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Mata Hari (orig. Gertrud Margarete Zelle; also Margaretha Geertruida Macleo)

Portrait
Born: 1876 AD
Died: 1917 AD, at 41 years of age.

Nationality: Dutch
Categories: Dancers, Spies

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Mata Hari, the famous femme fatale, was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle on August 7th of 1876 in Leeuwarden, Friesland in the northern part of the Netherlands. Her father was Adam Zelle, who owned a hat store, her mother was Antje van der Meulen.  They were both born and raised in Friesland, Netherlands. As she grew up, her family was fairly wealthy and she attended private schools up until the age of thirteen. In 1889 her father went bankrupt however and her parents got a divorce.  Her mother died in 1891.

When Margaretha was eighteen she married a Dutch army officer that had advertised in the newspaper as looking for a wife.  His name was Rudolf John MacLeod. They moved to the Dutch East Indies (Java) where they had two children, a boy and a girl. Macleod was an abusive alcoholic who blamed his wife for his lack of success in getting promotions in the army.  It was while in the Dutch East Indies that she began studying Indonesian culture and learning the local dance. This was also when she came up with the name Mata Hari.  It is the Indonesian term for "sun" although it has been variously translated as "eye of the day" or "child of the dawn." Their son, Norman-John MacLeod died in 1899 either by poisoning or from syphilis possibly contracted from his parents.
 
In 1902 Margaretha and her husband and daughter moved back to the Netherlands. The couple separated shortly after returning to the Netherlands and were finally divorced in 1906. Rudolf MacLeod then took custody of her daughter. In 1903 Margaretha moved to Paris.  There she worked in the circus as a  horse rider going by the name of Lady MacLeod. She also worked as a model for local artists.
 
Her popularity began to increase in 1905 working under the name Mata Hari, the name she first adopted while in Java years before. On teh 13th of March in 1905 she had her debut at the Musée Guimet. She became the mistress of millionaire Emile Etienne Guimet who started teh Musee Guimet.  She presented herself as an Indian princess from Java.

She had numerous liasons with rich and powerful men, having relationships with high ranking officers in the military as well as political leaders and business men across Europe.
 
Since the Netherlands remained neutral in World War One and she was a Dutch subject, she was allowed to move across national borders rather easily. She was able to maintain her relationships with powerful men.  At one point while being questioned by Britich Intrellegence, she told the British agents that she was working for the French goverment but this was never verified by the French.  
In January of 1917 the Germans transmitted a message that mentioned a German spy they referred to as H-12.  The French intercepted this message and determined that the H-12 they mentioned was Mata Hari.  On the 13th of March 1917 Mata Hari was arrested at her hotel in Paris.  She was tried as a spy, found guilty and sentenced to death.  She was executed by firing squad on the 15th of October, 1917 in Vincinnes, France.

Since her death Mata Hari has became the classic femme fatale image even though it is not certain how much of the popular story is actually true.  There is a "Mata Hari Room" in the museum in Leeuwarden, Netherlands, the town of her birth.


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Page last updated: 6:47am, 09th Dec '10