Margaretha Geertruida Zelle was born at Leeuwarden in the Netherlands on 7th August 1876. Born into a wealthy environment, in which she and her siblings grew up in a sheltered, bourgeois world, she developed a rich imagination and fared well at school. By the age of nineteen her family life fell apart, it was then on 11th July 1895 that she married Rudolph MacLeod, twenty years her senior and a commissioned officer in the Dutch East Indies Army.
The family moved to Java where Margaretha bore Rudolph two children, a son, Norman John and a daughter. Whilst in this exotic world she became acquainted with the dances that would later inspire her work as a dancer. Tragically following an incident of poisoning Norman John died whilst still an infant. Following this tragedy the family returned to the Netherlands. She was divorced in 1906, shortly after the return from the East, the marriage being dissolved mainly due to her husband's brutality. Margaretha then explored Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris and Vienna abandoning her daughter to the care of Rudolph Macleod.
She then emerged as an Eastern Dancer in the Paris salon of Madam Kireevsky. It was now that she became Mata Hari working in Monsieur Guimet's museum for Asian Art. She adopted the name Mata Hari or 'Eye of the Day' in Malaysian to add to her supposed mystery. She became a sensation by dancing in the nude; within weeks she was the talk of the Parisian Salons. When interviewed by journalists she invented wild stories about holy temples in India and how she had studied Eastern dance. She stated her mother was a Javanese princess, and her father a Scottish Lord. The Press loved her stories and she became a sensation.
Always a lady who followed her fortune Mata Hari received the patronage of a multitude of wealthy and rich uniformed lovers. It was at this time that she met the German Herr Kiepert. Through this liaison, she was to witness the Imperial German Army on manoeuvres in Silesia. This liaison would bare fruit in her later life as a supposed spy. It was now M. Rousseau came into her life. A wealthy banker, he would lavish gifts on her and set her up in a small castle near Tours. Mata Hari soon tired of the rural life and moved back to Paris.
As war descended on the continent of Europe, Mata Hari travelled between Berlin and Paris; she was the talk of polite society. Never one to travel lightly she would always make the grand entrance and statement. When on her journeys between Berlin and Paris she would be accompanied by a caravan that contained 12 trunks of clothes.
By spring 1916, Mata Hari was involved in the dangerous work of Espionage. Always the self publicist she rated herself far better than she actually was. She was first employed by the Germans, using the code name H21 and given the princely sum of 20,000 guilders. Mata Hari then moved back to Paris. It was here that Captain Ladoux, head of the French intelligence services brought her into the French fold.
Mata Hari soon became embroiled within the tangled web of counter-espionage, moving between the France and Germany via England. Her naivety and imagination made her totally unsuitable for this role as a double agent. Very quickly she was distrusted by both sides. British Intelligence now started to take an interest in her. Evidence has recently come to light that the British saw her as someone not to be trusted and effectively tipped the French authorities off about her espionage activities for the Germans.
As a result of this subterfuge by the British Intelligence Service she was arrested in Paris on 13th February 1917. Mata Hari' chances of a fair trail disappeared in a maze of speculation and inconclusive evidence with few witnesses. She was found guilty of spying for Germany and sentenced to death.
On 15th October 1917 at Vincennes Mata Hari paid the ultimate price for her vanity, and naivety when 12 shots rang out at her execution.