Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, born in 1876, might seem to have been a contradiction in terms: an exotic dancer from the Netherlands? Then again, show biz does permit a certain amount of obscuring the facts, so Miss Zelle (who, for a while, was Mrs MacLeod) let it be known that she hailed from the Dutch East Indies — she’d lived there briefly with Mr MacLeod — and she adopted the sort-of-lyrical stage name Mata Hari. No one seemed to notice that she really couldn’t dance.
Her career as a sort-of-dancer did not last long, but she found herself in demand by the sort of powerful men who demand this kind of thing. And inasmuch as the Netherlands remained neutral during World War I, she could come and go more or less as she pleased. More than once she found herself involved in cloak-and-dagger stuff, at least nominally working for the French, but eventually fell in with the Germans, who found her work unsatisfactory and exposed her, so to speak, to Paris, which put her on trial and eventually ordered her execution by firing squad. It was October 1917; she was just forty-one.
A recent biographical video of “Agent H-21”:
Some of the pertinent French records were declassified in 2017, after a hundred years.