French Spy Chevalier Charles d'Eon

About the French spy Chevalier Charles d'Eon, his or her place in history and biography of the spy who may have been a man or a woman.

Chevalier Charles d'Eon. French. Worked for: Louis XV, 1755.

In 1755, a pretty female "reader," Lia de Beaumont, was charming the Russian court of Czarina Elizabeth. Lia was "small and slight, with a pink and white complexion and pleasing, gentle expression." She became lady-in-waiting to the Czarina and even read to Elizabeth as she relaxed in her bath. Lia was actually Charles d'Eon, a French spy in the service of Louis XV. His mission was to prevent the signing of a military treaty between Russia and England (one promising Russian support if France attacked England's sovereign state of Hanover). The Empress heeded the advice of "Lia" and refused to sign the treaty.

Charles was an excellent female impersonator since his mother had dressed him in feminine attire at the age of 4--she would have preferred that Charles had been born a girl. Even while he was employed as a lawyer in the French finance ministry, Charles displayed a fondness for ruffles and frills. Although he was quite successful as a female agent, Charles also distinguished himself as a captain in the French Army and as an unofficial ambassador to England. At 26, he was made a chevalier. For almost a century, debates raged over Charles's "true" sex. In England, France, and throughout Europe, over $2 million was wagered on the "she-man." For 3 years, one enterprising Englishman bribed servants and resorted to window climbing in order to win his bet of $1,500--at 3--1 odds--that the chevalier was a woman. Occasionally, D'Eon was attacked, and as one historian said, "Many attempts were made to carry him off for the purpose of settling bets by a humiliating personal scrutiny." After D'Eon's death in 1810, one doctor declared that he was definitely a man, while other medical experts claimed he was a hermaphrodite.

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