The Allure of Mata Hari

In the history of spies, espionage and double agents, many have been successful in obtaining the information that they were seeking. However, one of the best spies in history used her beauty, charm and sexuality to her advantage. That spy’s name was Mata Hari.

Mata Hari was born Margaretha Geertruida "Grietje" Zelle on August 7, 1876 in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. Her father was an affluent businessman, which allowed Zelle to live a very comfortable life style and attend private schools until her teenage years. However, at the age of 13, her father declared bankruptcy and the lavish lifestyle, and her parents’ marriage, were finished.

After her rocky teenage years, living with relatives, at the age of 18, Zelle answered an advertisement in a Dutch newspaper for a man seeking a wife. The man, Dutch Colonial Army officer Rudolf John MacLeod, married Zelle in 1895. Despite having two children with MacLeod, the marriage was not a happy one, with the couple separating in 1902.

Shortly thereafter she moved to fame, and in 1905, she began her new career path as an exotic dancer. Zelle, who was a very beautiful young woman, took the stage name Mata Hari and began to dance at many venues in Paris. Her dancing was quite unique, in her flirtatiousness and openly flaunting her body. In addition, her clothing was very exotic and revealing, which included using a jewel encrusted bra. Her performances were very well known and with her open sexuality in her dance, she was a very popular act during this time period.

Prior to the start of World War I, Mata Hari was a courtesan, and as such had access to some of the most influential and powerful men in several countries, including Germany. And, these relationships allowed her to cross borders freely.

When World War I started, Mata Hari was still a citizen of The Netherlands, which was neutral. As a neutral party, she was able to cross borders freely. With the War being fought in Europe, travel was difficult and she traveled between France and the Netherlands by way of Spain and Britain. Her constant travels, and the routes that she took, were being noticed. During one interrogation by French officials, she said that she was working as an agent for the British government. These claims were never verified.

However, in January 1917, the German military in Spain transmitted a message to Berlin outlining the helpful activities of a German spy with a code name of H-21. The French intercepted the message, and interpreted the message to indicate that Mata Hari was the spy in the message.

On February 13, 1917, the French arrested Mata Hari in a hotel room in Paris. She was put on trial for spying and was convicted of being responsible for the deaths of 50,000 soldiers. Mata Hari was found guilty and executed by firing squad on October 15, 1917.

The truth about Mata Hari may never fully be known. Many believe that she was actually working for the French government, spying on Germany, but was used as a scape goat. Others believe she was a spy for Germany. And others believe she was not involved in espionage at all.

Regardless of her allegiance, Mata Hari was a beautiful woman that used her sexuality in her dance, as well as finding ways to get what she wanted. We have collected some additional resources on the life of the exotic, Mata Hari:

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