The Woman: Mata Hari

Mata-Hari_1910Words by Billie Jenkins

Mati Hari was the original Bond baddie. An exotic dancer and one of the most highly paid courtesans in Paris her clients included high profile military men and politicians. In WWI she began providing intel to the German government, unspeakably potent information was released on a regular basis, and it has the Parisian governments in panic. In 1917 she was arrested in a Paris hotel room and executed by firing squad, but today she remains one of the most famous spies of the era.

Fleeing an agressive failed marriage in 1903, Margartha Geertrudia Zelle arrived in Paris, at the age of 27. She became a horse rider at the circus and posed as an artist nude for extra money, taking on the stage name of Mati Hari (‘Eye of the Day’). Her notoriety as an erotic dancer exploded, men and women would travel from a far to see her exotic performances in states of undresses, she danced in all the grandest theatres of the era. The multimillionaire industrialist Emile Guimet made her his long standing mistress, and many other influential men kept her company for a sum.

In 1914 whilst dancing she met German spy, Traugott von Jagow. Rumour has it he enrolled her in the German intelligence programme and sent her to spy school. What we do know however, is that through that meeting H-21 was born. H-21 was Mati Hari’s code name, the infamous handle of one of histories most mysterious spies. In 1916 the first sign of her fate came, British officers interrogated her, eventually keeping her at the Savoy Hotel until they had to let her go. The scandal facing their French allies if it was revealed so many powerful government officials had shared a bed, and their secrets, with the enemy was to huge a risk. Her downfall eventually came when she fell in love with a Russian officer. On a visit to his hospital bed she was asked to spy on Germany by France, who had no idea of her role for the opposition. The tiny connections between intel exchanged as a double agent broke down the illusion of innocence and her  execution became imminent. Today she remains one of the most enigmatic, and titillating characters of modern espionage, who captured the imagination of Paris’s men, then played her hand for their downfall.



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