He was born in Burgundy in 1728, with a name that pretty much predestined him for a very, very multi-faceted future: Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont. He came from your run-of-the-mill, noble but poor aristocrats, and debated joining the Church for a while. Instead, he snagged a cozy first job as a civil servant for the French government. But he was slated for something bigger. Something King-sized…
The Chevalier D’Eon was exceptionally hard-working, and had become a Dragoon (a cavalry soldier on horseback) in order to earn his knight (or “chevalier”) title.
He also had the kind of dashing interpersonal skills necessary to become a secret agent, so Louis deployed him to Russia as the “Secretary to the French Ambassador to Russia” where he buttered up the Empress Elizabeth disguised as a woman of her court. It was incredibly dangerous, and could’ve cost him his life if anyone found out. They didn’t — but they were suspect.
Such high-stakes service to the King wasn’t without its hiccups, and on more than one occasion d’Eon got himself into a lot of trouble, and even wound up exiled in Britain. When France let him back in, it was with a fat pension plan but on certain conditions: to continue living as a woman to remain incognito.
Her everyday life was a breeding ground for gossip, especially when she continued to one-up every man around in the sport of fencing.
Here she is kicking the butt of Monsieur De Saint George in front of the Prince of Wales:
Thus, the chevalier was reborn a chevalière, and formally presented at Versailles in 1777 after what would probably make for one of those perfect Hollywood makeover scenes: four hours of hair curling, nose powdering, and dress-fitting. She even shared a tailor with Marie Antoinette.
D’Eon could have spent the rest of her days in tranquility, but she begged the government to let her go to war as a dragoon and fight for the country she loved; her country responded by throwing her in jail until she stopped asking.
Time proved a little kinder to d’Eon, and Bram Stoker (the author of Dracula) penned a sympathetic, and admirative essay on her in 1910 (although he still recognised her as a man). “In all the range of doubtful personalities,” he finished, “there is hardly any one whom convention has treated worse than it has the individual known in his time — and after — as The Chevalier d’Eon.”
Now, go make something beautiful!
(¸.•´♥ Tristan ♥
(¸.•´♥ Tristan ♥
Fascinating history lesson! I thank you !
Would make a great movie.
YOU always come up with the BEST stuff. Thanks!
This is fascinating, Tristan. I had absolutely no idea. And yes, as someone above said, it would be a remarkable film! Thanks for introducing me to this.
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