Historical Profiles - Madame D’Éon de Beaumont
Born Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont, the Chevalier d’Eon was born on October 5th, 1728. D’Eon had an illustrious career as a diplomat, spy, and censor under Louis XV’s reign.
After an ambassador, the Court of Guerchy, demoted her in rank and attempted to drug her in 1763, d’Éon published most of the secret diplomatic correspondence about her 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 - she 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 her a pension for her services (or as a pay-off for silence) and gave her a 12,000-livre annuity. D’Éon continued to work as a spy, but lived in political exile in London. Her possession of the king’s secret letters protected her against further actions, but d’Éon could not return to France.
D’Éon claimed to be physically not a man, but a woman, and demanded recognition by the government as such. King Louis XVI and his court complied, but demanded that d’Éon dress appropriately and wear women’s clothing.
D’Éon participated in fencing tournaments until she was seriously wounded in 1796. Her last years were spent with a widow, Mrs. Cole.