Margaretha Geertruida ”Margreet” Zelle, or Mata Hari, is one of history’s most notorious spies. She was born in the Netherlands, on August 7, 1876. While living with an unfaithful husband in the Dutch East Indies, Mata Hari studied Indonesian traditions and joined a local dance company. She adopted the stage name, Mata Hari, which is Indonesian for “sun”. Mata Hari and her husband divorced upon their return to the Netherlands and in 1903, she moved to Paris.
Flirtatious and comfortable with displaying her body for photographs and live audiences, Mata Hari entranced Parisian society. She was described as free-willed, exotic and promiscuous, and was invited into wealthy societal circles. She was also a courtesan and had relationships with many powerful men, including military officers and politicians, in multiple countries.
During World War I, Mata Hari was able to cross national borders freely, because she was a citizen of the neutral Netherlands. In 1917, French intelligence agents intercepted radio messages to Berlin from Madrid, which described the activities of a German spy named H-21, whom the French identified as Mata Hari. She was found guilty of espionage and was executed by firing squad on 15 October 1917.
Mata Hari was portrayed by Greta Garbo, in the 1931 film, Mata Hari. She has become one of history’s archetypal femmes fatale.
In the 1970s, German documents were unsealed, proving that Mata Hari was indeed a German spy. Still, much ink has been spilt attempting to prove Mata Hari’s innocence as well as her guilt,which just goes to show that history loves a “bad” girl.