Jo here, stepping in for Edith. Apologies up front if this has any errors. I’m recovering from the sort of ‘flu that creates brain fuzz. I did have something in mind to blog about, but then some people on my list began to talk about the Chevalier D’Eon, one of the most mysterious and fascinating side-line characters in European history. (You’ll see below why they thought it of interest on my list.)
The Wikipedia article has the basics, but there’s stuff all over the web about him. He’s still a cause for speculation and fascination. Wikipedia article (This, however, claims that he retured to France later in life, and that’s not what I understand. Always a mystery.)
I don’t remember when I first heard about him, but I’ve known the basics for a long time — the strange 18th century Frenchman who liked to dress up as a woman. This wasn’t a secret. It was a great curiosity, or scandal, or mystery in his own lifetime.
However, I never intended to become personally involved with him. That happened completely by accident. In 1999, I was writing Devilish, the last book in the main line of the Georgian series about the aristocratic Malloren family headed by the Marquess of Rothgar.
Rothgar is intimately involved in the power politics of the 1760s and thus, at that period, in matters between Britain and France. I needed a brief encounter with the French Ambassador and went looking for a name — to find that it was the Chevalier D’Eon.
Well, not exactly. He was acting ambassador, but it was he. It was a moment for rude words. I couldn’t, absolutely couldn’t, have D’Eon as a walk on/walk off part, but I did need some official French participation. I couldn’t change my timeline because it was pretty well fixed by events in the series.
In the end I had to accept the situation and work with it, and as is often the case, it turned out to be a gift. Not only was D’Eon a wonderful character, but enriching the French intrigue part of the book made it stronger.
The really peculiar, even creepy thing, was that after I’d finished the book I realized that Rothgar’s actions could explain some of the very strange actions and decisions D’Eon made during that time. After all, Rothgar was feeding him forged documents, some even from the King of France, so D’Eon’s apparently insane boldness and feeling off omnipotence had some basis.
I don’t have space here to even try to explain it all, but in effect he lost the king’s favor by his brash decisions, but saved himself by holing up with a lot of records that King Louis absolutely couldn’t allow to be made public. (Sometimes history is stranger than fiction.)
D’Eon probably had even more on all kinds of people because he was allowed to live, and even received a pension from the king, but he had to remain in exile in England, and only ever wear women’s clothing. (Told you. Strange, strange….) He’d done that before, for espionage and pleasure, but whether he wanted a life sentence is hard to know.
Despite the pictures, this was not a delicate man. He was a war hero and a brilliant fencer, on record as the best in Europe. There’s a famous picture of him engaged in a fencing match with the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the supposed best in Europe. This took place in 1787 when D’Eon was sixty.
This is froma webpage about Saint-Georges, who was interesting in his own right.
". . . the most spectacular event of this visit was a contest that took place at Carlton House on 9 April 1787 in the course of which St-George took on not only the Prince of Wales, the future George IV, but also a personality who had become a legend in his lifetime – the Chevalier, or rather at that time the Chevalière, d’Eon. The painter Robineau has captured this unusual combat in a canvas showing
St-George crossing swords with a lady of a certain age, in skirts and a lace bonnet, whose posture is entirely masculine and who bears the cross of St. Louis on her left breast. The bout ended with the victory of “Miss” d’Eon, but she “was modest enough to believe that M. de St-Georges had been kind to her.” However, he candidly stated that it had taken all his skill to try to parry the thrusts of his adversary. . ."
Yup, he won, at sixty, and in skirts.
There was endless speculation about whether he was a woman in disguise or a man in disguise. It’s possible he was a hermaphrodite.
Official web site in Japanese. Lovely pictures.
Here’s the English one.
You can watch a trailer of the Anime series on You Tube.
Amazing, isn’t it. And an the moment I’m reading up on Mrs. Cornelys, who was inhabiting London at the same time, though he hasn’t entered the picture. Casanova has, however, and what he got up to with her son (no, nothing like THAT, but still very odd.) As I say, history is far wilder than fiction dares to be.
I usually try to toss out some seed questions, but this I leave to you. Give me your thoughts, reactions, speculations, explanations. This time, one randomly picked poster will get a copy of Devilish.
Thanks to everyone on my list who inspired this.