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Ep 167: Chevalier d'Eon (Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée d'Eon de Beaumont, 1728–1810)

This week Alex is talking about the extraordinary life of a French knight. Who lived as both man and woman during different stages of their life. An autobiography was commissioned but never written, so we can only speculate on why.

Le Chevalier D-Eon Welcome Collection CC BY 4.0

From Tonnerre in Burgundy, Charles or Charlotte was a minor aristocrat, lawyer, writer, soldier, diplomat and "top secret" royal spy. Did he dress as a woman to secretly visit Empress Elizabeth of Russia. Or was she raised as a man so that her father could inherit?

They did spend time in St Petersburg, and fought in the Seven years way, and helped to draft the peace treaty for which they received the title Chevalier.

But, there was intrigue, and plotting, and while in London D'Eon published diplomatic correspondence and threatened to spill the beans. Making themselves centre of attention.

Chevalier Spewing Secrets British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

The cartoonists sprang into action depicting the Chevalier in pamphlets and publications. But another rumour was circulating, that he was in fact she. Their were wagers and a betting pool at the London Stock Exchange that the Chevalier refused to indulge, so eventually the bets lapsed. But not the cartoons:

Charicature of D'Eon dressed half and half British Cartoon Prints Collection - Library of Congress By British Cartoon Prints Collection - Library of CongressCatalog httplccn.loc.gov200668529

Listen to the pod to find out how they were pardoned, and what conditions were attached. 1775 onwards D'Eon is in London, dressing entirely as a woman.

D'Eon by Thomas Stewart 1792 National Portrait Gallery

Still wearing his Order of Saint Louis and the red, white and blue cockade showing his support for the revolution. By now, without a royal pension, they were making money by competing in fencing tournaments and exhibition matches.

Fencing match between Monsieur de Saint-George and Mademoiselle La chevalière d'Éon de Beaumont at Carlton House on 9 April 1787. Engraving by Victor Marie Picot, based on the original painting by Abbé Alexandre-Auguste Robineau.

Fighting as woman must have been an unusual sight, and therefore potentially lucrative,. But, as Alex says perhaps the gender roles were not as clear cut back then as we might think. Here's an image of a Macaroni as mentioned by Alex:

A Macaroni 1773 Mezzotint by Philip Dawe. Lewis Walpole Library

Angela Burdett-Coutts got a mention today - in the tour Alex was doing at the Abbey. But she also gave money to erect a memorial at St Pancras Old Church. They (the church) lost part of their churchyard to the railways. Angela wanted to remember the names of those whose graves were lost. And look who is second on the list....

The south face of the Burdett Coutts memorial, St Pancras Churchyard. Cropped image from photo by Stephencdickson CC BY-SA 4.0

I've looked up Plenipotentiary - just in case anyone* isn't familiar: a person, especially a diplomat, invested with the full power of independent action on behalf of their government, typically in a foreign country.

One more to visit this remarkable church, to pay our respects to a remarkable person.

As ever - you know where to find us, for episodes, info and more. Please like, subscribe and tell all your friends. And us!


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