Mata Hari is known for being the most famous spy of the 20th century. Mata Hari, her stage name, in Malaysian means "eye of dawn". Her father was the owner of a hat store but Mata Hari claimed he was a Japanese prince.
Mata Hari's real name was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. She was born August 7, 1876 in the Dutch city of Leeuwarden. Margaretha Geertruida began studying at the most expensive private school along with local aristocrats.
To stand out among her peers, Margaretha began making up stories, where her father was a Japanese prince and her mother a baroness. To get away from her parents, Margaretha decided to marry.
She bought a newspaper with personals of men seeking women for marriage. She came upon the ad of Rudolf MacLeod, an officer stationed in the Dutch East Indies, who was from an old Scottish family. Rudolf was 20 years her senior but this did not stop her from marrying him.
Margaretha gave birth to a son and daughter from her husband, who was highly jealous of her. Tragedy hit the family when the nanny of Margaretha's son poisoned and killed him. The parents divorced but the court gave Rudolf custody of his girl. Margaretha tried to steal her from him but was unable to.
She left for Paris but was unable to find a job as an artists' model since she was considered too curvy for the standards at the time. She was finally hired at Molière circus, where they offered her to become an exotic dancer. It was at that point when Lady MacLeod transformed into Mata Hari.
In 1905, she demonstrated her exotic dance to selected members of high society; it was in essence striptease - by the end of the dance Mata Hari left nothing to the imagination besides her bracelets and necklace.
She told journalists contrived stories of how Buddhist monks had taught her the art of exotic dancing. Mata Hari became so popular that her name was used to create the brand "Mata Hari" cigarettes which became equally popular.
She danced at the biggest stages in Europe but under pressure from the Church agreed not to strip down entirely - only down to a see-through leotard. Mata Hari tried her luck in Amsterdam as well, where she was given a contract with the Royal Theater.
No matter how much money she had, Mata Hari never had enough, after all she had gotten used to living in extravagance. So in 1915 she decided to make a deal with German intelligence.
French and British intelligence caught on to Mata Hari in no time but they waited to see exactly what the beautiful spy intended to do. She traveled across Europe, carrying out German missions.
In 1916, French intelligence offered to recruit her and she agreed to it in exchange for 1 million francs. Mata Hari's career as a double agent came to a swift end.
In February 1917, she was arrested by French police on charges of espionage. Mata Hari's trial began on July 24, 1917 and the next day she was sentenced to death. Her lawyers pleaded the president of France for a pardon but on October 15 her death sentence was executed.
On the day of her execution by firing squad, she appeared wearing a beautiful long dress and expensive jewelry. She refused to wear a blindfold because she said she wanted to look at her executioners.
She faced a firing squad of 11 French soldiers but after she fell dead it was found that 8 of them had fired in the air. Mata Hari was hit by 3 bullets, only 1 of which proved fatal - the one in the heart. Even in her final moments, the great spy made some of her executioners powerless before her beauty and impelled them to spare her.