Hunter: The Great War
Mata Hari is a well known dancer and person of note in Parisian society. She is an “acquaintance” of Henri Baptiste and has displayed a few powers of her own.
Mata Hari was the stage name of Margaretha Geertruida “Grietje” Zelle (7 August 1876, Leeuwarden – 15 October 1917, Vincennes), a Dutch exotic dancer, courtesan, and accused spy, although possibly innocent.
Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was born in Leeuwarden, Friesland in the Netherlands, the eldest of four children of Adam Zelle (2 October 1840, Leeuwarden – 13 March 1910, Amsterdam) and first wife (m. Franeker, 4 June 1873) Antje van der Meulen (21 April 1842, Franeker – 9 May 1891, Leeuwarden).3[dead link] She had three brothers. Her father owned a hat store, made successful investments in the oil industry, and became affluent enough to give Margaretha a lavish early childhood.4 Thus, Margaretha attended only exclusive schools until age 13.5[dead link]
However, Margaretha’s father went bankrupt in 1889, her parents divorced soon thereafter, and Margaretha’s mother died in 1891.45 Her father remarried in Amsterdam on 9 February 1893 to Susanna Catharina ten Hoove (11 March 1844, Amsterdam – 1 December 1913, Amsterdam), with whom he had no children. The family had fallen apart and Margaretha moved to live with her godfather, Mr. Visser, in Sneek. In Leiden, she studied to be a kindergarten teacher, but when the headmaster began to flirt with her conspicuously, she was removed from the institution by her offended godfather.456 After only a few months, she fled to her uncle’s home in The Hague.6
At 18, Margaretha answered an advertisement in a Dutch newspaper placed by a man looking for a wife. Margaretha married Dutch Colonial Army Captain Rudolf MacLeod (1 March 1856, Heukelum – 9 January 1928, Velp) in Amsterdam on 11 July 1895. He was the son of Captain John Brienen MacLeod ( a descendant of the Gesto branch of the MacLeods of Skye ) and Dina Louisa Baroness Sweerts de Landas. This was significant as because of this marriage she moved into the Dutch upper class and her finances were now sorted out too. They moved to the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies (at the time it was a Dutch colony) and had two children, Norman-John MacLeod (30 January 1897, Amsterdam – 27 June 1899) and Louise Jeanne MacLeod (Malang, Java 2 May 1898 – Velp, The Netherlands 10 August 1919).
The marriage was an overall disappointment.7 MacLeod appears to have been an alcoholic who would take out his frustrations on his wife, who was twenty years younger, and whom he blamed for his lack of promotion. He also openly kept both a native wife and a concubine. The disenchanted Margaretha abandoned him temporarily, moving in with Van Rheedes, another Dutch officer. For months, she studied the Indonesian traditions intensively, joining a local dance company. In 1897, she revealed her artistic name: Mata Hari, Indonesian for “sun” (literally, “eye of the day”), via correspondence to her relatives in Holland.
At MacLeod’s urging, Margaretha returned to him although his aggressive demeanour hadn’t changed. She escaped her circumstances by studying the local culture.5 Their son, Norman, died in 1899 possibly of complications relating to the treatment of syphilis contracted from his parents, though the family claimed he was poisoned by an irate servant. Some sources5 maintain that one of Rudolf’s enemies may have poisoned a supper to kill both of their children. After moving back to the Netherlands, the couple separated in 1902 and divorced in 1907, with Rudolf forcibly retaining the custody of his daughter (who later died at the age of 21, also possibly from complications relating to syphilis).8 Rudolph MacLeod married in 1907 Elisabeth Martine Christian van der Mast and in 1917 Grietje Meijer. Both marriages produced a daughter. It is interesting to note that those daughters, however, did not die of syphilis; in fact, one is still probably alive and living in the Netherlands.
In 1903, Margaretha moved to Paris, where she performed as a circus horse rider, using the name Lady MacLeod, much to the disapproval of the Dutch MacLeods. Struggling to earn a living, she also posed as an artist’s model.
By 1905, she began to win fame as an exotic dancer. It was then that she adopted the stage name Mata Hari. She was a contemporary of dancers Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis, leaders in the early modern dance movement, which around the turn of the 20th century looked to Asia and Egypt for artistic inspiration. Critics would later write about this and other such movements within the context of orientalism. Gabriel Astruc became her personal booking agent.5
Promiscuous, flirtatious, and openly flaunting her body, she captivated her audiences and was an overnight success from the debut of her act at the Musée Guimet on 13 March 1905.9 She became the long-time mistress of the millionaire Lyon industrialist Emile Etienne Guimet, who had founded the Musée. She posed as a Java princess of priestly Hindu birth, pretending to have been immersed in the art of sacred Indian dance since childhood. She was photographed numerous times during this period, nude or nearly so. Some of these pictures were obtained by MacLeod and strengthened his case in keeping custody of their daughter.
She brought this carefree provocative style to the stage in her act, which garnered wide acclaim. The most celebrated segment of her act was her progressive shedding of clothing until she wore just a jeweled bra and some ornaments upon her arms and head.5 She was seldom seen without a bra as she was self-conscious about being small-breasted. Pictures taken during her performances suggest she may have worn a bodystocking for her shows, as navel and genitals are not seen even in poses where they should be visible on a nude person.10
Although the claims made by her about her origins were fictitious, the act was spectacularly successful because it elevated exotic dance to a more respectable status, and so broke new ground in a style of entertainment for which Paris was later to become world famous. Her style and her free-willed attitude made her a very popular woman, as did her eagerness to perform in exotic and revealing clothing. She posed for provocative photos and mingled in wealthy circles. At the time, as most Europeans were unfamiliar with the Dutch East Indies and thus thought of Mata Hari as exotic, it was assumed her claims were genuine.
By about 1910, myriad imitators had arisen. Critics began to opine that the success and dazzling features of the popular Mata Hari was due to cheap exhibitionism and lacked artistic merit. Although she continued to schedule important social events throughout Europe, she was held in disdain by serious cultural institutions as a dancer who did not know how to dance.5
Mata Hari was also a successful courtesan, though she was known more for her sensuality and eroticism rather than for striking classical beauty. She had relationships with high-ranking military officers, politicians, and others in influential positions in many countries, including Frederick William Victor Augustus Ernest, the German crown prince, who paid for her luxurious lifestyle.
Her relationships and liaisons with powerful men frequently took her across international borders. Prior to World War I, she was generally viewed as an artist and a free-spirited bohemian, but as war approached, she began to be seen by some as a wanton and promiscuous woman, and perhaps a dangerous seductress.