“I have never loved any but officers”
The myths around Mata Hari are multifarious and mostly wrong. Her scandalous life with men began at the age of 16, when she had sex with 51-year-old Wybrandus Haanstra, the headmaster of her school. She married Rudolf MacLeod, a syphilitic soldier 20 years her senior, on 11 July 1895. She was to later write, “Those who are not officers… do not interest me… I have never loved any but officers.” Standing 1.80 m (5 ft 11 in) tall, she was certainly in a position to look down on privates!
In 1898 she made her stage debut and her marriage began to deteriorate, as her husband accused her of infidelity. On 27 August 1902 she filed for divorce and three months later returned to Amsterdam. In 1903 she arrived in Paris where she became a prostitute, developed a series of “sacred dances”, and appeared almost naked in theatres. As her fame grew she adopted the name Mata Hari and made her debut under that name on 13 March 1905. On 26 April 1906 she was divorced.
When the First World War started she attempted to return to Paris but found herself stranded in Berlin without money. In the autumn of 1915 a German consul visited and offered her 20,000 francs to become a spy and gave her the codename H21. She took the money but had no intention of spying for Germany. She returned to Paris but, unbeknown to her, her movements were monitored by British counter intelligence and French police. They discovered that she was promiscuous and liked the finer things in life but uncovered no evidence of espionage.
Mata Hari met Georges Ladoux, head of the French secret service, who wanted to recruit her to spy for France but she was more interested in earning money than learning secrets. In December 1916 in Spain she was asked to spy for the Russians. On 13 February 1917 Mata Hari was arrested as she breakfasted in Room 131 of the Elysee Palace Hotel. She was sent to the filthy, rat- and flea-infested Saint-Lazare prison in Paris as prisoner 72144625.
France, Holland, Spain, England
Mata Hari’s trial began at 1pm on 24 July 1917 at the Palace of Justice. She was accused of causing the deaths of 50,000 French soldiers. On 25 July she was found guilty and sentenced to death and her property sold to offset the cost of the trial. At 6.15am on 15 October 1917 Mata Had was executed at Vincennes. She refused to be tied to a stake as 12 soldiers took aim and fired before Sergeant-Major Petoy administered the coup de grace. Four days later Georges Ladoux, the man who had done so much to bring about her downfall, was arrested as a German spy.