The veil is lifted on the Knight of Eon… .Despite all the nicknames he has been given "the Amazon of the day", "the famous Tonnerre virgin", "amphibian" ... Charles Geneviève d'Eon de Beaumont was indeed a man. The reason for his fame apart from the fact that this famous spy of Louis XV was not "worn" on women is that he had some slightly feminine physical details: hairless, long legs and a chest a little more developed than usually in a man!
The Youth of the Knight of Eon
Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Thimothée d'Eon de Beaumont was born in October 1728 in Tonnerre in Burgundy, in the Renaissance-style mansion of Uzès. His father Louis was a nobleman, lawyer in the Parliament of Paris, adviser to the king and director of the King's domains.
Raised severely, he learned Latin and mathematics, before heading to Paris and enrolling at the Collège des Quatre-Nations to take dance, horseback riding and sword-handling lessons. At twenty, with a good diploma in hand, he entered the Faculty of Law and obtained lawyers' certificates a year later in August 1749. He did not inherit a great fortune on the death of his father in October 1749, he meets Berthier who helps him become royal censor: affix his signature before printing any work. He then embarked on writing (newspaper articles, essays, books), and this charming young man, fine, intelligent, quick-witted, made friends like the Duc de Penthièvre (grandson of Louis XIV) , the count of Lauragais, the duke of Nivernais.
His first steps in Versailles
The Chevalier d'Eon thus met the Countess of Rochefort, a young widow who invited him to a carnival ball in Versailles. Everyone disguises themselves, Eon appears as a woman, expertly made up… this is how the story begins.
Using his disguise abilities, Louis XV enlisted him in the "Secret du Roi", a spy organization led by the Prince de Conti. The alliance of England and Prussia threatens the understanding with Russia. Eon, now Lia de Beaumont, was sent to Russia in July 1755, accompanying Douglass Mackensie, Scottish secret agent and geologist. Douglass is rejected (sensing too much of a French spy), so it falls to Lia to approach the Czarina and deliver a letter from the King of France.
His embassy in Russia
Lia, introduced to the court as a reader, gives the precious document to the Czarina and then reports the reply to the King of France three months later. In her words, she is willing to ally with France against Prussia and England, but the Sublime Porte must be "rid"; or Louis XV could not. Douglas Mackensie is dispatched as official envoy ... followed closely by a knight ... Eon, Lia de Beaumont's brother! With his hot temper, the knight fulfills his mission perfectly and the Tsarina is conquered. Back in France, despite a broken leg, Eon presents Russia's plan of attack against Prussia to the king, and announces the losing battle of the Prussians against the Austrians. The happy king offered him a pension of three thousand pounds and a gold snuffbox.
Appointed lieutenant to the Dragons in August 1757 and forced to rest, he wrote several essays on the finance of the countries, learned of the defeat of the Franco-Austrian army and the cold reigning between France and Russia (the King of France did not accepted to be the godfather of the tsarina's grandson). The knight then makes his third trip to Russia to save the day. Appointed embassy secretary, he takes the place of the current ambassador ... inefficient and overspending. While in court, the Czarina offered him to stay in Russia, but he declined the offer while accepting in exchange a rank of Captain Colonel General of the Dragons!
After four winters spent in Russia, disappointed by Baron de Breteuil, the new ambassador, Eon returned to France in the summer of 1760, sick with smallpox but provided with recommendations and compliments on his good work, his good behavior, his mastery in the face to the opponent ...
War breaks out in Germany, and Eon's regiment is not part of it; he then enlisted under the orders of the Comte de Broglie. In the army and in spite of the protection of the count, the first slanderous words burst forth: he is "a dangerous wheel, endowed with the grace of a young woman" and yet he succeeds in perilous missions while others hesitate and procrastinate like the Count of Guerchy. The Czarina dies and Catherine the Great is favorable to the Prussians: peace with England is essential.
His prowess and his demands in England
In September 1762, the Duke of Nivernais appointed ambassador and his secretary, the Chevalier d'Eon of course, landed in England. On this occasion, Eon surpasses himself. Appreciated at court, in the odor of sanctity with King George III, he managed to steal the papers concerning the future peace treaty (definitively signed in February 1763) to send them urgently to Choiseul in order to better negotiate. On his return to Versailles, Eon received a standing ovation, received a gratuity (one year's salary), a knight's certificate of the order of Saint Louis and praise from the Duke of Nivernais.
The knight, back in England replaces the ill Duke of Nivernais and receives another mission: to check the state of the English coasts, in order to be able to organize a landing and defeat this country.
The knight leads a great lifestyle with his twenty-two servants, twelve stable horses and receptions every day, but things turn sour when he implores France to provide for his great needs. The minister refuses, Eon feels rejected, abandoned, unloved ... Everything escalates with the arrival of the new ambassador, the Count de Guerchy, enemy of the knight. Receiving reprimands and being recalled to France, Eon turns a deaf ear and succeeds in being provoked at a dinner party: if he fights he is dishonored; if he slips away, he loses face in all of London!
After a poisoning, then a visit to his home, Eon refers it to the king himself. Threatened with extradition to England, from the Bastille in France, Eon remains in London and carefully preserves the secret documents. It is December 31, 1763.
While in France, the knight loses his ranks and is accused of the crime of lèse-majesté having badly received the king's envoys wanting to recover the secret papers, in England all the people support the knight, faced with his quarrels with the ambassador. , who loses the battle despite the pamphlets circulated treating the knight of mental patient, neither man nor woman ... and during this time, Eon who plays the dead, writes a volume of four hundred pages, treating Guerchy of coward, of which the first edition will tear off and be quickly exhausted. But in France, it's anxiety ... how far will this quarrel go? And they take away his foreign affairs pension.
Guerchy makes life difficult for the knight and even organizes an attack against him. Eon is asking for help from France, otherwise he will divulge all state secrets. Having to go to court, he hides with a friend ... in the guise of an old woman! A providential manna presents itself to Eon in the person of Vergy, a pamphleteer who swears before the court that Guerchy initiated the attack ... Guerchy is convicted of murder in February 1765, Eon exults, calms down and cooperates with France. He receives his pension again, but faced with the lack of money, sells some secret papers to each envoy of the King of France.
The knight, as we have seen, disguises himself as a woman. In March 1771, the rumor runs, the bets are launched, the amounts reach several hundred thousand pounds. In France, the news travels quickly and questions arise too. An envoy from the King of France comes to see ... Eon plays the game and makes him "feel" the place in question ... Convinced that he is dealing with a woman, he rushes to reveal the news to the King of France and his ministers! The knight does this on purpose so that France continues to talk about him.
One fine day in November 1773, Eon received a letter obliging him to dress permanently and forever as a woman, if he wanted to return to France. As a spy, he receives a new mission: to recover Madame du Barry's Memoirs (on her prowess in bed with the king) written by scandalous author Théveneau de Morande. Eon offers a deal (eight hundred pounds which the king is not ready to pay), but two French emissaries arrive, one of whom is Beaumarchais, who burns the Memoirs, the operation amounts to one hundred and fifty four thousand pounds!
When the king died in May 1774, the "King's Secret" no longer existed. What will become of the knight? Louis XVI admits to letting in "the knight" against delivery of documents and a gratuity of twelve thousand pounds, but changes his mind having received a complete memorandum written by the knight in January 1775, recording the costs incurred and not reimbursed since the beginning of his missions to Russia: the total amounted to three hundred and eighteen thousand pounds!
In London, Beaumarchais meets the knight who tells him his story, his status as a poor lonely woman, his setbacks with the former Ambassador Guerchy, his unsuccessful requests to the King of France, his only desire to return to France, his lack of silver. Beaumarchais does not let himself be fooled and informs France. He obtains an authorization stating "full latitude to make all arrangements ...". Against delivery of secret documents, the knight would receive an annuity of twelve thousand pounds, a safe-conduct to return to France and the obligation to dress as a woman henceforth, as well as to bear the name of Mlle d'Eon. Curious by nature, Beaumarchais will do everything to know the nature of Eon’s sex. Unable to take it anymore, the knight agrees to sign this compromise, but plays the part by cajoling him, by making the flirtatious ... so much so that the marriage between these two so different people is announced in all the London newspapers. This farce will last a year. The knight is at an end, Beaumarchais not keeping his word, not paying him any money, speculations resuming, forced to justify himself in court (still on his possible femininity) this situation looks like hell. At the end of his strength in January 1777, the knight accepts all the conditions whatever. He packs his trunks, convinced he is a woman ... but wearing the dragon costume.
His return to France
In Tonnerre in August, he was greeted with exaltation: cannon shots, rifles, a guard of honor, feasts, fireworks. His last man hours have come! On the way to Versailles, he stopped by his friend Berthier's, who urged him to wear feminine clothes: "Your political and military career is over. Your glory as a daughter will begin ”.
To appear at court, the queen, who took pity on him, sent him a voucher for twenty four thousand pounds in order to constitute his wardrobe. Learning is difficult, high heels and pointed shoes don't make it easy, as for the bodice ribs ... not to mention the female conversations about rags, hairstyles and adornments! The knight was presented to the court on November 23, 1777, dressed by Rose Bertin, in a basket dress, frou-frou, fan… the whole assembly was hilarious. No one is fooled: "you can't take this transvestite for a woman, with hairy and muscular arms, his beard growing under the powder, his sudden gestures". And yet everyone is tearing it off, he is invited from everywhere, always in a black robe, walking up the stairs four at a time, sitting down with his legs apart ... such behavior is incredible, it intrigues everyone ...
When war in America breaks out, Eon wants to be enlisted, but having no answer, he threatens to return to England and receives an order of exile for Burgundy. The knight does nothing, on the contrary, he walks in the streets, in dragon captain clothes! Arrested on March 20, 1779, after a stay in a convent in Auxerre, then in a "golden" prison in Dijon, he was sent to Tonnerre with a ban on leaving and always dressing as a woman.
To pass the time, he tends his land, plants vines, builds a family tree with prestigious ancestors, a case that will be refused in court. He helped the people of his village and spent social evenings, interspersed with reading, until 1783 when the king let him return to Paris. When the owner of his London apartment demanded the rents from him, on pain of selling all his belongings at auction (books, libraries and secret papers), he returned to London in 1785, provided with the ministerial agreement, a passport and six thousand pounds. But how do you move a huge library and more than eight thousand books? He decides to stay in England where people recognize him, and love him ...
Its end in England
To survive, he makes performances, demonstrations, fights where he can gain about four hundred pounds. During a performance, the Chevalier d'Eon crossed swords with the Chevalier de Saint Georges and the Prince de Galles, then resigned himself to selling part of his library in May 1791. Unfortunately for him, we opened in France “l 'iron cabinet', containing the secret papers. His house in Tonnerre is then searched, nine boxes of paper plus a packet of letters sealed with red wax are discovered.
During the battles he continued to earn a few cents, a blade pierced him in August 1796. He spent four months between life and death and remained paralyzed. At sixty-nine, no longer fighting, he stayed with a friend until 1804 when the police searched for him for non-payment of his debts. After five months in prison, released thanks to a French priest, he only has two memories left: his cross of Saint Louis adorned with diamonds and the gold snuffbox received from Louis XV, which he will deposit at the Mont-de-Piété. . Sick and crippled, the Chevalier d'Eon passed away peacefully in his sleep on May 21, 1810, after an attack two months earlier. During the funeral cleansing, her old friend discovers… her real male sex! The autopsy performed confirms that Charles Geneviève is indeed a man. The Universal Courier mentions the death of the knight in June. But two days later, the Journal de Paris publishes a long paper on the uncertainty of the knight's sex ... Everything starts again ...
- "The Knight of Eon" - Michel de Decker. France-Empire, 1999
- "The Knight of Eon: a life without tail or head" - Evelyne Lever. Fayard, 2009.