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29 April 2022

Charlotte d'Eon de Beaumont (1728 - 1810) part I: Le Secret du Roi - Russia and then England

Part I: Le Secret du Roi - Russia and then England. 

Part II: Return to France, Return to England

Part III: Addendum A - Legacy, Bibliography

Part III: Addendum B - Untruths, Comments, What modern label would fit?


To write about Charlotte d’Eon is intrinsically difficult in that so many biographies have been written, and so many untruths have been added, some of them by d’Eon herself.

I am mainly following Gary Kates’ Monsieur d’Eon is a Woman: A Tale of Intrigue and Sexual Masquerade, 1995. as the most reliable biographer of D’Eon. He and Peter Farrer in his paper presented at Gendys 2002 were the first biographers to have used the documents stored at the Brotherton Library in Leeds. Kates looked for but failed to find any evidence that D’Eon dressed as female at all before 1777. The major challenge to this was the paper read by Peter Farrer at the Gendys Conference in 2002. Nobody seems to have commented on Farrer’s adjustments. I have also included some of points from James Lander’s “A tale of Two Hoaxes in Britain and France in 1775”, 2006. Lander uses some of the evidence cited by Farrer but without mentioning him in either text or footnotes.

There is a large Bibliography in Part III: Addendum A.

(For context I have added other trans events and marked them by brackets like this. This is a longer list than the context persons mentioned by Kates.)

>> details missed by Gary Kates but highlighted by Peter Farrer

------------------

Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont was born and raised in Tonnerre, Burgundy, about 160 km south east of Paris. His parents, both minor nobility were Louis d'Éon de Beaumont, an attorney and director of the king's dominions, later mayor of Tonnerre and sub-delegate of the intendant of the généralité of Paris, and Françoise de Charanton, daughter of a Commissioner General to the army. Charles d'Eon graduated in civil and canon law in 1749 from Collège Mazarin in Paris, and worked for the government in the fiscal department and published a well-received book on government finance. Thus he was appointed one of the royal censors of books. In 1756 he joined Le Secret du Roi, a secret service that reported to the king, pursuing aims that sometimes were at odds with official French policy,

1756-1763 was the Seven Years’ War, mainly between Britain and France. D’Eon was sent as an assistant to the envoy to the court of Yelizaveta Petrovna Romanova in St Petersburg to renew the alliance between France and Russia. D’Eon returned from Russia in 1761, and became a captain of Dragoons reporting to the same man who commanded him in Le Secret. He fought in the later stages of the Seven Years’ War, at the Battle of Villinghausen in July 1761, a British and allies victory, and was wounded at the action at Ultrop. French colonies in North America were lost to Britain including Quebec.

In 1762 d’Eon was sent to London as assistant to the France’s ambassador, to participate in drafting the peace treaty that ended the Seven Years' War. At the same time his task for Le Secret du Roi was to assemble information for a future French invasion. For this he was received into the Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis which made him a Chevalier. He acted as French Ambassador with the rank of Plenipotentiary July-October 1763 after his ambassador returned to Paris and he waited for the new official Ambassador to arrive. This involved entertaining from his own purse. He expected to be reimbursed but was not. He was also demoted to Secretary when the new Ambassador, Claude-Louis-François Régnier, Comte de Guerchy, finally arrived. A row developed between d’Eon and de Guerchy. D’Eon was ordered back to France but refused. The British government declined a French request to extradite d'Éon. In March 1764 d’Eon published Lettres, mémoires, et négociations particuliéres in 1764 which contained the ambassadorial correspondence – a severe breach of protocol. He claimed in a letter to Louis XV that de Guerchy, had tried to have him drugged. D’Eon held back the secret invasion documents. The British public sided with d’Eon and jeered de Guerchy in public.

Basically d’Eon had three demands: safe passage and royal protection in France; sufficient remuneration to cover his debts and provide future financial independence; and the recognition of his titles, especially that of Plenipotentiary Minister, which would signal acknowledgement of his essential innocence of past accusations. For a decade the ageing Louis XV refused to accept these proposals as such.

>> Quietly d’Eon had been living at an alternate address, In his journal he wrote: "Given to the widow Madame Turner with whom I lived in 1764 and 1765 under the name of Madame Duval in Lambeth, Westminster and who is badly off since the death of her husband, £5-5-0."

Du Guerchy was recalled to France, and in July 1766 Louis XV, who continued to use d’Eon as a secret agent, instituted an annual pension (paid intermittently) of 12,000 livres. But he refused a demand for over 100,000 livres to clear d'Éon's extensive debts.

D’Eon became a Freemason in 1768, being admitted to the French Lodge, No. 376, on the Roll of the Grand Lodge of England, known as La loge de l'Immortalit, at the Crown and Anchor in the Strand, London.

Despite the fact that d’Eon wore his dragoon uniform every day, by 1770 a rumour developed, at first in Paris that he was a woman.  Horace Walpole was one of the first in London to receive the gossip. The rumours were mostly of the form that another person says so. After a couple of months London newspapers were reporting as fact that d’Eon was female. By the first Thursday in March 1771 significant sums were being wagered on his sex in the City. At a time when a labourer might make 20 pence a day or £20 a year, bets for as much £500 were laid, and often with life insurance policies as collateral. On Saturday 23 March d’Eon himself went to the taverns around the stock exchange and found the banker who had arranged the first bet. D’Eon challenged him to a duel, and also anyone who had laid such a bet. None accepted. D’Eon had to consider his safety, as no bets would be paid without confirmation, thugs might attack and strip him.

(John de Verdion, an immigrant from Leipzig where he was annoyed by rumours that he had previously been a woman, arrived in London in 1770. He taught German to William Cavendish-Bentinck, 3rd Duke of Portland and later Prime Minister, and to Edward Gibbon, the historian. He taught English to the Prussian ambassador. Verdion was well known at book auctions, and on occasions would buy an entire coach load of books.)

D'Éon then wrote a book on public administration, Les loisirs du Chevalier d'Éon, which was published in thirteen volumes in Amsterdam in 1774.

>> D’Eon’s accounts for 1773-5 include payments to a Mrs Lautem, landlady and friend, for purchases of female items, in particular stays (the precursor of corsets).

When Louis XVI came to the throne in 1774, the dramatist Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (the author of Le Barbier de Séville who would later write Le Mariage de Figaro) was sent to negotiate. Beaumarchais was also investigating for the French government Britain’s increasing difficulties with some of its American colonies.

D’Eon’s position was that he must be granted a pension, his debts paid off, and a farewell audience with the English King to confirm his Plenipotentiary status. The first two were now negotiable. Beaumarchais’ ploy was to obtain official statements that d’Eon was a woman, and even better to present her in public in female attire - in that a woman could not possibly be a Plenipotentiary. However d’Eon never varied in public from his Dragoon uniform.

>> In November 1775 d’Eon took delivery of various silk and lace items.

Also in that November, d’Eon and Beaumarchais had finally come to an agreement and signed a ‘Transaction’. The sums offered were acceptable to d’Eon and he accepted that a woman could not be Plenipotentiary.

Shortly afterwards d’Eon found out that Beaumarchais and his assistant Charles Morande had placed huge bets that d’Eon was a woman. He responded by cutting off negotiations with them. In August he challenged Morande to a duel, but Morande refused to fight a woman. That Beaumarchais was spreading rumours in Paris that he and d’Eon were soon to wed, did not help either.

The London press ran various stories assuming that d’Eon was really female, having been born so, and sent to Russia as a woman. These were supposedly based on secret correspondence with Louis XV. They were probably using stories supplied by Beaumarchais and Morande. The image of d’Eon changed from being an exile from despotic France to that of being a French spy.

By summer 1777, some gamblers had had money tied up in bets about d’Eon’s sex for as much as six years, and began filing suits demanding payment. On 2 July such a case was heard by Chief Justice Mansfield at the Court of King’s Bench. The first witness was surgeon and male midwife , La Goux who claimed to have treated d’Eon for a female disorder some years earlier. The second witness was Morande who actually claimed to have been in bed with d’Eon. The defence merely objected that courts were no place to discuss woman’s private parts. Another witness was a French physician who did not speak English, and Morande kindly translated. The jury, after two minutes gave a verdict for the plaintiff. This served as a legal declaration that d’Eon was a woman, and those who had bet that she was a man, paid up.

D’Eon had not attended the trial, did not confirm his sex, and decided to return to France. It was also that most of his debts had been paid off and his library of 6,000+ volumes was not now at risk of being subject to liens. D’Eon was politically rehabilitated and now perceived as an agent of the French king. In addition, without ever being seen in female attire, d’Eon had managed to convince everyone, including close associates, that he was in fact a born female who had been raised as male.

>> D’Eon left for Paris Wednesday 13 August 1777. In her journal for that day, d’Eon wrote: "a cette feuille commence le journal de Mademoiselle D'Eon." (At this leaf begins the journal of Mlle d'Eon) and also “j'ai répris mes habits de femme” (I have resumed my women's clothes]. Inserted in different ink are the words, "under the constraint of the threatening orders of the court" . D’Eon was still dressed in the very male costume of a Dragoon.

Chief Justice Mansfield continued to hear suits based on insurance policies regarding d’Eon’s sex. Morande repeated the same testimony. However Mansfield had had enough. He let it be known to the defence that he would welcome a motion to arrest the judgement of the court. This was done and the issue was whether such insurance policies were permissible under English law. After hearing argument, Mansfield ruled that they were not and thereby rendered all wagers on d’Eon’s sex unenforceable.

It is not known whether Beaumarchais and Morande had been able to claim their winnings on their bets.

(Also in July 1777, a trans man known to us only as Ann Marrow was convicted at Guildhall for wearing men's clothes and marrying three women. He was ordered to stand pillory and serve six month's in jail. He did not go down well with the crowd and from the objects that they threw, he was blinded.)

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