Born into a wealthy family, Mata Hari struggled in her early youth following her father’s financial collapse and remarriage. She married Rudolph John McLeod, an officer in the Dutch colonial army who was much older than her, and came to Indonesia at the age of eighteen.
There they got acquainted with the local culture and practiced dancing.
Returning to the Netherlands following the breakdown of her marriage, Mata Hari went to Paris in 1903. Having made a name for herself as a dancer there, she was able to travel freely across borders during World War I thanks to the neutrality of the Netherlands. She was friends with many of the top officers of the Allied army.
British authorities suspected them of spying for the French, but France denied this.
British authorities suspected them of spying for the French, but France denied this.
A radio message sent to Berlin in January 1917 by the military attache at the German Embassy in Madrid is said to have hinted that Mother Harry was also spying for Germany. The French army intercepted the message, arrested her, found her guilty on trial and shot her to death. It has been argued that the case brought against them in France was based on fabricated evidence for causing the death of 50,000 soldiers.
Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod Zelle (Margaretha Geertruida MacLeod Zelle) was born in Leeuwarden, Friesland in the Netherlands as the eldest of four children of Adam Zelle and his first wife Franeker. She had three brothers.
Her father, who owned a hat shop and held shares in oil companies, was wealthy enough to give Margarita a lavish start to her childhood. So till she was 13 years old she went to advanced schools. But in 1889 Margarita’s father became bankrupt and her parents divorced.
Maragarita’s mother died in 1891. Two years later, when her father remarried in Amsterdam, the family fell apart, and Margarita moved in with uncle.
At that time, she began training as a kindergarten teacher, but when the headmaster began to openly show his love for her, the headmaster removed her from the school. A few months later she ran away to her uncle’s house in The Hague.
At the age of eighteen, Margarita responded to a matrimonial ad she saw in a Dutch newspaper. The ad belonged to Rudolf MacLeod (1856-1928), an officer in the Dutch colonial army. After marrying Macleod, Margarita went with her husband to Java, which was part of the Dutch East Indies colony. They had a son, Norman John, and a daughter, Jean Louise.
But that marriage was generally a failure. McLeod was a violent alcoholic. He blamed his failures and heartbreak on his wife, who was only half his age. And he openly kept a Javanese wife and concubine.
Margarita, fed up, left McLeod and went with another Dutch official, the Van Rieds. For months, she focused on learning Indonesian culture and was part of a local dance troupe. In 1897, she first revealed her stage name Mata Hari, meaning Sun (Eye of the Day), in a letter to relatives in Holland.
Even when Margarita moved back in with him at McLeod’s insistence, his violent behavior did not change. For comfort in these circumstances they relied on the study of the local culture.
Their son Norman died in 1899. The parents claimed that an angry servant had poisoned the child. But the cause of death is said to be complications following treatment for syphilis passed on from his parents.
Some records also say that one of McLeod’s enemies poisoned his dinner to kill his two children.
After returning to the Netherlands, Margarita and her husband separated in 1902 and divorced in 1906.
McLeod forcibly possessed his daughter Jean. Her daughter’s death at age 21 was also attributed to complications related to syphilis. McLeod later married twice.
In 1903, Marguerite went to Paris and disguised herself as “Lady MacLeod” as a horse rider in a circus. For a living, she also worked as a model for artists.
By 1905, she began to make a name for herself as a madaka dancer. It was then that she started using the stage name Mata Hari. In the early 20th century, she was synonymous with early stars of the modern dance movement, such as Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis, who looked to Asia and Egypt for artistic inspiration. Later critics have evaluated such movements in the context of Orientalism. Mata Hari’s booking agent was Gabriel Astruk.
Since her debut on 13th March 1905, Mata Hari’s uninhibited Vimohana style of dance has been a huge success. She became the longtime girlfriend of Emile Étienne Guiumet, the millionaire industrialist and founder of the dance studio.
Mata Hari, who claimed to have been trained in the “sacred dance” of India since childhood, also disguised herself as a Hindu princess from Java with a Brahmin background. Nowadays, she has appeared in films many times in nude or mostly nude. McLeod got hold of some of those pictures and used them in a legal battle for custody of his daughter.
This unsparingness, transferred from the cinematography to the stage, increased Mata Hari’s popularity. Their most famous performance in the arena was the staged stripping down to only an ornate margarita and hand and head ornaments. Due to the feeling of being poor, they did not used to give up marvastra.
Although Mata Hari’s claims to her ancestry were purely fictional, they served to lend respectability to their Mada dance and cemented a style that later became famous in Paris. Mata Hari’s self-confidence, openness and non-reticence made her popular. She appeared in provocative films and mingled with rich circles. As other Europeans were largely ignorant of the East Indian islands under Dutch control, Mathahari’s claims were generally believed and attributed to him.
By 1910, many imitators came forward. Soon, critics began to suggest that behind Mata Hari’s charm was a cheap performance and a lack of artistic talent. Although she continued to be the center of important social evenings across Europe, serious cultural institutions began to despise her as a dancer who did not know what dance was.
Mata Hari was also a very successful courtesan. But they were valued more for their intoxicating and stimulating properties than for their sublime beauty. Their connections with elites allowed them to travel across borders. Before the First World War, she was generally regarded as an artist and a free spirit who disregarded social etiquette. But with the advent of war, some began to regard her as an immoral and dangerous witch.
The Netherlands remained neutral in World War I. So Mata Hari, the local woman, was able to move freely across borders. Avoiding the clouds of war, they traveled between France and the Netherlands via Britain and Spain. Their journeys were noticed. On one occasion, when questioned by British intelligence, she admitted to working for French intelligence. But the French authorities denied this. It is not clear whether Mother Harry deliberately lied to exaggerate her importance, or whether the French denied it for fear of the political repercussions of the revelation.
Some radio messages sent to Berlin by the German consul in Madrid in January 1917 mentioned the usefulness of the services of a German spy codenamed H-21. French authorities intercepted these messages and discovered that the person referred to in them was Mata Hari. But because the messages were in a secret language system that the Germans knew the French had already cracked, there are historians who believe they were fabricated.
On February 13, 1917, Mata Hari was arrested in her room at the Plaza Athene Hotel in Paris.
At trial they were accused of spying for Germany and responsible for the deaths of 50,000 French soldiers. Found guilty, she was shot dead on October 15, 1917, at the age of 41.
In his biography “Femme Fatale”, Pat Shipman has argued that Mata Hari was not a double agent. Shipman argues that they were scapegoated for the failures of Georges Ladoux, head of French counter-intelligence. It was Ladoux who recruited Mata Hari into the French intelligence service. Ladoux himself was later arrested on charges of being a double agent. Since the documents of Mata Hari’s case have been sealed for 100 years, the truth of this remains unknown.
As none of the family members came forward to receive Mata Hari’s body, it was kept for medical research. Their heads were kept in the Museum of Anatomy in Paris. But in 2000 it was found to be missing. It is believed to have disappeared in 1954 when the museum moved to another building. Records from 1918 indicate that the rest of the body parts were transferred to the museum, but they too have not been found.
The fact that an old drunken dancer had been executed for espionage gave rise to many rumours. One of them was that they gave the executioner a “flying kiss”. She may have targeted her lawyer, one of her ex-boyfriends and an eyewitness to the execution, in that kiss. It is also speculated that her last words were “Thank you Monsieur”. She is also said to have said, “I was a whore, not a cheat.”