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?
The following were added to various d’Eon biographies, but later research fails to confirm them. They are almost certainly false.
- that d’Eon was born female and raised as a male.
- that d’Eon participated in the masquarade balls in Moscow dressed as female.
- that d’Eon as Lia de Beaumont was a lectrice to the Russian Empress Yelizaveta Petrovna Romanova.
- that d’Eon was frail and delicate as a boy and that he was dressed by his mother in girl’s clothing.
- that at age 26 d’Eon in female guise caught the eye of Louis XV.
- that d’Eon was seduced by Madame de Pompadour, mistress of Louis XV.
- that d’Eon became a Chevalier and was induced into the Order of St Louis in recognition of his role as a Dragoon in the Seven Years War.
- that d’Eon had an affair with Sophia Charlotte of of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, Queen Consort to George III, and that D’Eon was the father of George IV.
- that d’Eon was a member of the English Hell-Fire Club.
- that d’Eon was courted by Benjamin Franklin.
The major sources for these untruths were d’Eon’s own cross-dreaming which was incorporated into both the La Fortelle (auto) biography 1779 and the unpublished autobiography found at Brotherton Library, and Gaillardet’s first 1836 biography. Farrer comments: “This is very nearly cross dressing fiction, a century in advance. To conclude, I think that all the Leeds autobiographical writings of Mademoiselle d'Eon are fiction of the deepest kind even more so than Gaillardet's first book.”
Whilst Gary Kates’ biography is the most detailed and the most reliable, it is annoying that he continues to use male pronouns for d’Eon even after 1777. In the recent BBC short documentary Kates uses “they’ instead, but never ‘she’.
As does, for example, Patrick Califia, who actually wrote of d’Eon, p12, “he kept a journal in which he referred to himself by feminine pronouns”. This despite p49n16 writing: “female pronouns will be used for transsexual women”.
The Wikipedia article on the Ordre Royal et Militaire de Saint-Louis (which does not mention d’Eon as a recipient) says: “ Catholic faith was mandatory, as well as at least ten years' service as a commissioned officer in the Army or the Navy”. D’Eon returned from Russia in 1761, and became a captain of Dragoons. He fought at the Battle of Villinghausen in July 1761, and was wounded at the action at Ultrop. In 1762 he was sent to London as an assistant to the French Ambassador. That makes one (1) year, not ten in the military. As Kates says (p93): “the medal was not really for his military services. Rather it was .. [for] diplomatic service”. The UK still maintains the practice of giving high level titles to some of its diplomats - see David Frost who was recently made a lord for his negotiations with EU.
D’Eon ran up debts of 100,000 livres in only four months, when he was acting ambassador! How much was that? www.historicalstatistics.org/Currencyconverter.html says that “100,000 French livres tournois [1663-1795] in year 1763 could buy 32,682.682472401524 gram gold. The price of 32,682.682472401524 gram gold in year 2015 was 7,208,587.425194473 French franc. In 2015 France adopted the Euro at €1 = FRF 6.55957, and so 7,208,587 livres = €1,098,942. Add another few years inflation, and round to just over €1 million.
D’Eon was given a £500 advance in 1805 for the autobiography that was never published (until very recently). At a time when the the average wage was £20 a year, that was 25 years income for ordinary people.
Did people actually believe that d’Eon was a woman prior to 1777? James Lander comments: “The very earliest reports of the rumour are conveyed in letters whose writers clearly do not believe the gossip. When gamblers in London soon began placing large wagers on the issue, the majority were betting that d’Eon was a man (i.e. that the rumour was false). A year or so later, most of the people who asserted that the rumour was actually true had vested interests for doing so. D’Eon’s intelligence chief, Broglie; Broglie’s secretary, Drouet; and the later foreign minister, Vergennes, had all been members, like d’Eon, of the ‘king’s secret’. The testimony of Drouet, the only one of the three who, as reported by Broglie, actually investigated the matter physically, was not only erroneous but probably deliberately false. Support for d’Eon’s supposed female-status was also given by one of Vergennes’s agents in the negotiations, Pommereux, who was an old family friend of d’Eon. The libellist, Morande, and Vergennes’s ﬁnal and successful envoy, Beaumarchais, also supported d’Eon’s hoax, but they too had wide-ranging reasons for doing so, as did the former chief of police and later minister of marine, Sartines, a friend of Beaumarchais and close colleague of Vergennes. Louis XV never showed any real belief in the hoax, and certainly not enough to make him relent regarding d’Eon’s negotiating proposals. However, Louis XVI, who came to the throne in 1774 as a very naive nineteen-year-old, may well have believed the tale told him by so many eminent advisers, though even that is not certain.”
Most of the persons mentioned in Lander’s comment were members of Le Secret du Roi - so in effect it was a Psych-op, a disinformation project by secret agents. Joel Paul in his 2009 Unlikely Allies: How a Merchant, A Playwright, and a Spy Saved the American Revolution, implies that one outcome of the project was to get Louis XVI to side with the American Secession.
Of course the French still humiliated over their losses in the Seven Years War did not need much nudging to support the Americans.
With reference to the American Secession, we should note that Chief Justice Mansfield, who presided on the farcical trial of gambling debts re d’Eon’s sex, and then later ruled that such gambling debts were not enforceable under English law, had made a more dramatic ruling in June 1772 when he ruled in the case of Somerset v Stewart that slavery had no legal basis in England. This became one of the major causes of the American Secession in that the slave states were concerned that the ruling would be expanded to cover them also.
Lander comments on the purchases of items of female attire via Mrs Lautem in 1775: “D’Eon’s papers show that he made numerous purchases of female clothes in the months before and after this date, but most can be understood as gifts for female acquaintances, particularly his ‘landlady’, Madame Lautem, who, along with her wine-merchant husband, was also a good friend of the Chevalier. Earlier we noted d’Eon’s purchase of earrings and a bracelet for this lady, and it is clear that she was reimbursed by d’Eon for the purchase of a considerable number of ‘stays’ (or corsets) around this time. While it may seem odder to us than it did to them that the Chevalier was paying for corsets for the wife of a good friend, one possible if somewhat far-fetched interpretation is that d’Eon was using the corsets himself, perhaps to combat his own corpulency so he might still ﬁt into his beloved dragoon oﬃcer’s uniform. Whatever these other purchases may signify, the order, placed on 28 October, for a complete outﬁt (in the black silk that d’Eon would later in life favour), seems to indicate that on this special day, d’Eon had decided to prepare for a trip to France in the near future – a trip which, under the terms of the Transaction, required that he appear in female dress. If d’Eon secretly longed to don women’s clothing, then he might soon satisfy that desire with a degree of (apparently) official approval.”
Surely couturière Rose Bertin at that first dressing 21 October 1777 must have noticed that Mademoiselle d’Eon’s anatomy was a bit off: facial hair, flat chest, male gait, male voice - not to mention what she between the legs. To rise has she had done from working-class origins to such eminence must have required guile and political savvy. Perhaps she did indeed notice, and just went along with what was expected. She managed to survive the Revolution unscathed, although she had to live abroad for three years. Her business in Paris did continue tough, and in old age she retired to her estate in Épinay-sur-Seine.
If we are looking for an 18th century trans person who approximates to our modern concept of transsexual (although of course they had to live it without benefit of external hormones or modern surgery) the best candidate is John de Verdion. I have yet to find a book about D’Eon that even mentions the existence of Verdion although they were in Londonat the same time 1770-1800.
I always found it odd that those who write about d’Eon stuck with ‘Chevalier’ the male form of the word, and insist on using the transient title over 200 years later. The female form is 'chevalière'. D'Eon is hardly the only trans chevaler/chevalière. So are Marie-Pierre Pruvot (Bambi) and Amanda Lear. Why is it that those who always say Chevalier d'Eon do not say Chevalière Pruvot and Chevalière Lear? Here is the Wikipedia list of Chevaliers (which does not include Charlotte d'Eon). And of course the EN.Wikipedia biography entry is for "Chevalier d'Eon" not "Charlotte d'Eon de Beamont". The FR.Wikipedia entry is for "Charles d'Éon de Beaumont" - yet another Wikipedia entry for a trans person under the pre-transition name.
What modern label would fit?
Kay Brown commented: “the term Eonist which was named after a famous historically significant cross-dresser, who by his history, is easily recognizably autogynephilic”. Now this is not a surprising claim from Brown who after all declared Christine Jorgensen to be autogynephilic.
Some of the problems in applying a 21st-century concept like 'autogynephilia' to the 18th century:
- A lack of early-transitioners to compare to. It seems that there were many early-transitioners in 18th-century India and South-East Asia. In Christian Europe where sex and gender expression had been so repressed, it is almost impossible to name any at all.
- Nor is there any evidence of D’Eon being gynephilic.
- Brown seems to regard autogynephilia as sort of an essentialism, that is a resultant from DNA modified by epigenetics. If so why are there not loads of such persons in the 18th century? Is modern pollution the required epigenetic? The best known transvestites in 18th century London are George Selwyn, who loved to attend public executions in drag, and Horace Walpole who dressed as an old woman for masquerade balls. Neither ever married and historians discuss whether Walpole was gay.
- HSTS/AGP is a 21st century social construction that fails to fit anyone in the 18th
As the Beaumont Society was so named at a time when its membership was limited to heterosexual transvestites of the Virginia Prince type, it was implicitly declaring d’Eon to be femmiphilic. Likewise Susan Valenti naming her retreat the Chevalier D’Eon Resort, and Virginia Prince publishing books as Chevalier Publications.
However as there is no evidence that d’Eon was at all gynephilic, this is inappropriate. It is hard to conceive that that d’Eon would have been a member of any such club.
Vern Bullough makes the claim – that surprisingly has been ignored in the debate about social construction - that “there is no evidence in Western culture of what might be called a heterosexual transvestite consciousness before the twentieth century”, and probably not before Magnus Hirschfield modified the term 'transvestite' in 1910.
Loads of modern writers simply describe d’Eon as a transvestite, even when referring to pre-1777. The points made against regarding d’Eon as Femmiphilic apply here also.
The verb ‘to transvest’ has been recorded in English as early as 1652, and even earlier in Italian. 'Travestissement' was being used in France by 1692. The concept was around in the late 18th century, but rarely applied to d’Eon.
D’Eon actually transvested less than the general public, many of whom did so for the masquerade balls that were so popular at the time. D’Eon is not recorded as doing so.
Prior to 1777, d’Eon was a diplomat for 20 years, and a Dragoon for only one. Despite this he persisted in dressing (up) as a Dragoon, and after 1777 when she complied with the Royal Command to dress as female, she several times requested permission to again dress as a Dragoon. Surely this is makes d’Eon a homovestite, and this is a more acurate descriptor than ‘tranvestite’
Apart from the masquerade balls, the major incidence of transvesting was found in the Molly houses. Of course this was rather low in the class system, and even if interested d’Eon would not be found at such a place.
Havelock Ellis used d’Eon’s name for the trans persons whom he met and/or read about in the 1920s. However as we have discussed he did not meet Ellis’ definition of an Eonist, and thus was not an Eonist.
Strictly speaking, for one to be an Eonist, one, being born male, should intimate that one was born female and has been brought up male, and be living male.
GIDAANT=Gender Identity Disorder of Adolescence or Adulthood, Nontranssexual Type?
This term for a trans person who is neither fetishistic nor desirous of bodily changes, sort of fits, but the term introduced in the DSM IIIR is a residual term for those who did not fit into the other more accepted terms. As the other terms lack exemplars in the 18th century, a residual term is otiose.
From a misreading of the report on d’Eon’s death in 1810 at the age of 81, it has been suggested that d'Eon had Hypogonadotropin eunuchoidism or Kallman's syndrome, a congenital sexual disorder characterized by underdeveloped genitalia and sterile gonads. D’Eon reported childhood urinary tract disorder but this is insufficient data for such a diagnosis.
Incidentally transsexuality is extremely rare in patients with Kallman’s syndrome. Only one such case has ever been reported.
D’Eon by all reliable accounts was non-sexual, a situation that modern persons regard negatively. Some modern Incels transition so as not to be Incel anymore.
However that is a 21st-century mindtrip. D’Eon was an 18th-century Catholic, and in his milieu Chastity was positively valued, leading many to become monks or nuns.
The modern concept of Cross-Dreamer is probably more useful. A Cross-Dreamer is one who would be of another gender, have fantasies of being or becoming another gender who may, but are not necessarily, be sexually aroused by such ideas.
The idea of being born female but raised and living as male, as put forth as rumour and then in the 1779 biography under the name La Fortelle, and the unpublished autobiography of her final years, is certainly Cross-Dreaming - although not the more common type of such dreams.