The Seductive Mata Hari
Mata Hari, as she would become known as was born as Margaretta Geertrudia Macleod in 1876 in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. Her mother died when Mata was fourteen. Her father sent her to live with other family members. As she realized she wanted more, Mata answered an advertisement for a companion by Rudolph Macleod, enclosing a photograph of herself, and Macleod immediately sent for her. After a short engagement, they married in 1895 and shortly had two children. As it turned out, Macleod was an alcoholic, an abuser, and kept a mistress. Their son Norman died as a result of syphilis at age two, but daughter Jenne survived.
While in the military, he was sent to Java in 1897, and it was there that Mata learned the maneuvers of the dances of the culture of Java. And she also studied Cleopatra, Jezebel, and Delia to reinvent herself as an exotic dancer. Mata was fluent in seven languages, and it seemed easy to transform herself. She even eluded to being the daughter of a priestess and claimed her dances were sacred temple dances.
She began performing at the Musee Guimet and using layers of veils, slowly removing each veil until nude except for her breastplate and jewels. Instantly, Mata became an overnight sensation throughout Europe. Men showered her with money, jewels, and furs, and she had a string of rich lovers.
Times were changing, and WW I broke out, and Mata was aging and no longer in demand, and unfortunately, she was forced back unto prostitution to survive.
The Accusations of Spying
While traveling in 1916, Mata was stopped at a German border where they confiscated all her jewelry and furs. The Germans needed a spy against the French, and because she was considered promiscuous, it would be easy for her to spy. So they offered her money. Her Code Name would be H21. Mata believed the money was actually payment for her jewelry and furs they confiscated. Mata never really did any spying, just retold gossip she learned from her liaisons.
She fell in love with Captain Vadim Maslov, but in 1916 he was sent to the front where he was shot down, losing his sight. Mata begged to be allowed to go to him, and it was finally agreed with the stipulation she spy for France.
In 1917, the French intercepted a message for Agent H21. It was sent in a code that the Germans knew had been broken and had suspected that Mata Hari was Agent H21. It was the Germans who turned her in as a spy. Both France and Britain already suspected her as a spy.
Mata was arrested and interrogated. She was believed to be untrustworthy because of her invented Indonesian persona and her unscrupulous lifestyle.
The Trial of Mata Hari
A secret trial was held in July 1917, and Mata was not allowed to call two witnesses who could exonerate her. At no time did she ever confess to being a spy. The verdict was swift, and she was found guilty and sentenced to be executed by firing squad. The French also accused her of being responsible for 50,000 French soldiers, with no specific evidence or explanation of how she was responsible. She was immediately sent to St. Lazareprism Prison, a rat-infested prison, for eight months.
Ironically, the French who so adored her was now willing to make her a scapegoat so they could rally their troops and people as they were losing the war. Mata was taken to Vincennes, and in the early morning hour of 5:30 AM on October 15, 1917, she was awakened in her cell by a priest, two nuns, and a soldier. She was then loaded into a car, driven to a spot out of town where her executioners were waiting.
After being led to a post, she was offered a blindfold, but she turned it down, holding her head high and said: "I am ready." As the officer dropped his sword, twelve soldiers fired their guns. Mata had blown a kiss to her executioners just before the shots were fired. After Mata fell backward, another officer withdrew his side pistol and fired a shot into her brain. No one claimed her body, and it was donated to the University of Paris for medical research.
The great Geta Garbo in the movie was released in 1931. Her scrapbook was purchased from an ex-employee of MGM for $45,000 by the Mata Hari Foundation and is on display at the Frisian Museum in her hometown of Leeuwarden, Netherlands, where a statue is also placed in her honor.
After the execution of Mata Hari, the court documents were sealed for 100 years. The release of documents via the CIA. Only recently have they been researched by Russell Warren Howe, an American journalist. His book covering Mata Hari is Mata Hari-The True Story.
Mata Hari lived dangerously and died courageously and believed by many to have been the innocent scapegoat.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on November 23, 2020:
Appreciate your visit. I hope you liked the article.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on November 22, 2020:
Thanks for writing about the famous Mata Hari. I gained much information by reading this that I did not know.
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on November 22, 2020:
Thank you for sharing this interesting and informative article, Fran. I have heard of Mata Hari, but she was little more than a name to me before I read your article. I'm glad that I've learned more about her.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on November 22, 2020:
Thank you for your visit. I appreciate it.
Rosina S Khan on November 22, 2020:
It was nice knowing about the notorious spy Mata Hari. A really interesting account. Thank you for sharing, Fran.
MG Singh emge from Singapore on November 21, 2020:
So many books and movies on this famous spy Mata Hari. It was nice reading about her.
fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on November 21, 2020:
Liz, thank you so much for your visit, and your comment.
Liz Westwood from UK on November 21, 2020:
I had heard the name, but knew very little of her story. This is a well-researched and well-illustrated article.