Biography: Mata Hari

Mata Hari was executed by the French on this day in 1917. I knew the name, but didn’t know anything about her. This is what I learned:

Her real name was Margaretha Zelle.  She was born in Holland in 1876. Her father was a businessman, but his business went bust when Margaretha was thirteen. After this her parents divorced and she ended up living with other family member and her Godfather before marrying a Dutch military commander (called Macloud, a Scottish name). She was only eighteen and Macloud much older.

Her husband was stationed in Indonesia, and treated Margaretha very badly, he drank heavily and was violent. During her time in Indonesia she studied the local culture, especially dance, and it was at this time she discovered what would become her future stage name, Mata Hari, meaning ‘eye of the day’ or ‘sun’.

She had two children, one died at the age of six, and the other died at the age of twenty-one.  She left her husband and returned to the Netherlands. She moved to Paris in 1903, where she worked as a circus horse rider, and painter’s model.

She became famous when she started performing as an exotic dancer. Her style of dancing was based on what she had learned in Indonesia, at this time, modern dance was drawing its inspiration from Asian culture.
However, part of her dance routine involved removing her clothes, (striptease) and although it was this that brought her fame and fortune, it was also criticised as cheap exhibitionism.

Being a famous dancer brought her into contact with many rich, famous or powerful people. She associated with military leaders during world war one and was believed to be acting as a secret agent for the French, obtaining military secrets from German officers. However, French intelligence services intercepted a message from Germany saying that she had been helping them, effectively working as a double agent.

She was arrested in February 1917 and executed by firing squad October 15.

More information at wikipedia

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