Chevalier D'Eon: History's Most Important Cross-dresser
By April Williams T The term "transvestite" was coined early in this century and comes from the Latin phrase which translates literally into cross (trans) - dress (vest). But prior to that the phenomena of cross-dressing was referred to as "Eonism" after history's most important cross-dresser, a French diplomat and agent named the Chevalier D'Eon. Born in Tonnerre, France in 1728, he was dressed as a girl until he was seven years old. At 13 he left home for college and eventually became an agent to King Louis XV. Soon afterwards European politics made it necessary for France to repair diplomatic fences with Russia and Empress Elizabeth. However the powerful Russian Chancellor had arrested and imprisoned the last French envoy sent to the court of the Empress. To outwit the Chancellor, the young, girlishly slender D'Eon was sent to the court disguised as a woman with instructions to mingle with the Empress and maids of honor and to secure a position of confidence near the Russian throne. So disguised, he was presented to the Empress with a letter from Louis XV, expressing the king's desire for an alliance between France and Russia. In the archives of the French Foreign Ministry a document concerning the situation cites... "D'Eon was young, small in stature, full breasted and with the sort of legs that were favorable to his disguise. As a maid of Empress Elizabeth, D'Eon slept with a young lady, since to become the Princess d'Askoff". The document notes D'Eon behaved as chaste as an innocent virgin toward his bedmate since his main interest lay in keeping his secret. A year later D'Eon then returned to France where, as a man he was sent back to Russia, filling the position of assistant to the ambassador. He was introduced to the Russian court as the uncle of the girl he posed as the previous year. He stayed in Russia five years and history credits him with convincing Empress Elizabeth to sign the Treaty of Versailles. For the next few years D'Eon took up arms and became one of France's master swordsmen. He was cited for bravery during this period while fighting in Germany. At the end of the Seven Year' War, D'Eon ran the French embassy in England until a new ambassador could be sent. During this time he spent vast sums of money on hospitality and rich attire for himself. When the French Foreign minister refused to pay the bills D'Eon began using his position to gather powerful documents on France, including some of the country's most dangerous secrets. He accumulated these as ammunition, putting them aside in a private cache allowing him the luxury of being very impudent to the new ambassador. [IMAGE]The new ambassador then tried several ploys to get rid of D'Eon, still a favorite of the King. One of which involved the rumor that D'Eon was actually a woman. This stirred such commotion that the rumor became the source of a large amount of betting in England and an offer of 6000 pounds was made to anyone that could uncover D'Eon's true sex. In retaliation D'Eon used his secret documents and published them along with his observations in a book which became a best seller in Europe while throwing the courts of both France and England into horror and confusion. The All-Time Dream At this point D'Eon lost his ace in the hole as King Louis XV died and the new King Louis XVI called D'Eon to France, this time for the purpose of acquiring D'Eon's stolen document collection and permanently removing the embarrassing D'Eon from the scene. An agreement was reached that stands today as the all time crossdresser's dream. In exchange for his life, D'Eon would not only turn the document collection over to the French Foreign minister and agree never to leave his native France again but he had to "henceforth dress in the garments of a woman, never to leave off wearing them". In return D'Eon received a pension 12,000 livres, paid quarterly. And so from the time he was 49 D'Eon was forced to spend the rest of his life dressed as a woman. To accommodate this sentence Marie-Antoinette sent Mademoiselle D'Eon corsetters, courtiers and maids to wait on her. The French Queen further had insisted that D'Eon be the center of interest wherever she went, to be presented at court, and invited to the drawing rooms of the foremost hostesses of Paris and Versailles. All this suited D'Eon quite well until the American Revolution broke out, causing D'Eon to write to the French Foreign Minister requesting permission to give up her petticoats and join the Americans. The order was not rescinded and she was imprisoned for daring to defy the King but was released on the condition she return to her hometown of Tonnerre and renew her promise to dress as a woman for the rest of her life. Eight years later, in 1785, though still a woman, she was given permission to return to London to put her affairs in order. Hinted in all of this was the possibility of other undisclosed documents, potentially embarrassing to France. So France sent her on her way along with 6000 livres. Fencing Phenomenon [IMAGE]Setting up house in London she sought extra income by challenging to a duel a champion swordsman also from France and living in London at the time. The match took place at Carlton House in London before an audience of the Prince of Wales and many members of the fashionable sporting world. Though sixty and rather corpulent she triumphed over her competitor, twenty years her junior, while the Mademoiselle herself wore three tiers of skirts and a lady's lace cap. From this victory D'Eon gathered a small supporting company of fencers and toured the provinces giving displays of her skills in the packed halls of Oxford, Brighton, Birmingham and eventually at Southampton where an opponent's broken foil pierced her side. Badly wounded she was bedridden for two years and never recovered her strength. In 1789 during the outbreak of the French Revolution her pension annulled and she spent seven months in debtors prison. In 1795 she made the acquaintance of a Mrs. Mary Cole, keeping house together for the next fifteen years. Mrs. Cole never suspected the true sex of her housemate. On May 21, 1810 D'Eon passed away peacefully in bed. The doctor, upon examination of the corpse was astonished to find out D'Eon's true sex. He reported, "The body presented unusual roundness in the formation of the limbs, the appearance of a beard was very slight, the throat was no means masculine; shoulders square and good; breasts remarkably full; arms, hands, fingers, those of a stout female; hips very small and legs and feet corresponding to the arms". D'Eon was buried in St. Pancras cemetery in England where her tombstone is still present today.