, and on Feb. 13, 1917, she was arrested in
Paris. She was imprisoned, tried by a military court on July 24–25,
1917, sentenced to death, and shot by a firing squad.
The most renowned
woman in spy history--although she probably wasn't one. She was naive
and easily duped--and trapped--by her "friends" as well as
her enemies during World War I.
Born in Holland
as Magaretha Gertrud Zelle to a well-to-do Dutch shopkeeper and his
Javanese wife, she attended a school for teachers but was forced to
leave for having sex with the headmaster. At age 18, she married a Dutch
naval officer who was 20 years her senior. They soon moved to the Dutch
East Indies and had two children, but divorced in 1906. She went to
Paris in 1905, assuming the name Mata Hari (Eye of Dawn) and the persona
of a Javanese princess. She made her debut as an erotic dancer at the
Oriental Studies Museum.
During World War
I Mata Hari had an affair with a 25-year-old Russian pilot flying with
the French, Capt. Vadim Maslov, son of a Russian admiral. When Maslov
was wounded she asked permission to visit him in a forward hospital.
French officials at the Deuxieme Bureau gave her permission--in return
for agreeing to spy the on the Germans, including possibly the crown
prince, whom she knew. She was to receive one million francs for her
efforts. To carry out her assignment, Mata Hari traveled to Spain en
route to neutral Holland, from which she could cross over into Germany
to rendezvous with the crown prince. En route to Holland, her ship stopped
over in Falmouth, England, where she was detained and interrogated.
British officials warned her not to go to Germany and sent her back
to Spain. There she met and had an affair with the German military Attaché,
Maj. Kalle. He sent a message to Berlin in a code that he knew the Allies
could read, saying that spy "H-21" had proved valuable.
Mata Hari returned
to Paris on January 4, 1917, and was arrested on February 13th. Although
French and British intelligence services suspected her of spying for
Germany, neither could produce definite evidence against her. Secret
ink was found in her room--incriminating evidence in that period. She
contended that it was part of her makeup. She admitted to taking money
from Germans but claimed it was for love, not spying.
Still, she was tried
by a closed court-martial, found guilty, and executed by a French firing
squad on October 15, 1917. Refusing a blindfold or to be bound to the
stake, she blew a kiss to the 12-man firing squad before their rifles
shattered the morning stillness.