Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chevalier d'Éon

Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont (5 October 1728 Tonnerre – 21 May 1810 London), usually known as the Chevalier d'Éon, was a French diplomat, spy, soldier and Freemason whose first 49 years were spent as a man, and whose last 33 years were spent as a woman.

Early life
D'Éon de Beaumont was born in Tonnerre, Yonne to Louis d'Éon de Beaumont, an attorney and Director of the king's dominions, and Françoise de Charanton, daughter of a Commissioner General to the armies of the Wars of Spain and Italy. Most of what is known about d'Éon's early life comes from a partly ghost-written autobiography, The Interests of the Chevalier d'Éon de Beaumont.

D'Éon later claimed to have been born female, but to have been raised as a boy because Louis d'Éon de Beaumont could only inherit from his in-laws if he had a son. The title chevalier, 'Knight', refers to the honorary title 'chevalier des ordres du Roi', conferred by the King of France.

D'Éon excelled in school, moving from Tonnerre to Paris in 1743, graduating civil law and canon law from Collège Mazarin, in 1749 at age 21. D'Éon served as a secretary to the administrator of the fiscal department and was a royal censor.

Life as a spy
In 1756 d'Éon joined the secret network of spies called Le Secret du Roi which worked for King Louis XV personally, without the knowledge of the government, and sometimes against official policies and treaties. Others in this group include Prince de Conti, the Marechal de Noailles, Beaumarchais, and M. de Tercier. The monarch sent d'Éon on a secret mission to Russia in order to meet Empress Elizabeth and intrigue with the pro-French faction against the Habsburg monarchy. Later tales claim that d'Éon disguised himself as a lady Lia de Beaumont to do so, and even became a maid of honour to the Empress. D'Éon's career in Russia is the subject of one of Valentin Pikul's novels, Le chevalier d'Éon et la guerre de Sept ans. D'Éon was secretary to the embassy in St. Petersburg from 1758 to 1760.

In 1761, d'Éon returned to France. The next year d'Éon became a captain of dragoons under the Marshal de Broglie and fought in the later stages of the Seven Years' War. D'Éon was wounded. In 1762 d'Éon was sent to London to draft the peace treaty which was signed in Paris 10 February 1763. As a result of this, d'Éon received the Order of Saint-Louis.

In 1763, after his successful negotiation with the British government as secretary of the Duke of Nivernais with the title special ambassador, d'Éon became plenipotentiary minister in London - essentially an interim ambassador - and used this position also to spy for the king. D'Éon collected information for a potential invasion - an unfortunate and clumsy initiative of Louis XV, of which Louis's ministers were unaware. D'Éon formed connections with English nobility by sending them the produce of his vineyard and abundantly enjoyed the splendour of this interim embassy.

Upon the arrival of the new ambassador, the Count of Guerchy, d'Éon was reduced to his former rank as secretary and humiliated by the count. D'Éon complained, and eventually decided to disobey orders to return to France. In his letter to the king, d'Éon claimed that the new ambassador had tried to drug him. In an effort to save his station in London, d'Éon published most of the secret diplomatic correspondence about his recall under the title Lettres, mémoires, et négociations in 1764, disavowing Guerchy and calling him unfit for his job. This breach of diplomatic secret was scandalous to the point of being unheard of, but d'Éon had not yet published everything (he kept the King's secret invasion documents and those relative to the Secret du Roi as "insurance"), and the French government became very cautious in its dealings with d'Éon, even when d'Éon sued Guerchy for attempted murder. With the invasion documents in hand, d'Éon held the king in check.

In 1766, Louis XV granted him a pension for his services (or as a pay-off for silence) and gave him a 12,000-livre annuity. D'Éon continued to work as a spy, but lived in political exile in London. His possession of the king's secret letters protected him against further actions, but d'Éon could not return to France.

He lost his pension after the French Revolution and had to sell his library. In 1804 d'Éon was imprisoned for debt but released in 1805, upon which a contract was signed for an autobiography. The book was never published, because d'Éon became paralyzed following a fall. D'Éon's final four years were spent bedridden, and on May 21, 1810 d'Éon died in poverty in London at the age of 82.

Doctors who examined the body after death discovered that the Chevalier was anatomically male.

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