Perplexing could be the word. The Chevalier d’Eon could be said to have had a perplexing career. In France his name was a household word: of both masculine and feminine gender. Voltaire once famously described the Chevalier as “A nice problem for history.” …
Diplomat, writer, spy, and Freemason, a member of the elite Dragoons and one of the best swordsmen France, whose true gender was a source of speculation and provoked public bets in the late 18th century. Generally it was believed that d’Eon was born female, but he had started to dress as a man in his childhood, and changed back from “a bad boy into a good girl” when his secret was revealed decades later. After his death it turned out that he was a man who had dressed as a woman. D’Eon is often called the patron saint of transvestites.
On May 21, 1810 , an urgent call went out for a physician from 26 New Milman street in London. Medemoiselle Genevieve d’Eon, the aged French heroine was dying. There was a time when the news would have produced a sensation, for her bizarre secret had once stirred all England and the Continent to debates and unseemly jests. Now, more than thirty years had elapsed since the formal court announcement that she was no man, but a woman, had ended her turbulent, troubled career as soldier, diplomat, troublemaker and spy. At eighty-one, France’s “second Joan of Arc” had outlived both notoriety and fame.
But there was to be one final sensation after all. When her body was being prepared for burial, it was discovered that Charlotte Génevieve Louisa Augusta Andrée Timothée Marie d’Eon de Beaumont, Chevaliere of the Royal and Militaery Order of Saint Louis, was no woman, but a man. So occurred one of history’s more startled double takes, inspired by a fiercely proud little man, now all but forgotten, who once held the uneasy peace of Europe in his hand. He helped reconcile Russia and France during that spirited period of diplomatic wife swapping known as the Reversal of Alliances; he was probably instrumental in prolonging the Seven Years War ald altering the terms of its settlement; he was involved, long before his sex became a matter of International speculation, in an extraordinary diplomatic scandal that threatened to expose Louis XV’s plot to invade England; a plot Louis had kept secret even from his own foreign minister.
Many details of his story are hidden in contradictions, but he general outline can be established. He had qualities the French court admired. So handsome that he drove the ladies to distraction, but he was somehow not distracted by them in return. A slight effeminacy in his manner was offset by the reputation he quickly established as one of the best swordsmen in all France. He had a good, if not great, family name, a law degree, a familiarity with the classics, a ready wit and a flaming sense of honor. He became known as a brilliant conversationalist and essayist, which helped him eventually win the attention of Prince de Conti, who recommended him to the king.
Louis XV was just beginning to involve himself in an elaborate tangle known as “Le Secret de Roi” through which he intended to increase his influence in French foreign affairs whether his strong willed mistress, Madame de Pompadour, liked it or not. Conti would direct “Le Secret” ; its agents would spy on Louis’s own diplomats and undertake projects that might on occasion run counter to his government’s official policy. For work requiring such delicacy and dedication, De Conti told the king, D’Eon would be the ideal choice….
Louis XV’s plan to expel all homosexuals collapsed because his nephew and successor , Phillipe, Duke of Orleans, lived a transvestite and homosexual life. The most notorious transvestite of his time, Chevalier D’eon de Beaumont, was a good friend of the playwright Beaumarchais (1732-99 ). In addition, the court composer Jean-Baptiste Lilly (1632-87 ) who collaborated with Moliere on several court entertainments, was a member of the Sacred Fraternity of Glorious Pederasts… And rthe playwright Denis Diderot explored the details of forced celibacy and female sexual variance in his novel “La Religieuse” ( 1760 ). ” ( Paul Kuritz )
…E’on was swiftly initiated into “Le Secret” and whisked off to Russia on his first assignment. The mission was a success; Empress Elisabeth abandoned a British agreement and in 1756, allied herself with France and Austria in the Seven Years War. By now D’eon was a favorite in Elizabeth’s court and at Louis’s. After three successful years in the French embassy in St. Petersburg, was granted a life pension, was promoted to captain of the dragoons, and went on active duty receiving a citation for courage.
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