A slice of history that would make a great speculative historical.
She dabbled in low-grade espionage and high-society men. But was she really the femme fatale of legend who deserved her death by firing squad?Before WWI, Dutch exotic dancer Margaretha ‘Gretha’ MacLeod (Mata Hari) had the dubious honor of being the world’s deadliest female secret agent. Convicted of passing classified information to the enemy, her prosecutors damned her as the greatest woman spy of the century, responsible for sending 50,000 Allied soldiers to their deaths. But was she more a scape goat?
Married to an abusive alcoholic, twenty years her senior. Gretha briefly abandoned him, throwing herself into studying Indonesian traditions and joining a local dance company. In 1897, when writing home to relative in the Netherlands, she signed her letters as ‘Mata Hari’. This was her new artistic name, meaning ‘eye of the day’ in Malay.In the French capital, Gretha tried to make money giving piano lesson and teaching German. A much more lucrative job was sitting as an artist’s model where she also made theatrical contacts. All things oriental were the fad in the Paris of 1905 and the time was ripe for Mata Hari, in her full incarnation she billed herself as a Javanese princess and her exotic dance performances took Paris by storm.
Always resourceful, Mata Hari became a successful courtesan, her dalliances with powerful men of the day, from the ranks of politics and the military, allowed her to travel greatly. But her movements attracted attention.She was also in an intense relationship with a twenty-five year old Russian pilot-captain Vadim Maslov, serving with the French. In 1916, after Maslov had been shot down and injured, Gretha visited him in the hospital. There she was intercepted by French intelligence agents who explained that, unless she agreed to spy on Germany, she wouldn’t be permitted to see her lover.Before the war, Mata Hari had performed before Crown Prince Wilhelm, the eldest son of Kaiser Wilhelm II, and now a senior general on the Western Front. The French believed Mata Hari could seduce him for military secrets, offering her a sizeable sum if she could come up with the goods. Captain Georges Ladoux was her contact and later became her principal accusers.
In 196, Mata Hari would feed odd bits of gossip, hoping for information in exchange.
On her return from Germany, she was arrested and interrogated, where she admitted working for the French Intelligence service. In January of `9`7, Major Kalle transmitted easily decodable radio messages to Berlin, detailing the assistance of a German spy, codenamed H-21. As planned, these were intercepted by the French who identified Mata Hari to be H-21.
Following her return to Paris, Mata Hari was arrested in her hotel room and thrown in a rat-infested cell at the Prison Saint-Lazarre, allowed only to see her elderly lawyer. During her trial she revealed that she had accepted money from a German to spy on France, but had only offered trivial information. “A courtesan, I admit it. A spy, never!” she defiantly exclaimed. But when she admitted that a German officer paid her for sexual favor, it was interpreted as espionage money.
The military tribunal deliberated for less than 45 minutes before returning a guilty verdict. Refusing a blindfold and blowing a kiss at the riflemen, she was executed by firing squad on Oct 15, 1917.
We may never know for sure whether she was guilty of the crimes for which she was convicted. But wouldn’t it be interesting to find out the true story behind Mata Hari? As a speculative fiction writer, I could think of many scenarios that could explain what happened to her. How about you?