Mata-Hari was born plain Margaret Gertrud Zeller. Mata-Hari found fame in World War One as a spy who was shot by the French for spying for the Germans. Mata-Hari meant ‘Eye of the Morning’.


Mata-Hari’s father was a Dutchman who married a Javanese woman while working in the Far East. The couple returned to Holland where their grown up daughter gained a reputation for exotic Oriental dancing rarely seen in Europe. The then Margaret Zeller was considered to be beautiful and intelligent. A fine linguist, she was also a very good conversationalist. She married a Dutch naval officer but the marriage was short-lived – probably because Mata-Hari looked for a more exciting life than one which a naval officer could provide.

Mata-Hari moved to Paris where she earned a good income from her dancing. She was still in Paris when the war broke out in 1914. In July 1915, while fulfilling a dancing engagement in Spain, British Intelligence learned that she had been in contact with the German Secret Service. In early 1916, the ship she was traveling on pulled into Falmouth in Cornwall. Here Mata-Hari was picked up by the police and taken to London for questioning. The police records state that she was fully co-operative and surprised by the questions being put her way – about meeting representatives of Germany’s Secret Service. Her defence to the accusation that she met members of the German Secret Service was that she did not know what their profession was – she had met them purely on a social basis. However, Mata-Hari suddenely asked for the room to be cleared of all but two people. One of the people who remained was Sir Basil Thomson. In a book by Thomson published after the war, he claimed that Mata-Hari said the following to him:

“Very well, then I am going to make a confession to you. I am a spy, but not as you think, for the Germans, but for one of your Allies – the French.”

Mata-Hari was released as the British had no evidence to keep her. Her ‘confession’ made Thomson believe that she was definitely a German spy as she had, in his opinion, overplayed her hand on helping out France. However, he had no hard core evidence against her. Mata-Hari was returned to Spain with advice from Thomson to give up whatever it was she was doing and for whoever she was doing it for! Just one month later she was caught in French territory with compromising documents on her.

In July 1916, Mata-Hari was put on trial in Paris – the city where she had made such a name for herself as a dancer. This time, she was on trial for her life. On July 25th, she was sentenced to death for spying against France.  On October 15th, Mata-Hari was taken to Vincennes to be executed. Thomson received information from the French police as to what exactly happened that morning. Mata-Hari was woken at 05.00 and she dressed in a dark dress that was fur trimmed. When she was taken to where the firing squad had assembled, she waved at them but waved away a priest. Mata-Hari refused a blindfold and was once again in the process of talking to the firing squad when she was shot dead.