Margaretha Geertruida (Griet) Zelle, the one and only MATA HARI 1876-1917
Margaretha Geertruida (Griet) Zelle, the one and only MATA HARI


Mata Hari 1876-1917

Mata Hari was a dancer and a lady who had many lovers from the upper crust.

And if that is not already cool enough, this will be:

Allegedly, Mata Hari was a spy. Actually, she got shot for being a double agent.


Still so-so on Mata Hari?

Garbo decided to portray her in the 1931 MGM film  Mata Hari.

Now I got your attention.

What's With the Name?

Matahari is the Indonesian word for sun.


Mata Hari's Life

Mata Hari was born Margaretha Geertruida Zelle on August 7, 1876. And it all started at Leeuwarden, Friesland, the Netherlands.

Here is Leeuwarden on a map:

Map Location of Leeuwarden, Netherlands - Historical Map of Europe in 1911
Map Location of Leeuwarden, Netherlands - Map of Europe in 1911
Click map to enlarge


Mata Hari's background was the middle-class. Her father, Adam Zelle, made a good living as a milliner (he made hats.) That is until his fortune went south.

Her mother was Antje van der Meulen and of Javanese descent. Margaretha was their only daughter but there was at least one other sibling.


Mata Hari — The History Background

When Mata Hari was born, fellow Dutch countryman Vincent van Gogh was 23 years old with still both ears intact.

At the time, the king of her country was William III and Holland's capital The Hague was full of colonial soldiers on leave from the Dutch East Indies, one of the overseas territories of the Netherlands until December 1949, now Indonesia.

See also Governments of the Netherlands.

Holland and The Netherlands are often used synonymously.


Mata Hari — The Early Years

In January 1889, Adam Zelle went bankrupt.

On September 4, 1890, Adam and Antje separated.

In May 1891, Margaretha's mother died.

The siblings were split up and 15-year old Margaretha was given to relatives.

In November 1892, Margaretha went to attend a college for teachers in Leiden, Netherlands. She had to leave because of her affair with the headmaster.

Margaretha moved to The Hague to live with an uncle.

In March 1895, Margaretha answered a personal ad in which an "Officer recently returned from the Indies seeks affectionate young woman for marriage". The officer in question was Rudolph MacLeod, aka John MacLeod, colonel in the Dutch Army, who was deployed in the Dutch East Indies and on leave to visit home. His family was Scottish, as the name suggests, and had settled in Holland.

On July 11, 1895, Margaretha married Rudolph MacLeod. He was 19 years her senior. The two settled in Amsterdam.

On January 30, 1897, Margaretha gave birth to her first child, son Norman John.

In May 1897, the family moved with Rudolph, who had his next assignment in Indonesia (Java and Sumatra)

The MacLeod's lived abroad from 1897-1902.

Mata Hari
Mata Hari Before 1900
Source unknown



Mata Hari — The Rudolph Disaster

Apparently, the man was able to combine heavy drinking, gambling, and swearing with the occasional fistfight. Additional points for beating the wife, being a miser, and bringing home syphilis from the local brothel.

"Sometimes he jumps out at me with red, bloodshot eyes
and spits on me... I wanted to be bitten by a snake tonight
so I would not have to go back to him."

Margaretha MacLeod


Now Rudolph's version, who was fed up with his wife's adultery . . .

"If I could deliver myself of this bitch I would be happy.
Sometimes I cannot bear to have this creature around me.
But what can I do to get rid of her?"

Rudolph MacLeod


On May 2, 1898, and while still on Java, Margaretha gave birth to her second child, daughter Jeanne-Louise.

On June 25, 1899, both children were poisoned, maybe by a lover of the children's nurse, maybe not. Maybe not even poisoned at all. Norman died, Jeanne-Louise survived. Another theory is that Margaretha had contracted syphilis from her husband and that she had passed it on to the baby.

In 1900, Rudolph quit the army.

In 1902, and back in Europe, Rudolph and Margaretha separated. Daughter Jeanne-Louise went with father Rudolph because he just took her.

In 1903, 26-year-old Margaretha went to Paris. But without a job she couldn't hang on. Back to the Netherlands, taking a deep breath, and back to Paris, this time to stick.


Mata Hari — Paris and Fame

Lady MacLeod, the Javanese princess, was Margaretha's stage name and character. She appeared in the drawing room of Madame Kiréesky and others, and finally decided to go by Mata Hari.

Her big break came on May 13, 1905, at Guimet's theater, where she performed completely, yet tastefully, in the nudes. Erotic dancing was a niche market, and that evening a great success for Margaretha.

Together with other artists, they slapped a show together, gave it a general Hindu dance theme, and Mata Hari became a star.

Mata Hari notwithstanding the occasional Greek stage decoration
Mata Hari notwithstanding the occasional Greek stage decor
Mata Hari, Paris, Museum Guimet/WIKI

The show got booked, the ensemble went on tour, and audiences in Paris, Brussels, London, Madrid, Berlin, the Hague, Vienna, Cairo and other major cities were fascinated.

Mata Hari's imagination grew proportional to the speed with which her fame increased.

"I was born in Java, in the midst of tropical vegetation, and,
since my earliest childhood, priests initiated me into the deep significance of these dances which form a real religion."

Mata Hari


And why not. The more exotic the better. The press ran with it, Mata Hari's background changed and developed, people loved it, no questions asked because, let's face it, nobody really watched her show for the articles.

Less is More: Mata Hari Featuring Jewelry, 1906
Source unknown

The legal separation from MacLeod, by the way, came in 1906. Mata Hari was now officially divorced.


Mata Hari Postcard, Paris 1906
Mata Hari Postcard, Paris 1906
Source unknown


Mata Hari — The Spy Years

All went downhill for Mata Hari when in 1914 WWI broke out.

The events might have happened like this:

She was performing in Germany at the time and the Germans took the opportunity to confiscate her fortune and sent her off with nothing. Mata Hari went back to Amsterdam and had a chat with the German consul there, Consul Krämer.

It was there when they settled on a bargain, a bargain that actually might or might not have been offered or agreed upon: Her stuff back in return for some spying activity.

Either this happened or she was just anywhere in Europe and simply needed money. She then was offered a good sum in exchange for information.

Let's say something like this actually happened. Then it would be also reasonable to believe that the French authorities approached Mata Hari and asked her to counter-spy for the Allies.

At this point, any of the following scenarios could haven been true. Mata Hari could have been

a) loyal to the German cause (spy)

b) loyal to the Allies (spy)

c) pretended to be loyal to the Allies, but liked the Germans best (double agent)

d) pretended to be loyal to the German cause, when in fact she double crossed them and was loyal to the Allies all along (double agent)

e) used by the Germans who let her believe she worked for the French, when in fact she played right into German hands (framed spy)

f) convinced that she was spying for the Germans but her memos ended up on French desks (framed spy)

g) shifting loyalty from any option to any other option above (flexible spy)

h) approached and asked to spy for whatever country, but was not willing or able to deliver, hence didn't have to choose sides (no spy at all, just a dancer)

i) approached and asked to spy and she agreed in order to save her hide. Whoever country asked her at any one given moment, she would answer in a fashion that would permit her to live to dance another day. (dancer with a spy-store shopping bag in her hand that was given to her)


Mata Hari might or might not have been Agent H 21. Today, the French still insist that she was.

Mata Hari's Passport
Mata Hari's Passport
Ministère de la Défense

In any event...

Somehow Mata Hari wiggled her way through the first three years of World War One. In January 1917 she returned to Paris.

On February 13, 1917, the French Secret Service arrested her in Paris at the Hotel Elysee Palace. She was accused of spying for the enemy, and imprisoned at Saint-Lazarre, a prison for women.

Brought before a military court on July 24 and 25, 1917, in Paris, the verdict was death by firing squad.

On August 18, 1917, the New York Times reports:


Mata Hari was executed on October 15, 1917, at the firing range of Vincennes, near Paris, France.

Check this event in the Timeline of World War One.

Nobody came to claim her body, so it was donated for medical research.


Mata Hari Close-Up
Mata Hari Close-Up
Harlinque/H. Roger-Viollet


Did She or Didn't She?

So, was Mata Hari a spy or not? And if yes, for whom?

Good question. Many of her lovers were military officers and she had easy access to high-society. She was certainly attractive to recruiters.

It seems at this point, however, that there is no conclusive evidence to either prove or disprove the fact that Mata Hari was a spy, let alone a double agent.

But if she didn't leave incriminating evidence behind, wouldn't that make her the perfect spy?

Yes. Definitely maybe.


Mata Hari
Mata Hari


The British and the French Archives Today

Here is a BBC article about Mata Hari's MI5 encounters.

If you are ready to dig into the archives of the French secret service, they will actually let you. At least the dossier that they got prepared for tourists. Look for File GR/9JJ/968 for all things Mata Hari.

By the way, what's today's official French comment regarding Mata Hari? Was she or wasn't she?

If she was, the insignificance of the information she was able to deliver now seems proven. The record suggests that Mata Hari was somewhat mundane, financially struggling, very naive about the realities of espionage, trapped by a subtle interplay between law against French and German espionage and overwhelmed by the sequence of events which lead to the firing squad.

The French


But then again, wouldn't a really good spy have you believe just that?


Mata Hari 1910
Mata Hari 1910



And finally, what's Leeuwarden's (Mata Hari's hometown's) comment?

Evert Kramer, custodian of a large collection of Mata Hari memorabilia at the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden, in an article by John Lichfield, NZ Herald:

She was clearly guilty. She did spy for the Germans, that is certain. She also made several offers to spy for the French.

Until all the Mata Hari papers are declassified by the French government in 2017, we cannot know the full truth.

Even then, I doubt whether the full story will be revealed.




More History

Previous Page

Mary Tudor

Back to

First Page

Back to
People in History
Main Page


Next Page

Matilda Joslyn Gage


People in History A - Z


People in History by Group

Explorers, Scientists & Inventors

Musicians, Painters & Artists

Poets, Writers & Philosophers

Native Americans & The Wild West

First Ladies





Royal Families

Tribes & Peoples


King John of England 1167-1216


Tsar Ivan IV the Terrible 1530 - 1584


Adolf Hitler 1889 - 1945



Famous Speeches in History
Browse the speech archive:

Speeches by Topic A-Z

Speeches by Speaker A-Z

Speeches in Chronological Order

Speeches Given by Women

Speeches Given by African-Americans

Speeches Given by U.S. Presidents

Wars, Battles & Revolutions in History


Online History Dictionary A - Z

Online History Dictionary A - Z


Greco-Persian Wars
Also called the Persian Wars, the Greco-Persian Wars were fought for almost half a century from 492 to 449 BC. Greece won against enormous odds. Here is more:

Battle of Marathon
Battle of Thermopylae
Battle of Salamis
Battle of Plataea



Mexican Revolution

The Mexican Revolution

Check out the
Timelines of the Mexican Revolution

Mexico's transition from dictatorship to constitutional republic translated into ten messy years of skirmishing in Mexican history.

More from the Mexican Revolution:

Pancho Villa

Emiliano Zapata

Francisco I. Madero

Causes of the Mexican Revolution

Women in the Mexican Revolution

Summary of the Mexican Revolution



Mata Hari in 1907
Mata Hari in 1907
Source unknown


Mata Hari Postcard, Paris 1906
Mata Hari Postcard, Paris 1906
Source unknown


Mata Hari 1906
Mata Hari 1906
Source unknown



The Divine Almanac
Who all roamed the heavens in olden times? The Who's Who of ancient gods.

Check out the Divine Almanac



The Ancient Greeks in a Nutshell



James Bond - Pussy Galore - Goldfinger

James Bond: Who are you?

Pussy Galore: My name is Pussy Galore.

James Bond: I must be dreaming.

Goldfinger, 1964



































































































































































French Revolution - Its Causes, Its Victims, Its Effects


People in History

People in History A

People in History B

People in History Ca - Char

People in History Chas - Cz

People in History D

People in History E

People in History F

People in History G

People in History H

People in History I

People in History J - K

People in History L

People in History M

People in History N - O

People in History P - Q

People in History R

People in History S

People in History T

People in History U - Z

Explorers, Scientists & Inventors

Musicians, Painters & Artists

Poets, Writers & Philosophers

Native Americans & The Wild West

First Ladies





Royal Families

Tribes & Peoples


Wars, Battles & Revolutions

Wars & Revolutions A

Wars & Revolutions B - E

Wars & Revolutions F - G

Wars & Revolutions H - J

Wars & Revolutions K - O

Wars & Revolutions P - R

Wars & Revolutions S - Z

Wars & Revolutions Chronological

Battles A - C

Battles D - G

Battles H - L

Battles M - P

Battles Q - Z

Battles Ancient Times - 1499

Battles 1500 - 1699

Battles 1700 - 1799

Battles 1800 - 1899

Battles 1900 - Today


History Dictionary A - F

History Dictionary G - Z

Source Text - By Title

Source Text - By Author

Historic Documents A - K

Historic Documents L - Z

Historic Documents Chronological

Music in History

History Movies



Kids & History


About Us

Write Me



Sitemap 01   Sitemap 02   Sitemap 03    Sitemap 04   Sitemap 05   Sitemap 06  
Sitemap 07   Sitemap 08   Sitemap 09    Sitemap 10   Sitemap 11   Sitemap 12
Sitemap 13   Sitemap 14   Sitemap 15    Sitemap 16   Sitemap 17   Sitemap 18
Sitemap 19   Sitemap 20   Sitemap 21    Sitemap 22   Sitemap 23   Sitemap 24

Site Search













© 2016 Emerson Kent