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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > August 2017 > The Extraordinary Tale of…

The Extraordinary Tale of…

She dabbled in low-grade espionage and high-society men. But was she really the femme fatale of legend who deserved her death by firing squad?


Mata Hari, the exotic dancer whose numerous dalliances led her to be convicted as a World War I spy

Dutch exotic dancer Margaretha ‘Gretha’ MacLeod – better known as Mata Hari – has the dubious reputation of being the world’s deadliest female secret agent. Convicted of passing classified information to the enemy, her prosecutors damned her as the greatest woman spy of the century, responsible for sending 50,000 Allied soldiers to their deaths. But was she more scapegoat than spymaster?

Her story begins on 7 August 1876. She was born in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, into a prosperous family – her father, Adam Zelle, owned a hat shop and invested in the oil industry. But when Gretha was a teenager, he went bankrupt, her parents divorced and her mother died. She was sent to live with her godfather, then later, her uncle.

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About History Revealed

Discover the daring escapes and rescue missions of the Dunkirk evacuation, find out how the Victorians revolutionised British summers with the creation of the seaside holiday, and meet the exotic dancer-turned-World War I spy, Mata Hari.