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03 May 2022

Mademoiselle Chevalière Charlotte d'Eon de Beaumont - Part II: Return to France, Return to 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?

Mademoiselle Chevalière Charlotte-Geneviève-Louise-Augusta-Andréa-Timothéa d'Éon de Beaumont, then 48 years old, landed at Boulogne, August 1777, and stopped at the town of St Denis, on the way to Paris. She was greeted by Dom Boudier, the abbot of the Benedictine monastery. Because d’Eon was considered a woman, she could not stay at the monastery, and Boudier had made arrangements at the nearby Carmalite convent, where the Mother Superior was Thérèse of Saint Augustine (otherwise Louise-Marie Bourbon, a daughter of the late king). Several of the nuns giggled when d’Eon arrived (still dressed as a Captain of Dragoons). Mother Thérèse was outraged. She had understandably assumed that the visitor would be dressed like an aristocratic lady.

After arrival in Paris, d’Eon became a centre of attention. Vendors offered songs, broadsides and prints that mocked the Chevalière. At the Comédie italienne, a vaudeville was quickly put together about changing the role of women to men and that of men to women. She was summoned to a meeting with the Foreign Minister where she was handed a hand-signed order from the king that commanded that she dress as her own sex. Generous funds were provided for an expensive new wardrobe, and she was offered instruction in the ways of women at the home of Edme-Jacques Genet in Versailles. First though she went to visit her mother in Tonnerre. Her mother sided with the king on the issue of d’Eon’s dress; the other townsfolk were divided. She also received mail from aristocratic ladies urging her transformation. The local priests announced that she was not welcome in their churches while in the clothes of a man.

D’Eon finally bowed to the inevitable and agreed to “retake” female dress. This happened chez Genet 21 October. Not only did Genet have three daughters, two of whom were Ladies in Waiting to the Queen, Marie Antoinette, but also present was Rose Bertin, who had risen from low rank to become Wardrobe Directrice and couturière to Marie Antoinette. She also played a major role in establishing Paris as the world centre of fashion. Bertin dressed d’Eon as a woman for the first time - a process that took a mere four hours and ten minutes. After she made up d’Eon’s face, d’Eon ran into her bedroom and cried bitterly, but recovered in time for a sumptuous dinner in her honour that evening.

D’Eon later commented: “I find the dress of a woman too complicated for quickly dressing and undressing. Full of inconveniences, unseasonable in winter, inflexible in all times, uniquely made only for vanity, luxury, other vices, and the ruin of husbands.”

A month after her first dressing in women’s clothes, the Chevalière was presented to the King and Queen. As would become her habit she wore her Cross of Saint-Louis with her female dress. The King established a precedent by allowing d’Eon to be ‘Chevalière’ in her own right. Previously the honorific had gone only to wives of Chevaliers. D’Eon was invited to many social events,

In 1778 d’Eon was invited to a dinner party at the residence of Benjamin Franklin where they both agreed on the American Secession, and also made a social call on the philosopher Voltaire shortly before he died.

Beaumarchais, back in Paris, was claiming that d’Eon wanted to marry him. To some extent this made her a laughingstock. Some women attended masquerades as d’Eon and as such telling risqué stories and flirting with the men.

D’Eon’s hatred for Beaumarchais was such that she started gathering material for a four-volume biography of him. However she eventually lost interest, and it was never completed.

In February 1778 France formally allied with the American colonists against Britain, the memory of the humiliation of fifteen years before still being fresh. D’Eon petitioned government officials that she be allowed to resume her dragoon uniform and then apply for special duty in America. In response the government increased its pressure to get d’Eon to enter a convent. At the beginning of 1779, she again petitioned, sending letters to many well-placed persons. The King was outraged. In April, in the middle of the night, she was awoken, arrested and taken to a dungeon at the Chateau of Dijon. Friends interceded on her behalf, but only after she agreed to abandon all military ambitions, and retire to her estate at Tonnerre. On those conditions she was released after 19 days.

In 1779 a biography was published. La Vie militaire, politique, et privée de Mademoiselle d'Éon. The author was given as La Fortelle, perhaps a ghost-writer, perhaps a pseudonym, but almost certainly with contributions from d’Eon herself. It told how a girl had been raised as a boy to secure an inheritance, and to rescue the father from debt.

The same year Pierre-Joseph Baudier de Villemart published Le Nouvel ami des femmes, ou la Philosophie du sex, which included d’Eon as one of Europe’s most famous women.

From 1779 to 1785 d’Eon spent most of her time at the family home. She was permitted short visits to Paris, but had to obtain permission each time, and sometime a government agent followed her around. Being at Tonnerre gave d’Eon time to consider gender and religion. She considered that living as a woman was not enough, she had to be a Christian woman. She took Joan of Arc as a model. One of her relatives was Christophe de Beamont, the Archbishop of Paris, and she took the opportunity to discuss the central tenets of Christianity with him, and valued his opinions. However despite Beaumont being noted for his struggle against Jansenism, she also regularly read the leading Jansenist newspaper, Nouvelles ecclesiastiques. While Jansenism was not Protestant, it had been declared heretical by the Catholic Church.

1782 saw the posthumous publication of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions. This was in effect a new genre and greatly influenced d’Eon’s later writing of her latter autobiography.

D’Eon was restless in Tonnerre. Efforts to return to Paris were blocked, so she sought permission to move to London. This was at first denied in that France - with the American colonists - was at war with Britain. This ended in 1783. Even then the government was reluctant to give permission. She pleaded the state of her English finances and that creditors were likely to sell off her library. Finally in 1785 permission was given. She had retained the lease on her London flat, subletting it while in France, and now returned to it. While she had expressed string anti-British opinions with Benjamin Franklin, and when appealing to be allowed to join the war in America, now she spoke of England as even more free than Holland, and the constitutional monarchy of England as preferable to the absolute monarchy of France. 

(Also in 1785, a mollies’ club was discovered in Clement’s Lane near the Strand. A couvade was being enacted, several mollies were enacting childbirth and nursing. One of the mothers was so convincing that the police released her on the supposition that she was a cis woman.)

Horace Walpole met d'Eon in 1786 and found her loud, noisy, and vulgar – "her hands and arms seem not to have participated of the change of sexes, but are fitter to carry a chair than a fan". James Boswell wrote that "she appeared to me a man in woman's clothes."

D’Eon participated in fencing tournaments, both for the extra money and to spread her reputation as an Amazon.

D’Eon had never saved a penny, a pound or a livre despite her pension being generous compared to an average income. When she was in England the payments became unreliable - this was part of the financial crisis and government bankruptcy that resulted in the Revolution, which formally ended the payments.

Finally in April 1791 d’Eon had to sell her library, It was auctioned by Christie’s (founded 1766) who published and sold for 1/- a catalogue of the library which included a 20 page preface of d’Eon’s life.

However the sale did not realise enough to settle d’Eon’s debts.

(While London trans man John de Verdion was an active book dealer, there is no record that he participated in the auction).

(1791 A trans man we know only as Jane Cox, being very tall and strong, served for many years as a sailor and a soldier, and finally retired to the village of Piddle. Ironically Cox died of drowning.)

1792, d'Éon sent a letter to the French National Assembly offering to lead a division of female soldiers against the Habsburgs, but the offer was not taken up.

(Death of Bob Bussick, a ‘notorious’ sheep-drover in St-John Street, Islington. The expression ‘Come along Bob’, common in the 19th century was said to be derived from him. He was said to be hermaphroditic, and visitors to London would make a point of seeing him.)

(1794 Cabin boy Mary Anne Talbot/John Taylor, having been captured back from the French, was wounded severely in the ankle in 1794 at the Glorious First of June/ Third Battle of Ushant/ Combat de Prairial, the largest fleet action in the Wars of the French Revolution, and never had full use of his leg again. Later that year he was again captured by the French, and was 18 months in a dungeon in Dunkirk.)

(October 1792. On receipt of an anonymous letter, the Bow Street police station investigated the Bunch of Grapes pub, where there was a gathering each Monday night. A week later the police-watch was sent. They found ‘fellows in women’s attire’, their faces painted and powdered, and using women’s names. A total of 18 were arrested. The next morning they were brought before the magistrate clad in their dresses. A Mob gathered and threatened to lynch the prisoners. A strong escort of soldiers protected them from the mob, but not from stones and mud that were flung. )

D'Éon continued to participate in fencing tournaments until seriously wounded in Southampton in 1796. This forced her to give up fencing. Shortly afterwards she found new accommodation with a Mrs Cole, the widow of an Admiral.

(In 1796 Horace Walpole and others were spreading the false notion that Edward Hyde, Governor of New York 90 years before, had publicly transvested.)

(After his return to London, John Taylor was seized by a press-gang, but released when he revealed that he was female-bodied. Although now regarded as a woman, he applied to the Naval pay office at Somerset House for a pension, and was finally granted 12/- per week. His leg wound got worse. Over the next decade, Taylor used his fame as a man-woman and his claim to be a child of Lord Talbot, to appeal for charitable donations. He found a common-law wife, worked in menial jobs, and even appeared on stage at Drury Lane theatre in both male and female roles. He was arrested for debt, and imprisoned at Newgate.)

(In 1800 John de Verdion, after 30 years in London, fell downstairs and the problem developed into dropsy. Despite the ministrations of a German physician who lived in the same house, he died. By his will he bequeathed all to the master of the inn where he lived, but upon his taking possession it proved inadequate to discharge the bill. Verdion’s considerable collection of foreign gold and silver coins were nowhere to be found, neither was his sword. The coffin plate was at first engraved ‘John de Verdion’, but was then altered to ‘Miss de Verdion’. Verdion was deposited in the burying ground of St Andrew, Holborn.)

In 1804, d'Eon was sent to a debtors' prison for five months.

In 1805 she signed a contract with the Richardson brothers of London (nephews of Samuel Richardon, the novelist) for an autobiography, inspired by that of Rousseau, to be published in ten volumes and to be rendered into English by Thomas Plummer. She received a £500 advance, but it was never published, due to her stalling. What she did write again portrayed her as being born female and living as male until the 1770s. However D’Eon considered herself to be a Christian, a Jansenist, and therefore a disciple of Augustine, and as such could not deliberately lie. She also wrote an account of Historical Precedents, persons like herself who though born female were accepted as male: Pope John/Joan, and various Saints who had passed as male.

In 1806 she was paralysed following a fall, and spent a final four years bedridden.

D’Eon died in 1810, aged 81, and her body was examined posthumously and found to be male-bodied, which came as a great shock to Mrs Cole. Her body was buried in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church, and d'Éon's remaining possessions were sold by the auction house Christie's in 1813.

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