Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont (October 5, 1728 - May 21, 1810), usually known as the Chevalier d'Éon, was a French diplomat, spy, soldier and Freemason who lived the first half of her life as a man and the second half as a woman.
D'Éon de Beaumont was born in Tonnerre. Her father, Louis d'Éon de Beaumont, was an attorney and her mother, Françoise de Chavanson, was a noblewoman. Most of what we know about d'Éon's early life comes from her biography and its reliability is questionable. She later claimed that she had been born a girl but that she was raised as a boy because her father could inherit from his in-laws only if he had a son. As usual for noblemen who did not hold higher titles like baron or count, she was styled chevalier (knight) d'Éon.
D'Éon excelled in school and graduated 1749 from Collège Mazarin in Paris. She worked as a secretary of the administrator of the fiscal department and as a royal censor.
D'Éon as a spy
In 1756 d'Éon joined the secret network of spies called Le Secret du Roi which worked for King Louis XV. The monarch sent her on a secret mission to Russia in order to meet Empress Elizabeth and intrigue with the pro-French faction against the Habsburg Monarchy. Later tales claim that she disguised herself as a lady Lia de Beaumont to do so, and that she became a maid of honour to the Empress. D'Éon's career in Russia is the subject of one of Valentin Pikul's novels.
In 1761, d'Éon returned to France. The next year she became a captain of dragoons under the Marshal de Broglie and fought in the later stages of the Seven Years' War. She was wounded and received the Order of Saint-Louis.
In 1763 d'Éon became plenipotentiary minister in London and used this position also to spy for the king. She collected information for a potential invasion. She formed connections with English nobility by sending them the produce of her vineyards. When she was about to lose the post of plenipotentiary, she complained, and eventually decided to disobey orders to return to France. In her letter to the king, she claimed that the new ambassador had tried to drug her. In an effort to save her station in London, she published most of the secret diplomatic correspondence about her recall under the title Lettres, mémoires, et négociations in 1764.
In 1766, Louis XV granted her a pension for her services and gave her a 12.000-livre annuity. She continued to work as a spy, but she lived in political exile in London.
D'Éon as a lady
Despite the fact that d'Éon wore her dragoon's uniform all the time, there were rumors that she was actually a woman, and a betting pool was eventually started on the London Stock Exchange regarding the truth of her gender. In 1774, after the death of Louis XV, d'Éon tried to negotiate her return from exile. The French government's side of the negotiations were handled by the writer Pierre de Beaumarchais. D'Éon claimed that physically she was not a man, but a woman, and demanded that the government recognize her as a woman. King Louis XVI and his court complied but demanded that she dress appropriately and wear women's clothing. D'Éon agreed, especially when the king granted her funds for a new wardrobe. In 1777 d'Éon returned to France, and afterwards lived as a woman.
When France began to help the rebels during the American War of Independence, d'Éon asked to be able to join French troops in America. She was jailed below the castle of Dijon for 19 days, and spent the following six years with her mother in Tonnerre.
In 1779 d'Éon published her memoirs La Vie Militaire, politique, et privée de Mademoiselle d'Eon. They were ghostwritten by a friend named La Fortelle, and are probably embellished.
D'Éon returned to England in 1785. She lost her pension after the French Revolution and had to sell her library. In 1792 she sent a letter to the French National Assembly, offering to lead a division of women soldiers against the Hapsburgs, but the offer was rebuffed. She participated in fencing tournaments until she was seriously wounded, in 1796. In 1805 she signed a contract for an autobiography, but the book was never published. She spent her last years with a widow, Mrs. Cole.
The Chevalier d'Éon died in London. Doctors who examined her after death discovered that her body was anatomically male. However, it is possible that she had Kallmann syndrome, 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 her with any facial hair - even the portrait of her death mask, which was cast at the time of her death in 1810. It should be noted, however, that it was highly unusual for fashionable gentlemen of the 18th century to sport any facial hair.
The term Eonism was coined to refer to similar cases of transgender behavior, but is now little used because of its ambiguity.
An alternative view
An alternative, but inaccurate, account is offered by some associated with the transvestite community, in which the life of the Chevalier d'Eon is different.
Instead of claiming to be born a woman, Beaumont was an effeminate but definitely male member of the court of Louis XV, who was selected to act as a female diplomat to the court of Elizabeth of Russia. This was done in order to persuade the Russian government to admit a French ambassador – an attempt which was successful. Beaumont was then appointed as the (male) ambassador to Russia, where he was forced to live a double life, acting the parts of both himself and his "sister", "Lia".
Fearing the charade was to be uncovered, he was then dispatched to the English court, where he maintained the double life.
On the death of Louis XV, Beaumont attempted to blackmail Louis XVI by revealing his activities. It is claimed that instead of imprisoning Beaumont, the new monarch decreed that Beaumont could return to France only if he lived permanently as a woman. It is further claimed that Beaumont occasionally appeared at the French court in male attire, only to be forcibly dressed in women's clothing.
The Beaumont Society, a long standing society for the transgendered and transvestites, is named after the Chevalier.
- Gary Kates – Monsieur D'Eon Is a Woman : A Tale of Political Intrigue and Sexual Masquerade (2001) ISBN 0-8018-6731-2, Johns Hopkins University Press
- Charles D'Eon De Beaumont - "The Maiden of Tonnerre: The Vicissitudes of the Chevalier and the Chevalière D'Eon" (2001) Johns Hopkins University Press
- Le Chevalier D'Eon, a 2006 anime series loosely based on the Chevalier d'Éon.