The Sex of Chevalier d’Eon

Chevalier d'Eon
Chevalier d’Eon dressed as a woman. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The sex of Chevalier d’Eon (or if you want his actual name Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont) was of great interest to people in the eighteenth century. D’Eon claimed that he was born female but had been raised as a boy so that his father could inherit from his in-laws. When he was older, he joined the dragoons and habitually wore a dragoon’s uniform, even though rumors constantly circulated that he was a woman. There were also rumors that he had assumed the role of a woman while operating as a spy in Russia.

“Some faint rumours had spread at various preceding periods, that M. D’Eon was a woman, and, in addition to certain feminine appearances in his voice and person, still stronger surmise was indulged, especially at Petersburg, on account of the total indifference, and even aversion as to all affairs of gallantry constantly exhibited by D’Eon towards the females of that voluptuous court, where amorous intrigue is well known to have mixed itself on most occasion with political events.”[1]

The rumors exploded further when in 1770 when a betting pool was started on the London Stock Exchange about d’Eon’s true sexual identity. He was invited to join but declined not wanting to undergo a humiliating examination. No information could positively be determined about his sex, and after about a year, the wager was abandoned. However, rumors continued to circulate, and there were plenty of reports coming out of London that he was woman. One newspaper wrote unequivocally in May of 1771:

“It is now certainly known that the person who has long been received in England under the name of the Chevalier D’Eon is a woman.”[2]

Madame Jean Louise Henriette Campan. lady-in-waiting to Queen Marie Antoinette. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

D’Eon had been banned from France around 1764 for publishing a 200-page book that discussed his dispute with the French government and defamed the British Ambassador, Count de Guerchy, and his family. In addition, d’Eon threatened to expose King Louis XV’s secret plan to invade England and reveal his network of spies called the Secret du Roi (King’s Secret), that were employed without the government’s knowledge. To keep d’Eon quiet about these things, Louis XV gave him a pension but refused to allow him to return to France. Marie Antoinette’s lady-in-waiting, Madame Campan, wrote about the incident in her memoirs:

“This eccentric being had long solicited permission to return to France; but it was necessary to find a way of sparing the family he had offended the insult they would see in his return; he was therefore made to resume the costume of that sex to which in France everything is pardoned. The desire to see his native land once more determined him to submit to the condition, but he revenged himself by combining the long train of his gown and the three deep ruffles on his sleeves with the attitude and conversation of a grenadier, which made him very disagreeable company.”[3]

After the death of Louis XV in May of 1774, d’Eon negotiated his return. He then demanded the French government recognize him as a female. Although Louis XVI complied, he required d’Eon to dress in women’s clothing, and, in 1777, the king provided funds for d’Eon to buy a female wardrobe, which d’Eon did. Nevertheless, he also continued to wear the insignia of the Order of Saint-Louis that he had been awarded for his work in Russia in 1763.

Fencing match between Monsieur de Saint-George et Mademoiselle La chevalière d’Éon de Beaumont at Carlton House on 9 April 1787. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

When the French Revolution broke out, the pension d’Eon had been granted ended. Moreover, property he owned, and property owned by his family, was confiscated. D’Eon then found himself in such financial straits that he was forced to sell off his personal possessions, such as books and jewelry. In 1792, hoping to earn some money, he offered to lead a division of female soldiers against the Habsburgs, but his offer was rebuffed. He then participated in fencing tournaments but that ended after he was wounded in Southampton in 1796. He eventually became paralyzed from injuries suffered during a fall and spent the remainder of his years bedridden with a widow named Madame Cole of New Millman Street caring for him. He died in poverty in London at the age of 81 on 21 May 1810 at 10pm.

Questions about his sex had continued to circulate while he was alive. After his death there was verification of his sex. When his corpse was laid out in a handsome oak coffin, covered with black cloth, and a black velvet cross on the lid, Madame Cole and others discovered he was man.

“After the first surprise had subsided, the discovery was the next morning communicated to some of the Chevalier’s intimate friends, who judged that it would be proper to ascertain all points relative to so singular an occurrence; and accordingly on Wednesday last … the body was examined, and proved beyond a doubt by the certificate of Mr. T. Copeland, the surgeon, to be male. That all doubt of the identity of the person might be removed, some persons of the first respectability were called upon, who gave their positive testimony that the person then before them was the same who had always passed for the Chevalier or the Chevalier d’Eon.”[4]

Chevalier d’Eon dressed as a woman. Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.

Curiosity about d’Eon was not just limited to doctors. According to one newspaper:

“The body of this extraordinary character has undergone not only the anatomical inspection of the whole faculty, but also of many hundreds of the most distinguished Curiosity of the metropolis. Strange to say, the female visitants have exceeded those of the other sex as three to one. High Highness the Duke of Gloucester, and several other persons of distinction were among the latter.”[5]

D’Eon’s post-mortem certificate also was definitive in noting that he possessed manly parts. Copeland wrote:

“I hereby certify, that I have inspected and dissected the body of the Chevalier D’Eon … and have found the male organs in every respect perfectly formed.”[6]

However, Copeland also noted several anomalies.

“There were peculiarities in his person which rendered the doubts which so long subsisted respecting his sex the less extraordinary, and appeared to have given facility to his occasional assumption of the female character … There was unusual roundness in the formation of his limbs; a very slight appearance of beard, and his hair was of so light a colour as to be scarcely perceptible on his arms, legs, or chest; the throat was by no means masculine; the shoulders square, and good; the breast remarkably full; the arms, hands, and fingers were those of a stout female, the hips very small, and the legs and feet corresponded with the hands and arms.”[7]

References:

  • [1] Bristol Mirror, “Chevalier D’Eon,” June 2, 1810, p. 4.
  • [2] Leeds Intelligencer, “London,” May 21, 1771, p. 3.
  • [3] Madame Jeanne-Louise-Henriette Campan, The Private Life of Marie Antoinette, Queen of France and Navarre (New York: R. Bentley and Son, 1887), p. 130.
  • [4] Bristol Mirror, p. 4.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] R. S. Kirby, Kirby’s Wonderful and Eccentric Museum; Or, Magazine of Remarkable Characters. v. 4 (London: R. S. Kirby, 1820), p. 29.
  • [7] Daniel Lysons, The Environs of London: Kent, Essex, and Herts (London: T. Cadell and W. Davies, 1811), p. 646.

Google+ Comments

Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>