15 October 1917 – Mata Hari

and we thought she was supposed to be a babe...

Mata "the minx" Hari.

It’s been ages since we had a really saucy little minx on the execution block. And today’s fruity-flavoured subject doesn’t get much saucier.

Mata Hari, or Margaretha Zelle as she is more pedestrianly known, was in the firing line for the ropiest of reasons.

The French, with the help of the Brits, had levelled the crime of espionage at her. But there are doubts to this day as to whether these accusations were true or not.

That the Dutch woman was infamous is indisputable. If you’ve ever doubted the adage that sex sells, old Mata lived and breathed the premise. Her whole raison d’être was built on an insatiable love of sex and ways to manipulate men to her own ends. And boy did she start young.

Sex education

At a mere 16, she was already bed-hopping her way through life, bagging the headmaster no less, according to Pat Shipman in his book ‘Femme Fatale: A Biography of Mata Hari’.

Yet she wasn’t content to just stick out her days in Holland. She wanted more.

Known as Zelle at this point in her life, she hooked up with a soldier on leave by the name of Captain Rudolf Macleod, after she replied to his ad in the classifieds.

Things got personal alright. After just six days the rampant couple was engaged and three months on they were hitched.

Soldiering on

But just as quickly as they came together, so the couple fell apart, not least because there was no way Zelle would have been content with monogamy, not when there were so many soldiers happy to jump into the sack with her.

Naturally hubbie got a jealous-coloured cob on. But that was rich coming from him, seeing as he was at it too. Indeed, it was his free and easy attitude that landed him in a spot of syphilitic bother.

Macleod failed to confess this little detail to his wife and as a result he passed the demon seeds of STD onto her and their resultant children. In fact, it was thought that their son was killed while being treated for the damagingly virulent disease.

Well, that really put a kibosh on the relationship. They split and the hard-hearted husband even went as far as to put it about that his wife was a credit risk.

Credit crunch

Crude, yes, but the carefully chosen words did the job. Unable to get anything on tick, the lusty lady had to turn to other means to support her luxe lifestyle.

There are no prizes for guessing which talents she turned to in her hour of need. She forged ahead in establishing a searing career in selling sex. This included being a courtesan, which stretched to staging dance sessions in the privacy of people’s homes, and the rest…

The original queen of raunch had successfully reinvented herself as a top bit of totty and to add to allure of her new identity so Mata Hari was born. She blazed a trail did old Mata.

While others were retaining their modesty, this exotic dancer thought nothing of kicking off her knickers both on and off the dance floor. Her only concession to modesty was to keep her bra on. According to Tony Rennell of the ‘Daily Mail’, she was ‘self conscious about her tiny breasts’.


However, her insecurity certainly didn’t stop her trawling Europe, touting her wares and collecting moneyed benefactors as she went along, who were only too happy to sub her lifestyle.

‘Tonight I dine with Count A and tomorrow with Duke B. If I don’t have to dance, I make a trip with Marquis C. I avoid serious liaisons. I satisfy my caprices’ she said.

Love and infection

Of course all this makes you wonder what was happening about the syphilis. It must have been spreading infectiously throughout the more affluent sections of society who were only too happy to come, and see her. And while Mata was happy to sashay her way round the Continent spreading love and infection to all, the world was heading inextricably towards a war.

With war came paranoia about spies.

I, Spy?

And that paranoia came to settle upon Mata. After all, she was free to come and go as she pleased between countries and she could speak a number of languages – a spy’s ideal. And it is conjectured that she was indeed approached by the Germans to spy.

But it is a popularly held belief that despite being furnished with all the deceits and tools of the covert trade, Mata had no interest in actually spying. Like everyone before, she was happy to fleece the Germans of any riches they were keen to heap on her, but she had no intention of carrying out the deeds.

Nevertheless the Brits gave the infamous little minx a thorough once over when she docked at Folkestone. Despite finding nothing, they drew up a dossier of dodginess against the Dutch seductress.

Talk about sexed up claims, by February 1917 the French were after her and had finally cornered her in her hotel room.

Facing death

She was promptly found guilty of being a German spy and sent down to await her fate. Her appeals that the charges were trumped up fell on disinterested ears, so on this day in 1917, she calmly announced ‘I am ready’.

Such was Mata Hari’s sense of theatre that she refused to be tied to a stake or even to be blindfolded, instead facing her firing squad fully frontal.

Consequently, Mata Hari was riddled full of bullets and merely crumpled to the floor.

In a final move to ensure the bullets were fatal, a last one was despatched into her 41-year-old brain at close range.

Screen siren Greta Garbo took on the role of Mata Hari in the film of the same name…just 15 years after the execution.

Also on this day

15 October 1782 – Charlotte Goodall

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