Mata Hari: Wikis


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Mata Hari

Mata Hari on a 1906 postcard
Born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle
7 August 1876(1876-08-07)
Leeuwarden, Netherlands
Died 15 October 1917 (aged 41)
Vincennes, France
Cause of death Execution by firing squad
Nationality Dutch
Other names Mata Hari
Spouse(s) Rudolf John MacLeod (1895–1903)
Children Norman-John MacLeod
Jeanne-Louise MacLeod

Mata Hari was the stage name of Margaretha Geertruida "Grietje" Zelle (7 August 1876, Leeuwarden – 15 October 1917, Vincennes), a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan who was executed by firing squad for espionage during World War I.[1]


Early life

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was born in Leeuwarden, Friesland in the Netherlands, the eldest of four children of Adam Zelle (2 October, 1840, Leeuwarden - 13 March, 1910, Amsterdam) and first wife (m. Franeker, 4 June, 1873) Antje van der Meulen (21 April, 1842, Franeker - 9 May, 1891, Leeuwarden).[2] She had three brothers. Her father owned a hat store, made successful investments in the oil industry, and became affluent enough to give Margaretha a lavish early childhood.[3] Thus, Margaretha attended only exclusive schools until age 13.[4]

However, Margaretha's father went bankrupt in 1889, her parents divorced soon thereafter, and Margaretha's mother died in 1891.[3][4] Her father remarried in Amsterdam on 9 February, 1893 to Susanna Catharina ten Hoove (11 March, 1844, Amsterdam - 1 December, 1913, Amsterdam), with whom he had no children. The family had come apart and she moved to live with her godfather, Heer Visser, at Sneek. At Leiden, she studied to be a kindergarten teacher, but when the headmaster began to flirt with her conspicuously, she was removed from the institution by her offended godfather.[3][4][5] After only a few months, she fled to her uncle's home in The Hague.[5]


Margaretha Zelle and Rudolph MacLeod in 1897

At 18, she answered an advertisement in a Dutch newspaper placed by a man looking for a wife. Margaretha married Dutch Colonial Army officer Rudolf John MacLeod (1 March, 1856, Heukelum - 9 January, 1928, Velp) in Amsterdam on 11 July, 1895. He was the son of John Brienen MacLeod and Dina Louisa Frijherrine Sweerts de Landas. They moved to Java in the Dutch East Indies and had two children, Norman-John (30 January, 1897, Amsterdam - 27 June, 1899) and Jeanne-Louise (2 May, 1898, Java - 10 August, 1919).

The marriage was an overall disappointment.[6] MacLeod was a violent alcoholic who would take out his frustrations on his wife, who was half his age, and whom he blamed for his lack of promotion. He also openly kept both a native wife and a concubine. The disenchanted Margaretha abandoned him temporarily, moving in with Van Rheedes, another Dutch officer. For months, she studied the Indonesian traditions intensively, joining a local dance company. In 1897, she revealed her artistic name: Mata Hari, Indonesian for "sun" (literally, "eye of the day"), via correspondence to her relatives in Holland.[4]

Her children Jeanne-Louise and Norman-John, with his father

At MacLeod's urging, Margaretha returned to him although his aggressive demeanour hadn't changed. She escaped her circumstances by studying the local culture.[4] Their son Norman died in 1899 possibly of complications relating to the treatment of syphilis contracted from his parents, though the family claimed he was poisoned by an irate servant. Some sources[4] maintain that one of Rudolf's enemies may have poisoned a supper to kill both of their children. After moving back to the Netherlands, the couple separated in 1902 and divorced in 1906, with Rudolf forcibly retaining the custody of his daughter (who later died at the age of 21, also possibly from complications relating to syphilis).[7] MacLeod later married twice more.


Mata Hari performing in 1905

In 1903, Margaretha moved to Paris, where she performed as a circus horse rider, using the name Lady MacLeod. Struggling to earn a living, she also posed as an artist's model.

By 1905, she began to win fame as an exotic dancer. It was then that she adopted the stage name Mata Hari. She was a contemporary of dancers Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis, leaders in the early modern dance movement, which around the turn of the 20th century looked to Asia and Egypt for artistic inspiration. Critics would later write about this and other such movements within the context of orientalism. Gabriel Astruc became her personal booking agent.[4]

Promiscuous, flirtatious, and openly flaunting her body, she captivated her audiences and was an overnight success from the debut of her act at the Musée Guimet on 13 March, 1905.[8] She became the long-time mistress of the millionaire Lyon industrialist Emile Etienne Guimet, who had founded the Musée. She posed as a Java princess of priestly Hindu birth, pretending to have been immersed in the art of sacred Indian dance since childhood. She was photographed numerous times during this period, nude or nearly so. Some of these pictures were obtained by MacLeod and strengthened his case in keeping custody of their daughter.

Mata Hari in 1906, wearing only a bra and jewelry

She brought this carefree provocative style to the stage in her act, which garnered wide acclaim. The most celebrated segment of her act was her progressive shedding of clothing until she wore just a jeweled bra and some ornaments upon her arms and head.[4] She was seldom seen without a bra as she was self-conscious about being small-breasted.

Although the claims made by her about her origins were fictitious, the act was spectacularly 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 her free-willed attitude made her a very popular woman, as did her eagerness to perform in exotic and revealing clothing. She posed for provocative photos and mingled in wealthy circles. At the time, as most Europeans were unfamiliar with the Dutch East Indies and thus thought of Mata Hari as exotic, it was assumed her claims were genuine.

Mata Hari in 1910, wearing head jewelry

By about 1910, myriad imitators had arisen. Critics began to opine that the success and dazzling features of the popular Mata Hari was due to cheap exhibitionism and lacked artistic merit. Although she continued to schedule important social events throughout Europe, she was held in disdain by serious cultural institutions as a dancer who did not know how to dance.[4]

Mata Hari was also a successful courtesan, though she was known more for her sensuality and eroticism rather than for striking classical beauty. She had relationships with high-ranking military officers, politicians, and others in influential positions in many countries, including the German crown prince,[citation needed] who paid for her luxurious lifestyle.

Her relationships and liaisons with powerful men frequently took her across international borders. Prior to World War I, she was generally viewed as an artist and a free-spirited bohemian, but as war approached, she began to be seen by some as a wanton and promiscuous woman, and perhaps a dangerous seductress.

Double agent

During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral. As a Dutch subject, Margaretha Zelle was thus able to cross national borders freely. To avoid the battlefields, she travelled between France and the Netherlands via Spain and Britain, and her movements inevitably attracted attention. She was a courtesan to many high-ranking allied military officers during this time.[citation needed] On one occasion, when interviewed by British intelligence officers, she admitted to working as an agent for French military intelligence, although the latter would not confirm her story. It is unclear if she lied on this occasion, believing the story made her sound more intriguing, or if French authorities were using her in such a way, but would not acknowledge her due to the embarrassment and international backlash it could cause.

In January 1917, the German military attaché in Madrid transmitted radio messages to Berlin describing the helpful activities of a German spy, code-named H-21. French intelligence agents intercepted the messages and, from the information they contained, identified H-21 as Mata Hari. Unusually, the messages were in a code that German intelligence knew had already been broken by the French, leaving some historians to suspect that the messages were contrived.[citation needed]

Trial and execution

Execution of Mata Hari (1920 movie)

On 13 February, 1917, Mata Hari was arrested in her room at the Hotel Plaza Athénée in Paris. She was put on trial, accused of spying for Germany and consequently causing the deaths of at least 50,000 soldiers. She was found guilty and was executed by firing squad on 15 October, 1917, at the age of 41.

Pat Shipman's biography Femme Fatale argues that Mata Hari was never a double agent, speculating that she was used as a scapegoat by the head of French counter-espionage. Georges Ladoux had been responsible for recruiting Mata Hari as a French spy and later was arrested for being a double agent himself. The facts of the case remain vague, because the official case documents regarding the execution were sealed for 100 years.

Disappearance and rumours

Mata Hari's body was not claimed by any family members and was accordingly used for medical study. Her head was embalmed and kept in the Museum of Anatomy in Paris, but in 2000, archivists discovered that the head had disappeared, possibly as early as 1954, when the museum had been relocated. Records dated from 1918 show that the museum also received the rest of the body, but none of the remains could later be accounted for.

The fact that a former exotic dancer had been executed as a spy immediately provoked many unsubstantiated rumours. One is that she blew a kiss to her executioners, although it is possible that she blew a kiss to her lawyer, who was a witness to the execution and a former lover of hers. Her dying words were purported to be "Merci, monsieur". Another rumour claims that, in an attempt to distract her executioners, she flung open her coat and exposed her naked body. "Harlot, yes, but traitor, never," she is reported to have said. A 1934 New Yorker article, however, reported that at her execution she actually wore "a neat Amazonian tailored suit, specially made for the occasion, and a pair of new white gloves"[9] though another account indicates she wore the same suit, low-cut blouse and tricorn hat ensemble which had been picked out by her accusers for her to wear at trial, and which was still the only full, clean outfit which she had along in prison.[7] Neither description matches photographic evidence.


Scrapbook of Mata Hari in the Frisian Museum in Leeuwarden, Netherlands

The Frisian Museum at Leeuwarden, Netherlands, exhibits a 'Mata Hari Room'. Located in Mata Hari's native town, the museum is well-known for research into the life and career of Leeuwarden's world-famous citizen.

In 1985, biographer Russell Warren Howe managed to convince the French Minister of National Defense to break open the file, about 32 years early. It was revealed that Mata Hari was innocent of her charges of espionage.[citation needed]

Legend and popular culture

Statue of Mata Hari in Leeuwarden, Netherlands

The fact that almost immediately after her death questions rose about the justification of her execution, on top of rumours about the way she acted during her execution, set the story. The idea of an exotic dancer working as a lethal double agent, using her powers of seduction to extract military secrets from her many lovers fired the popular imagination, set the legend and made Mata Hari an enduring archetype of the femme fatale.

Much of the popularity is owed to the film titled Mata Hari (1931) and starring Greta Garbo in the leading role. While based on real events in the life of Margaretha Zelle, the plot was largely fictional, appealing to the public appetite for fantasy at the expense of historical fact. Immensely successful as a form of entertainment, the exciting and romantic character in this film inspired subsequent generations of storytellers. Eventually, Mata Hari featured in more films, television series, and in video games -- but increasingly, it is only the use of Margaretha Zelle's famous stage name that bears any resemblance to the real person. Many books have been written about Mata Hari, some of them serious historical and biographical accounts, but many of them highly speculative.


  • Marijke Huisman, Mata Hari (1876-1917): de levende legende, a good Dutch historical review. Editing House Verloren at Hilversum, Netherlands, ISBN 90-6550-442-7.
  • Shipman, Pat Femme Fatale: A Biography of Mata Hari Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2007, ISBN 0-297850-74-1 ISBN 978-0297850748 (USA edition: Femme Fatale: Love, Lies, and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari William Morrow, 2007, ISBN 0-060817-28-3 ISBN 9780060817282)


  1. ^ "Mata Hari". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 2007-08-21. "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." 
  2. ^ - Mata Hari
  3. ^ a b c Article of the Internet site. [1]
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Out of World of Biography Internet site. [2]
  5. ^ a b Mata Hari
  6. ^ The Spy Who Never Was, by Julia Keay, published by Michael Joseph Ltd, 1987
  7. ^ a b Shipman, Pat (2007). Femme Fatale: Love, Lies, and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 450. ISBN 0-06-081728-3. 
  8. ^ - Mata Hari is Born
  9. ^ Flanner, Janet (1979). Paris was Yesterday: 1925-1939. New York: Penguin. pp. 126. ISBN 0-14-005068-X. 

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

See also matahari



Wikipedia has an article on:



Malay matahari, the Sun and literally "eye of the day". Stage name of Margaretha Geertruida (Grietje) Zelle, a Dutch exotic dancer and courtesan who was executed by firing squad for alleged espionage during World War I.

Proper noun

Mata Hari


Mata Hari

  1. Any exotic, female spy.


Simple English

and convicted spy, made her name synonymous with femme fatale during World War I.]]

Mata Hari was the stage name of Margaretha Geertruida (Grietje) Zelle (7 August, 1876, Leeuwarden, The Netherlands15 October, 1917, Vincennes, France). She was a Dutch-Frisian exotic dancer. She was executed by a firing squad. People at the time thought she was a spy during World War I and because she had relationships with both German and French officers, they thought she was a doublespy. Her dossier will not be released until 2017 (a hundred years after her death).

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