Chevalier d'Éon (17281810)

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Chevalier d'Éon
Chevalier d'Éon wearing the chivalric Order of Saint Louis, the highest military honour of the Kingdom of France. Painting by Thomas Stewart (1792), at the National Portrait Gallery, London
Born5 October 1728
Died21 May 1810 (1810-05-22) (aged 81)
London, United Kingdom
Resting placeSt Pancras Old Church[1]

Charles d'Éon de Beaumont or Charlotte d'Éon de Beaumont[a] (5 October 1728 – 21 May 1810), usually known as the Chevalier d'Éon or the Chevalière d'Éon,[b] was a French diplomat, spy, and soldier. D'Éon fought in the Seven Years' War, and spied for France while in Russia and England. D'Éon had androgynous physical characteristics and natural abilities as a mimic and a spy. D'Éon appeared publicly as a man and pursued masculine occupations for 49 years, although during that time, d'Éon successfully infiltrated the court of Empress Elizabeth of Russia by presenting as a woman. Starting in 1777, d'Éon lived as a woman and was officially recognized as a woman by King Louis XVI.[2]

Early life, family and education

D'Éon was born at the Hôtel d'Uzès in Tonnerre, Burgundy, into a poor French noble family. D'Éon's father, Louis d'Éon de Beaumont, was an attorney and director of the king's dominions, later mayor of Tonnerre and sub-delegate of the intendant of the généralité of Paris.[3] D'Éon's mother, Françoise de Charanton, was the daughter of a Commissioner General to the armies of the wars of Spain and Italy.

Most of what is known about d'Éon's early life comes from a partly ghost-written autobiography, The Interests of the Chevalier d'Éon de Beaumont[4][5] and Bram Stoker's essay on the Chevalier in his 1910 book Famous Impostors.[6]

D'Éon excelled in school, moving from Tonnerre to Paris in 1743 and graduating in civil law and canon law from the Collège Mazarin in 1749 at the age of 21.

Early career

D'Éon began literary work as a contributor to Élie Catherine Fréron's Année littéraire, and attracted notice as a political writer through two works on financial and administrative questions, published in 1753.[7] D'Éon became secretary to Bertier de Sauvigny, intendant of Paris, served as a secretary to the administrator of the fiscal department, and was appointed a royal censor for history and literature by Malesherbes in 1758.[4]

Life as a spy

Caricature of d'Éon dressed half in women's clothes, half in men's clothes

In 1756, d'Éon joined the secret network of spies called the Secret du Roi ('King's Secret'), employed by King Louis XV without the knowledge of the government. It sometimes promoted policies that were contrary to official policies and treaties. According to d'Éon's memoirs (although there is no documentary evidence to support that account) the monarch sent d'Éon with the Chevalier Douglas, Alexander Peter Mackenzie Douglas, Baron of Kildin, a Scottish Jacobite in French service, on a secret mission to Russia in order to meet Empress Elizabeth and conspire with the pro-French faction against the Habsburg monarchy. At that time the English and French were at odds, and the English were attempting to deny the French access to the Empress by allowing only women and children to cross the border into Russia. D'Éon later claimed having to pass convincingly as a woman or risk being executed by the English upon discovery and therefore travelled disguised as the lady Lia de Beaumont, and served as a maid of honour to the Empress. However, there is little or no evidence to support this and it is now commonly accepted to be a story told to demonstrate how identifying as female had been of benefit to France in the past.[2] Eventually, Chevalier Douglas became French ambassador to Russia, and d'Éon was secretary to the embassy in Saint Petersburg from 1756 to 1760, serving Douglas and his successor, the marquis de l'Hôpital.[8]

D'Éon returned to France in October 1760, and was granted a pension of 2,000 livres as reward for service in Russia. In May 1761, d'Éon became a captain of dragoons under the maréchal de Broglie and fought in the later stages of the Seven Years' War. D'Éon served at the Battle of Villinghausen in July 1761, and was wounded at Ultrop. After Empress Elizabeth died in January 1762, d'Éon was considered for further service in Russia, but instead was appointed secretary to the duc de Nivernais, awarded 1,000 livres, and sent to London to draft the peace treaty that formally ended the Seven Years' War. The treaty was signed in Paris on 10 February 1763, and d'Éon was awarded a further 6,000 livres, and received the Order of Saint-Louis on 30 March 1763, becoming the Chevalier d'Éon.[8] The title chevalier, French for 'knight', is also sometimes used for French noblemen.

Back in London, d'Éon became chargé d'affaires in April 1763, and then plenipotentiary minister—essentially interim ambassador—when the duc de Nivernais returned to Paris in July. D'Éon used this position also to spy for the king. D'Éon collected information for a potential French invasion of Britain — an unfortunate and clumsy initiative of Louis XV, of which Louis's own ministers were unaware — assisting a French agent, Louis François Carlet de La Rozière, who was surveying the British coastal defences. D'Éon formed connections with English nobility by sending them the produce of d'Éon's vineyard in France; d'Éon abundantly enjoyed the splendour of this interim embassy.[8]

Caricature by Charles Benjamin Incledon of d'Éon "producing [...] evidence against certain persons."

Upon the arrival of the new ambassador, the comte de Guerchy in October 1763, d'Éon was demoted to the rank of secretary and humiliated by the count. D'Éon was trapped between two French factions: Guerchy was a supporter of the duc de Choiseul, duc de Praslin and Madame de Pompadour, in opposition to the comte de Broglie and his brother the maréchal de Broglie. D'Éon complained, and eventually decided to disobey orders to return to France. In a letter to the king, d'Éon claimed that the new ambassador had tried to drug d'Éon at a dinner at the ambassador's residence in Monmouth House in Soho Square. The British government declined a French request to extradite d'Éon, and the 2,000 livres pension that had been granted in 1760 was stopped in February 1764. In an effort to save d'Éon's station in London, d'Éon published much of the secret diplomatic correspondence about d'Éon's recall under the title Lettres, mémoires et négociations particulières du chevalier d'Éon in March 1764, disavowing Guerchy and calling him unfit for the job.[9] This breach of diplomatic discretion was scandalous to the point of being unheard of, but d'Éon had not yet published everything (the King's secret invasion documents and those relative to the Secret du Roi were kept back as "insurance"), and so the French government became cautious in its dealings with d'Éon, even when d'Éon sued Guerchy for attempted murder.[10] D'Éon did not offer any defence when Guerchy sued for libel, and was declared an outlaw and went into hiding. However, d'Éon secured the sympathy of the British public: the mob jeered Guerchy in public, and threw stones at his residence. 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.[11]

Guerchy was recalled to France, and in July 1766 Louis XV granted d'Éon a pension (possibly a pay-off for d'Éon's silence) and a 12,000-livre annuity, but refused a demand for over 100,000 livres to clear d'Éon's extensive debts. D'Éon continued to work as a spy, but lived in political exile in London. D'Éon's possession of the king's secret letters provided protection against further actions, but d'Éon could not return to France in safety.[10] D'Éon became a Freemason in 1768, and was initiated at London's Immortality Lodge.[12]

Life as a woman

The Chevalière d'Éon
The Chevalier d'Éon
The Chevalière d'Éon (older)

Despite the fact that d'Éon habitually wore a dragoon's uniform, rumours circulated in London that d'Éon was actually a woman. A betting pool was started on the London Stock Exchange about d'Éon's true gender. D'Éon was invited to join, but declined, saying that an examination would be dishonouring, whatever the result. After a year without progress, the wager was abandoned. Following the death of Louis XV in 1774, the Secret du Roi was abolished, and d'Éon tried to negotiate a return from exile. The writer Pierre de Beaumarchais represented the French government in the negotiations. The resulting twenty-page treaty permitted d'Éon to return to France and retain the ministerial pension, but required that d'Éon turn over the correspondence regarding the Secret du Roi.[10]

Madame Campan writes in her memoirs: "This eccentric being had long solicited permission to return to France; but it was necessary to find a way of sparing the family he had offended the insult they would see in his return; he was therefore made to resume the costume of that sex to which in France everything is pardoned. The desire to see his native land once more determined him to submit to the condition, but he revenged himself by combining the long train of his gown and the three deep ruffles on his sleeves with the attitude and conversation of a grenadier, which made him very disagreeable company."

The Chevalier d'Éon claimed to have been assigned female at birth, and demanded recognition by the government as such. D'Éon claimed to have been raised as a boy because Louis d'Éon de Beaumont could only inherit from his in-laws if he had a son. King Louis XVI and his court complied with this demand, but required in turn that d'Éon dress appropriately in women's clothing, although d'Éon was allowed to continue to wear the insignia of the Order of Saint-Louis. When the king's offer included funds for a new wardrobe of women's clothes, d'Éon agreed. In 1777, after fourteen months of negotiation, d'Éon returned to France and as punishment was banished to Tonnerre.[10]

Fencing match between Monsieur de Saint-George and Mademoiselle La chevalière d'Éon de Beaumont at Carlton House on 9 April 1787. Engraving by Victor Marie Picot, based on the original painting by Abbé Alexandre-Auguste Robineau.

When France began to help the rebels during the American War of Independence, d'Éon asked to join the French troops in America, but d'Éon's banishment prevented it.[10] In 1779, d'Éon published a book of memoirs: La Vie Militaire, politique, et privée de Mademoiselle d'Éon. They were ghostwritten by a friend named La Fortelle and are probably embellished.[8] D'Éon was allowed to return to England in 1785.

The pension that Louis XV had granted was ended by the French Revolution, and d'Éon had to sell personal possessions, including books, jewellery and plate. The family's properties in Tonnerre were confiscated by the revolutionary government. In 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 rebuffed. D'Éon participated in fencing tournaments until seriously wounded in Southampton in 1796.[11] D'Éon's last years were spent with a widow, Mrs. Cole.[10] In 1804, d'Éon was sent to a debtors' prison for five months, and signed a contract for a biography to be written by Thomas William Plummer, which was never published. D'Éon became paralyzed following a fall, and spent a final four years bedridden, dying in poverty in London on 21 May 1810 at the age of 81.[10]

The surgeon who examined d'Éon's body attested in their post-mortem certificate that the Chevalier had "male organs in every respect perfectly formed", while at the same time displaying feminine characteristics. A couple of characteristics described in the certificate were "unusual roundness in the formation of limbs", as well as "breast remarkably full".[13]

D'Éon's body was buried in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church, and d'Éon's remaining possessions were sold by Christie's in 1813. D'Éon's grave is listed on the Burdett-Coutts Memorial there as one of the important graves lost.


D'Éon's name listed on the south face of the Burdett-Coutts Memorial

Some of d'Éon's papers are at the Brotherton Library in Leeds, England.[8][14]

Some modern scholars have interpreted d'Éon as transgender.[15] Havelock Ellis coined the term eonism to describe similar cases of transgender behavior; it is rarely used now.[8] The Beaumont Society, a long-standing organisation for transgender people, is named after d'Éon.[16]

In 2012, a 1792 painting (shown above) by Thomas Stewart was identified as a portrait of d'Éon,[17] and was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery, London.[18]

The Burdett-Coutts Memorial at St Pancras Gardens in London commemorates d'Éon as well as other people; in 2016 Historic England upgraded it to a Grade II* listed structure.[19]

Cultural depictions

The Chevalier d'Éon has appeared as a character in numerous fictional works and music.


  1. ^ Full name being Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont or Charlotte-Geneviève-Louise-Augusta-Andréa-Timothéa d'Éon de Beaumont
  2. ^ chevalière is the female equivalent of chevalier, meaning knight


  1. ^ Stephencdickson (22 September 2014). "English: The south face of the Burdett Coutts memorial". Archived from the original on 20 June 2019. Retrieved 13 March 2019 – via Wikimedia Commons.
  2. ^ a b McRobbie, Linda Rodriguez (29 July 2016). "The Incredible Chevalier d'Eon, Who Left France as a Male Spy and Returned as a Christian Woman". Atlas Obscura. Archived from the original on 18 January 2021. Retrieved 15 March 2021.
  3. ^ Rogister, J.M.J. (2004). "D'Éon de Beaumont, Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée, Chevalier D'Éon in the French nobility (1728–1810)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/7523. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  4. ^ a b Lever, Evelyne; Lever, Maurice (19 February 2009). Le Chevalier d'Éon: Une vie sans queue ni tête (in French). Fayard. ISBN 978-2-213-61630-8.
  5. ^ D'Eon de Beaumont, his life and times, via
  6. ^ Stoker, Bram. Famous Impostors. Project Gutenberg. Archived from the original on 2 March 2018. Retrieved 2 March 2018 – via
  7. ^ One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Eon de Beaumont". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 9 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 664–665.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Burrows, Simon; Goulbourne, Russell; Conlin, Jonathan; Mainz, Valerie (23 April 2010). The Chevalier d'Éon and his worlds: gender, espionage and politics in the eighteenth century. Continuum. ISBN 9780826422781. Archived from the original on 4 July 2014. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
  9. ^ Eon de Beaumont, Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée d'; Guerchy, Claude Louis François Regnier; Adams, John; John Adams Library (Boston Public Library) MB (BRL) (1 January 1765). "Lettres, mémoires et négociations particuliéres du chevalier d'Éon: Ministre Plénipotentiaire auprès du Roi de la Grande-Bretagne; avec M.M. les Ducs de Praslin, de Nivernois, de Sainte-Foy, & Regnier de Guerchy, Ambassad. Extr. &c.&c.&c" (in French). Londres: [s.n.] Retrieved 1 September 2016 – via Internet Archive.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Burrows, Simon (October 2006). Blackmail, scandal and revolution: London's French libellistes, 1758–92. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 9780719065262.
  11. ^ a b Chisholm 1911.
  12. ^ Initiated at London's Immortality Lodge number 376 in 1768 and later member of Les Amis réunis lodge in Tonnerre (in Le Chevalier d'Eon, franc-maçon et espionne – Daniel Tougne – Trajectoires ed. 2012)
  13. ^ Laughton, John Knox (1888). "D'Éon de Beaumont, Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée" . In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 14. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  14. ^ "Papers of Charles Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont". Special Collections. Leeds University Library. Archived from the original on 13 October 2017. Retrieved 3 April 2017.
  15. ^ Brogan, Stephen (2011). "A 'Monster of Metamorphosis'". In Burrows, Simon; Conlin, Jonathan; Goulbourne, Russell (eds.). The Chevalier d'Eon and his Worlds: Gender, Espionage and Politics. A&C Black. p. 84. ISBN 978-1441174048.
  16. ^ "History | The Beaumont Society". Archived from the original on 2 April 2019. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
  17. ^ Bryner, Jeanna (19 April 2012). "Earliest Painting of Transvestite Uncovered". Live Science. Archived from the original on 6 February 2015. Retrieved 20 April 2012.
  18. ^ Brown, Mark (6 June 2012). "Portrait mistaken for 18th-century lady is early painting of transvestite". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 12 January 2015. Retrieved 22 September 2014.
  19. ^ "'Queer history' landmarks celebrated by Historic England". BBC News. 23 September 2016. Archived from the original on 10 January 2018. Retrieved 15 April 2024.
  20. ^ The Chevalier d'Eon and Other Short Farces from the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century French Theatre, By Frank J. Morlock
  21. ^ Theatrical Costume, Masks, Make-up and Wigs: A Bibliography and Iconography, by Sidney Jackson Jowers, p. 314
  22. ^ Le Guide Musical: Revue Internationale de la Musique Et de Theâtres Lyriques. 1908. p. 330. Archived from the original on 2 January 2020. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
  23. ^ "Le chevalier d'Eon - Spectacle - 1908" (in French). Archived from the original on 25 October 2016. Retrieved 23 September 2016.
  24. ^ "2.2. Doctor Who: Sword of the Chevalier - Doctor Who - The Tenth Doctor Adventures". Big Finish. Archived from the original on 9 July 2021. Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  25. ^ Adams, Guy (2017), The sword of the chevalier, Nicholas Briggs, David Tennant, Billie Piper, Nickolas Grace, Tam Williams, Mark Elstob, [Maidenhead, Berkshire, England]: Big Finish Productions, ISBN 978-1-78703-371-9, OCLC 1081424575, retrieved 1 July 2021
  26. ^ McArdell, Ian (28 November 2017). "Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Adventures Volume 2 review - David Tennant and Billie Piper return!". CultBox. Archived from the original on 9 July 2021. Retrieved 1 July 2021.
  27. ^ "Chevalier d'Éon in Assassin's Creed Unity". LGBTQ Video Game Archive. 1 June 2018. Archived from the original on 24 August 2021. Retrieved 24 August 2021.
  28. ^ Heather, Keenleyside (2012). British It-Narratives, 1750-1830. London: Pickering & Chatto. pp. 39–63. ISBN 9781848931206.
  29. ^ "The Chevalier d'Éon: The 18th Century transgender spy". BBC Reel. Retrieved 24 April 2022.
  30. ^ Issue 8 (p.193-197, 203, 209, 216-220)

Further reading

  • Decker, Michel de. Madame Le Chevalier d'Éon, Paris: Perrin, 1987, ISBN 978-2-7242-3612-5.
  • d'Éon De Beaumont, Charles. The Maiden of Tonnerre: The Vicissitudes of the Chevalier and the Chevalière d'Éon, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, ISBN 978-0-8018-6687-6.
  • d'Éon, Leonard J. The Cavalier, New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1987, ISBN 0-399-13227-9.
  • Frank, André, with Jean Chaumely. D'Éon chevalier et chevalière: sa confession inédite, Paris: Amiot-Dumont, 1953.
  • Fortelle M. de la. La Vie militaire, politique et privée de Demoiselle Charles-Geneviève-Auguste-Andrée-Thimothée Éon ou d'Èon de Beaumont, [... etc.], Paris: Lambert, 1779.
  • Gaillardet, F. (ed.), Mémoires du chevalier d'Éon, Paris, 1836, 2 vols.
  • Gontier, Fernande. Homme ou femme? La confusion des sexes, Paris: Perrin, 2006, Chapter 6. ISBN 978-2262024918.
  • Homberg, O., and F. Jousselin, Un Aventurier au XVIIIe siècle: Le Chevalier D'Éon (1728–1810), Paris: Plon-Nourrit, 1904.
  • Kates, Gary. Monsieur d'Éon Is a Woman: A Tale of Political Intrigue and Sexual Masquerade, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, ISBN 978-0-8018-6731-6.
  • Lever, Évelyne and Maurice. Le Chevalier d'Éon: Une vie sans queue ni tête, Paris: Fayard, 2009, ISBN 978-2-213-61630-8.
  • Luyt, Philippe. D'Éon de Tonnerre. Iconographie et histoire, 2007, OCLC 163617123
  • Mourousy, Paul. Le Chevalier d'Éon: un travesti malgré lui, Paris: Le Rocher, 1998, ISBN 978-2-268-02917-7.
  • Musée municipal de Tonnerre, Catalogue bilingue de l'exposition, Le Chevalier d'Éon: secrets et lumières, 2007.
  • Royer, Jean-Michel. Le Double Je, ou les Mémoires du chevalier d'Éon, Paris: Grasset & Fasquelle, 1986, ISBN 978-2-246-38001-6.
  • Telfer, John Buchan, The strange career of the Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont, minister plenipotentiary from France to Great Britain in 1763, 1885, OCLC 2745013

External links