Mata Hari: the story of a courtesan spy

When we hear the word “spy”, we immediately imagine some action movie hero in a black suit and glasses. Most often a man performing a difficult mission. We do not associate these people with the real world, but they exist. And they were much earlier than we can imagine. Intelligence activities were trusted even to women. The most famous spy of the early twentieth century is Mata Hari. Read about her fate in our article.

Mata Hari


Mata Hari, or Margareta Gertrud Zelle, was born in a Dutch provincial town. Her father managed to properly use the finances, investing them in a profitable business, as a result of which he was able to get rich, so all four of his children were raised in favorable conditions. Young Margareta studied at a prestigious school until the age of thirteen. But happiness does not always accompany people: a few years later, Adam Zelle went bankrupt, a discord in relations with his wife led to a divorce and the imminent death of his wife.

The single father could hardly cope with the girl, so he decided to send her to the city to the godfather, who enrolled Margaret in the courses of tutors. The director of the educational institution began to show very unambiguous hints towards the girl, so the young beauty was taken home again.

Having lived with her family for a short time, an eighteen-year-old girl runs away to The Hague to her uncle. Lack of funds and hopelessness push her to marry (she found an announcement about the search for a future bride in the newspaper). Relations with Captain Rudolf McLeod began to spin rapidly, and after three months their union was officially concluded.

Margareta and Rudolf

Needless to say, what a disappointment the marriage turned out to be with a man who was twenty years older than Margaret, drank, reproached his wife for everything and did not hesitate to support his mistresses. However, the couple had children: son Norman and daughter Jeanne-Louise. The boy did not live even two years, and Jeanne died after twenty. The reason for everything is a complication of syphilis, which the parents infected the girl with.

In search of happiness, the wife went to another soldier, but the insistent requests of Rudolf forced her to return. Aggressive behavior did not go away, divorce was inevitable. As a result, the upbringing of the daughter went to the father. In a sense, this even benefited Margareta, because around this time she begins to study Indonesian culture with interest and attend classes in a local dance group, which will play an important role in her future career. By the way, in 1897, in a letter to relatives from Holland, the girl calls herself Mata Hari for the first time. Under this name, she will soon become known to the whole world.

Dancer Conqueror

Having moved to Paris, the girl tries to work as a model, but this occupation does not bring success and money. Performances on horseback in the circus are also not inspiring, she wants more: to achieve a position in secular circles. Purposefulness helps Hari to remember the dances and the charm that the audience was seized by looking at her.

In 1905, she became famous as an oriental dancer. The peculiarity of her dance is the gradual exposure to such an extent that at the end there is no clothing left, except for jewelry that at least slightly hides the breasts. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the graceful movements and magnetic look of the girl made a splash on the public, especially on the male audience. To enhance the creative image, Mata spread the word that she was brought up in the East and her dances are sacred. Love dancing? We have an excellent selection of films on this subject.

Mata Hari

The first and subsequent performances were held in the Museum of Oriental Things, which was owned by Emil Gimet. He himself was not opposed to sticking to the legend that Mata Hari came to him from India. Whatever you think of to get attention. Thus, the fashion for a different culture began to spread throughout Paris, followed by concerts of a seductive beauty. She took care of stage decorations and choreography without outside help, although she had no professional experience in this. Hari did as her soul commanded, maybe that’s why there was such a romantic spirit in everything: the place of performance was decorated with garlands, flowers, the aroma of incense transported people from the audience seats somewhere to a wonderful country.

The exclusive salon of Baron Henri de Rothschild, where she performed, gave Mata recognition among the famous people of Paris. Articles about her appeared in the newspapers – the dream came true, there were funds for life. The men of Holland and France were not only in love with her, but also spent a lot of money on the maintenance of the girl.

Love and espionage

Numerous relationships and popularity attracted the attention of scouts to the graceful dancer, who decided to use her magical grace for their own purposes. In 1915, a German diplomat offered a courtesan to work for his country. Mata Hari took a large amount of money, but did not carry out the assigned actions. This episode later led to legal proceedings. At the beginning of the First World War, while in Germany, the girl decided to change her place of residence, then the country’s authorities confiscated all her finances, jewelry, and even part of her clothes.

She returned to the Netherlands, but the quiet life oppressed the courtesan, so Mata decided to visit friends in England and France, which attracted the attention of the head of French counterintelligence Georges Lada. He offered the dancer to work for him and receive a decent reward. The prospect turned out to be attractive, because Mata, in love, wanted to play a luxurious wedding with the Russian military – Vadim Maslov, besides, the popularity of her performances began to fall: the years took their toll.

At the time of their meeting in Paris, the captain was 23 years old, and the oriental dancer was over 40, but this did not stop them. At least, Hari was passionately and sincerely showing her feelings, and Vadim was pleased that such a famous and attractive person drew attention to him. When he was at the front, there was an active correspondence between the lovers, which was carefully read by the special services. As a test, the French assigned the woman an insignificant task in Madrid, as a result of which they were able to confidently prove a connection with German intelligence.

Mata Hari

Although many argue that she could not get valuable information for either side, the double espionage turned out to be tragic for the girl. In 1917, Maslov suddenly disappeared, leaving not a single line for his beloved. Out of desperation, Mata Hari remembered her past life and began to change partners, indulging in frantic fun and leading a wild life.

At the same time, in February, French intelligence arrests her and charges her. The lawyer tries in every possible way to save the defendant, even submits a petition to the president for clemency – all in vain. On October 15, at the military training ground in Vincennes, Mata Hari was shot.

According to eyewitnesses, she did not want to be blindfolded during her execution. Another request was a glass of wine, but only a cup was found, in…

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