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The story of Charles d'Eon de Beaumont

Charles-Genevieve Louis Auguste Andre Timothee Chevalier d'Eon de Beaumont, from whom the Beaumont society was named, was born o n October 5 th 1728, son to Louis d'Eon de Beaumont and Lady Francoise de Chavanson. When he grew up he did not have a manly frame. He was slight with a small body, slim waist, small hands and feet. He had fair hair and blue eyes. He also had an unusually fair complexion and spoke with a high pitched voice. It was these qualities that he was to use to lead a duel life. He had cross-dressed from an early age sometimes forced to for the amusement of his mother.

He once gambled with his friends that his cross-dressing as a woman could cheat Madame Pompadour, King Louis XV's mistress. He succeed, and even fooled the king who was taken in by his disguise. Just prior to the end of the Seven Years war, Elizabeth, Empress of Russia concluded a treaty with England and as a result refused to receive members of the French diplomacy.

Louis XV knowing about Charles's cross-dressing and believing that a French woman might get through Elizabeth's door where a male diplomat could not. He hit upon the idea of sending a 'lady' diplomat, an intelligent and gifted man in the guise of a woman to Russia. His gaze fell on the fresh faced Charles de Beaumont who also had all the other qualities that were necessary he was persuaded to go to Russia as "Madmoiselle de Beaumont,” pretending to be his own "sister.” ‘She' was dressed in the latest ladies French fashions and was given false documents proving "her" parentage and patronage.

The ruse worked brilliantly. "She" was able to spend many hours in the company of Empress Elizabeth and persuaded her to write to Louis and invite a new ambassador to Moscow. "She" took a very strong liking to this highly pampered feminine lifestyle, but was soon back in Paris to report ‘her' success. Unbelievably ‘She' was re-despatched to Moscow by Louis XV in his male role this time as an embassy secretary.

But Charles went out dressed as both personas at the Russian Court, carving an enviable reputation as a spy in the process! After several years at playing both roles, he believed that his double life was about to be exposed, and was quickly sent to London to continue his dual role as a top spy.

Whilst in London both Charles and his female persona independently became accepted as part of the English Court and of the social scene at that time, but were never seen out together. Whilst in London he took a keen interest in fencing in both personas. This was unusual as ladies at that time didn't fence and his reputation grew as a lady fencer.

Chevalier d’Eon lived in London from 1762-1777 as a man, and from 1785-1810 as a woman and, during both periods, he enjoyed considerable fame in international politics, high society and popular culture. Long before he lived publicly as a woman, d’Eon was feted as a famous soldier, champion fencer and diplomat who negotiated the Peace of Paris in 1763. Having lived in England for 13 years he refused to return to France when recalled, blackmailing the French crown with threats to sell French government secrets to the British.The need to maintain two lifestyles, especially the feminine one, soon had him deeply in debt. His family's fortunes also took a turn when Louis XV died and Louis XVI took the French throne. By this time Charles needed some extra income to finance his lifestyle, so from his secret London address began to sent messages to the new king in Paris trying to blackmail him by threatening to disclose his spying activities.

This truly was a royal dilemma as the new King had been making secret overtures to be on friendlier terms again with the English, as the cost of various wars was crippling the French economy. For the attempted blackmail Charles should have gone to prison but the king could not allow his advisors to see there was no punishment so a unique solution was found. Charles d'Eon de Beaumont would be paid, for spying services rendered a sum of money more than adequate to cover all his debts, and he would be allowed to return to France and live there freely on the condition that he did so as a woman.

As such his prison sentence was merely suspended in case he tried to revert to being Charles, and with this threat hanging over him he would cause the King no further trouble. This solution provided a further safeguard too, because even when 'she' was back in France, Charles could not risk the discovery by the English of her or should that be his real identity and the disguise of his duel personas.

As the years passed the need for secrecy faded away and he continued to live in the guise of his female persona, and on occasion turning up at the French Palaces wearing men's clothing, and being ordered to change into women's clothing before being allowed in. Charles lived to an old age and after his death on 21 st May 1810 an autopsy was performed with the specific task of confirming his/her true sex, which was that of a genetic male.

It was from Charles that the Beaumont Society was named after.