Chevalier d'Eon

Chevalier d'Eon

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Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont (5 October 1728 Tonnerre
Tonnerre is a commune in the Yonne department in Burgundy in north-central France.-Twin town:* Nenagh, North Tipperary, Ireland-References:*...

 – 21 May 1810 London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

), usually known as the Chevalier d'Éon, was a French
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

A diplomat is a person appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with another state or international organization. The main functions of diplomats revolve around the representation and protection of the interests and nationals of the sending state, as well as the promotion of information and...

, spy
Espionage or spying involves an individual obtaining information that is considered secret or confidential without the permission of the holder of the information. Espionage is inherently clandestine, lest the legitimate holder of the information change plans or take other countermeasures once it...

, soldier and Freemason
Freemasonry is a fraternal organisation that arose from obscure origins in the late 16th to early 17th century. Freemasonry now exists in various forms all over the world, with a membership estimated at around six million, including approximately 150,000 under the jurisdictions of the Grand Lodge...

 whose first 49 years were spent as a man, and whose last 33 years were spent as a woman. Upon death, a council of physicians discovered that d'Éon's body was anatomically male.

Early life

D'Éon de Beaumont was born in Tonnerre
Tonnerre is a commune in the Yonne department in Burgundy in north-central France.-Twin town:* Nenagh, North Tipperary, Ireland-References:*...

, Yonne
Yonne is a French department named after the Yonne River. It is one of the four constituent departments of Burgundy in eastern France and its prefecture is Auxerre. Its official number is 89....

 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
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 in 1743, graduating civil law and canon law from Collège Mazarin
Collège des Quatre-Nations
The Collège des Quatre-Nations , also known as the Collège Mazarin after its founder, was one of the colleges of the historic University of Paris. It was founded through a bequest by the Cardinal 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
Secret du Roi
For a period of over twenty years, King Louis XV split his diplomacy into official and secret channels. The secret channels became collectively known as the King's Secret , established in 1745...

 which worked for King Louis XV
Louis XV of France
Louis XV was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and of Navarre from 1 September 1715 until his death. He succeeded his great-grandfather at the age of five, his first cousin Philippe II, Duke of Orléans, served as Regent of the kingdom until Louis's majority in 1723...

 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
Habsburg Monarchy
The Habsburg Monarchy covered the territories ruled by the junior Austrian branch of the House of Habsburg , and then by the successor House of Habsburg-Lorraine , between 1526 and 1867/1918. The Imperial capital was Vienna, except from 1583 to 1611, when it was moved to Prague...

. 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
Valentin Pikul
Valentin Savvich Pikul was a popular and prolific Soviet historical novelist of Ukrainian-Russian heritage. He lived and worked in Riga....

'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 dragoon
The word dragoon originally meant mounted infantry, who were trained in horse riding as well as infantry fighting skills. However, usage altered over time and during the 18th century, dragoons evolved into conventional light cavalry units and personnel...

s under the Marshal de Broglie
Victor-François, 2nd duc de Broglie
Victor François de Broglie, 2nd duc de Broglie was a French aristocrat and soldier and a marshal of France...

 and fought in the later stages of the Seven Years' War
Seven Years' War
The Seven Years' War was a global military war between 1756 and 1763, involving most of the great powers of the time and affecting Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines...

. 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. For doing this which 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
The word plenipotentiary has two meanings. As a noun, it refers to a person who has "full powers." In particular, the term commonly refers to a diplomat fully authorized to represent his government as a prerogative...

 minister in London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 - 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
British honours system
The British honours system is a means of rewarding individuals' personal bravery, achievement, or service to the United Kingdom and the British Overseas Territories...

 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
In general, a pension is an arrangement to provide people with an income when they are no longer earning a regular income from employment. Pensions should not be confused with severance pay; the former is paid in regular installments, while the latter is paid in one lump sum.The terms retirement...

 for his services (or as a pay-off for silence) and gave him a 12,000-livre
French livre
The livre was the currency of France until 1795. Several different livres existed, some concurrently. The livre was the name of both units of account and coins.-Etymology:...

 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.

Life as a woman

Despite d'Éon's wearing a dragoon's uniform all the time, there were rumors that he was actually a woman, and a betting pool was started on the London Stock Exchange
London Stock Exchange
The London Stock Exchange is a stock exchange located in the City of London within the United Kingdom. , the Exchange had a market capitalisation of US$3.7495 trillion, making it the fourth-largest stock exchange in the world by this measurement...

 about his true sex. D'Éon was invited to join, but declined, saying that an examination would be dishonouring, whatever the result. After a year without progress, the wager was abandoned. In 1774, after the death of Louis XV, d'Éon tried to negotiate a return from exile. The French government's side of the negotiations was handled by the writer Pierre de Beaumarchais
Pierre Beaumarchais
Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais was a French playwright, watchmaker, inventor, musician, diplomat, fugitive, spy, publisher, arms dealer, satirist, financier, and revolutionary ....

. The resulting twenty-page treaty permitted D'Éon to return to France and keep his ministerial pension, but required that d'Éon turn over the secret correspondence about le Secret du Roi.

D'Éon claimed to be physically not a man, but a woman, and demanded recognition by the government as such. King Louis XVI
Louis XVI of France
Louis XVI was a Bourbon monarch who ruled as King of France and Navarre until 1791, and then as King of the French from 1791 to 1792, before being executed in 1793....

 and his court complied, but demanded that d'Éon dress appropriately and wear women's clothing. D'Éon agreed, especially when the king granted him funds for a new wardrobe. In 1777 after fourteen months of negotiation, d'Éon returned to France, and was exiled to Tonnerre for six years.

When France began to help the rebels during the American War of Independence, d'Éon asked to join the French troops in America but did not due to his exile.

In 1779, d'Éon published the memoirs La Vie Militaire, politique, et privée de Mademoiselle d'Éon. They were ghostwritten
A ghostwriter is a professional writer who is paid to write books, articles, stories, reports, or other texts that are officially credited to another person. Celebrities, executives, and political leaders often hire ghostwriters to draft or edit autobiographies, magazine articles, or other written...

 by a friend named La Fortelle, and are probably embellished.

D'Éon returned to England in 1785. He lost his pension after the French Revolution
French Revolution
The French Revolution , sometimes distinguished as the 'Great French Revolution' , was a period of radical social and political upheaval in France and Europe. The absolute monarchy that had ruled France for centuries collapsed in three years...

 and had to sell his library. In 1792, d'Éon sent a letter to the French National Assembly
National Assembly (French Revolution)
During the French Revolution, the National Assembly , which existed from June 17 to July 9, 1789, was a transitional body between the Estates-General and the National Constituent Assembly.-Background:...

, offering to lead a division of women soldiers against the Habsburgs; the offer was rebuffed. D'Éon participated in fencing
Historical European martial arts
Historical European martial arts is a neologism describing martial arts of European origin, used particularly to refer to arts formerly practised, but having since died out or evolved into very different forms...

 tournaments until being seriously wounded in 1796. D'Éon's last years were spent with a widow, Mrs. Cole. 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 due to d'Éon becoming paralyzed following a fall. D'Éon's final four years were spent bedridden, eventually dieing in poverty in London May 21, 1810 at age 82.

Doctors who examined the body after death discovered that the Chevalier had been anatomically male. However, it is possible that d'Éon had Kallmann syndrome
Kallmann syndrome
Kallmann syndrome is a genetic disorder marked by anosmia and hypogonadism - the decreased functioning of the glands that produce sex hormones. Abnormalities in various genes may cause a defect in the hypothalamus, causing a deficiency of gonadotropin-releasing hormone ; this in turn causes...

, a hormonal disorder in which a person's body does not go through puberty. This is suggested by the fact that no known portraits of the Chevalier show any facial hair — even the portrait of taken from a death mask, which was cast at the time of death in 1810. It was highly unusual, however, for fashionable European gentlemen of the 18th century to sport any facial hair.


  • The term eonism was coined by Havelock Ellis
    Havelock Ellis
    Henry Havelock Ellis, known as Havelock Ellis , was a British physician and psychologist, writer, and social reformer who studied human sexuality. He was co-author of the first medical textbook in English on homosexuality in 1897, and also published works on a variety of sexual practices and...

     to describe similar cases of transgender
    Transgender is a general term applied to a variety of individuals, behaviors, and groups involving tendencies to vary from culturally conventional gender roles....

     behavior; it is rarely used now.
  • The Beaumont Society, a long standing society for transgendered people, is named after the Chevalier.
  • Le Chevallier D'eon - a series of manga
    Manga is the Japanese word for "comics" and consists of comics and print cartoons . In the West, the term "manga" has been appropriated to refer specifically to comics created in Japan, or by Japanese authors, in the Japanese language and conforming to the style developed in Japan in the late 19th...

     written by Tou Ubukata and illustrated by Kiriko Yumeji. It is published by Del Rey Manga
    Del Rey Manga
    was the manga-publishing imprint of Del Rey Books, a branch of Ballantine Books, which in turn is part of Random House, the publishing division of Bertelsmann. It was formed as part of a cross-publishing relationship with Japanese publisher Kodansha. Some of the Del Rey titles, such as Tsubasa...

  • Le Chevalier d'Eon
    Le Chevalier D'Eon
    is a 24-episode anime TV series produced by Production I.G based on an original story by Tow Ubukata. The anime originally aired in Japan on WOWOW from August 19, 2006 to February 2, 2007. The story has also been adapted into a manga series written by Tow Ubukata and illustrated by Kiriko Yumeji,...

    - 2006 anime series loosely based on the Chevalier d'Éon.
  • Eonnagata, a 2010 theatre piece by Canadian Robert Lepage, combining drama and dance, based on the life of Chevalier d'Éon.
  • Some of d'Éon's papers are at the Brotherton Library in Leeds, U.K.

Further reading

  • Philippe Luyt, D'Éon de Tonnerre. Iconographie et histoire, 2007
  • Musée municipal de Tonnerre, Catalogue bilingue de l'exposition - Le Chevalier d'Éon: secrets et lumières, 2007
  • Fernande Gontier, Homme ou femme? La confusion des sexes, Perrin, 2006. chapter 6
  • Paul Mourousy, Le Chevalier d'Éon: un travesti malgré lui, Le Rocher, 1998 ISBN 978-2268029177
  • D'Éon chevalier et chevalière, sa confession inédite par André Frank en collaboration avec Jean Chaumely, Paris 1953 Éditions Amiot-Dumont.
  • O. Homberg et F. Jousselin, Un Aventurier au XVIIIe siècle. Le Chevalier D'Éon (1728-1810); Paris, Plon-Nourrit et Cie, 1904, 312 p.
  • F. Gaillardet (ed.), Mémoires du chevalier d’Éon, Paris, 1836. 2 vols.
  • Pikul' Valentin Savvich. Par la plume et l'épée (translation of Пикуль Валентин Саввич, Пером и шпагой). Moscow.
  • M. de La Fortelle, La Vie militaire, politique et privée de Demoiselle Charles-Geneviève-Auguste-Andrée-Thimothée Éon ou d'Èon de Beaumont, [... etc.], Paris, Chez Lambert, 1779.
  • Gary Kates – Monsieur d'Éon Is a Woman: A Tale of Political Intrigue and Sexual Masquerade (2001) ISBN 0-8018-6731-2, Johns Hopkins University Press ISBN-13: 978-0801867316
  • Charles d'Éon De Beaumont - The Maiden of Tonnerre: The Vicissitudes of the Chevalier and the Chevalière d'Éon (2001) Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN-13: 978-0801866876
  • Michel de Decker - Le Chevalier d'Éon (1987/1998) France-Empire ISBN-13: 978-2704808533
  • Jean-Michel Royer - Le Double Je, ou les Mémoires du chevalier d'Éon(1986) Grasset & Fasquelle ISBN-13: 978-2246380016

External links