- NAME: Mata Hari
- OCCUPATION: Dancer, Spy
- BIRTH DATE: August 07, 1876
- DEATH DATE: October 15, 1917
- EDUCATION: Teachers' College in Leiden
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Leeuwarden, Netherlands
- PLACE OF DEATH: Vincennes, France
- Full Name: Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod
- Originally: Margaretha Geertruida Zelle
- AKA: Margaretha MacLeod
- AKA: Margaretha Zelle
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Mata Hari was a professional dancer and mistress who became a spy for France during World War I. Suspected of being a double agent, she was executed in 1917.
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Within a few years, however, Mata Hari's cachet had faded. As younger dancers took the stage, her bookings became sporadic. She supplemented her income by seducing government and military men; sex became strictly a financial practicality for her. Despite the growing tension in Europe in the years leading up to World War I, Mata Hari foolishly knew no borders with her lovers, who included German officers. As war swept the continent,
she had some freedom of movement as a citizen of neutral Holland and took full advantage of it, country-hopping with trunks of clothing in tow. Before long, however, Mata Hari's cavalier travels and liaisons attracted attention from British and French intelligence, who put her under surveillance.
Now nearing 40, plumpish and with her dancing days clearly behind her, Mata Hari fell in love with a 21-year-old Russian captain, Vladimir de Masloff, in 1916. During their courtship, Masloff was sent to the Front, where an injury left him blind in one eye. Determined to earn money to support him, Mata Hari accepted a lucrative assignment to spy for France from Georges Ladoux, an army captain who assumed her courtesan contacts would be of use to French intelligence.
Mata Hari later insisted that she planned to use her connections to seduce her way into the German high command, get secrets and hand them over to the French—but she never got that far. She met a German attaché and began tossing him bits of gossip, hoping to get some valuable information in return. Instead, she got named as a German spy in communiqués he sent to Berlin—which were promptly intercepted by the French. Some historians believe that the Germans suspected Mata Hari was a French spy and subsequently set her up, deliberately sending a message falsely labeling her as a German spy—which they knew would be easily decoded by the French. Others, of course, believe that she was in fact a German double agent. In any case, the French authorities arrested Mata Hari for espionage in Paris on February 13, 1917. They threw her in a rat-infested cell at the Prison Saint-Lazare, where she was allowed to see only her elderly lawyer—who happened to be a former lover.
During lengthy interrogations by Captain Pierre Bouchardon, a military prosecutor, Mata Hari—who had long lived a fabricated life, embellishing both rearing and resume—bungled and facts about her whereabouts and activities. Eventually, she dropped a bombshell confession: A German diplomat had once paid her 20,000 francs to gather intelligence on her frequent trips to Paris. But she swore to investigators that she never actually fulfilled the bargain and always remained faithful to France. She told them she simply viewed the money as compensation for furs and luggage that had once disappeared on a departing train while German border guards hassled her. "A courtesan, I admit it. A spy, never!" she defiantly told her interrogators. "I have always lived for love and pleasure."
Mata Hari's trial came at a time when the Allies were failing to beat back German advances.
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