Born Margaretha Geertruida “Margreet” Zelle, this Dutch born exotic dancer and courtesan would be accused of being a double spy during WWI, convicted of treason, and executed by firing squad.
Margreet was born into and ordinary family in the Netherlands and would have had a pretty ordinary life, however, something inside Margreet probably longed for a life of danger and excitement. When a Dutch Colonial Army Captain Rudolf MacLeod whom was living in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) put an ad in the paper that he was looking for a wife, Margreet answered. After the marriage took place they moved to the island of Java.
Even though Margreet’s marriage was a disaster, as her husband was an abusive alcoholic, her time on this Island and her familiarity with Javanese culture, and her study of Indonesian traditional dance, gave her the means to weave a fantasy and give herself an exotic background for who she would become. Eventually, Margreet would escape her violent husband, but life of a divorced woman and single mother was hard in those days. After her son died, and when her ex husband kept custody of her daughter, Margreet started work as circus performer on horses, and also posing as a nude art model.
In 1905, Margreet started to gain fame as an oriental exotic dancer. She had already been using the stage name Mata Hari, which meant Eye of the Dawn in Javanese, and she told every one she met that she was a Javanese Princess from the Dutch West Indies. As most people did not know much about the island of Java, its culture, and its people, this added to her exoticism and allure.
Mata Hari was only an exotic dancer for a rather short time, even though she became widely recognized. She was older when she began this career, so she quickly moved on to courtesan (an expensive prostitute). This is when she began having sexual affairs with several different high ranking military men. After her arrest for being a double agent, even her own accounts on how she began spying for the French was probably just as colorful as those of her ethnic origins. She claimed that her lover, a Russian pilot in the French Air Force was wounded, and the only way she could see him was to agree to spy on the Germans for the French. It’s probably more likely that since the Dutch were neutral in the war, she got around and slept with military soldiers on both sides in order to cash in and exploit the situation as much as possible. She probably had no true loyalty to either side and started gossiping and running her mouth about one as she slept with the other.
No one knows for sure if Mata Hari was really a double spy or just a foolish harlot. What is known is that she was revealed as such by the French and she must have made someone angry. Some believe that the French used her as a scapegoat to blame for so many lost lived during the war. Perhaps she just slept with the wrong men who wanted to silence her. Mata Hari told so many tales during her life that it was unclear if she was even telling the whole truth about spying, as she was simply ignorant enough to tell lies just make herself seem more interesting or exciting. Unfortunately this did not do her any favors. She was convicted of treason and was executed by a French firing squad by twelve French officer on 15 October 1917.
Mata Hari had two children with her husband Rudolf John MacLeod. A son, Adam Zelle, who died of illness as a child… and a daughter, Antje, who died in her 20s of an illness.
Mata Hari has be portrayed in countless films. The newest is a Russian TV series titled “Mata Hari.” This one is now showing on Amazon Prime Video.