About Charles-Geneviève Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont, Chevalier
Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont (5 October 1728 – 21 May 1810), usually known as the Chevalier d'Éon, was a French diplomat, spy, soldier and Freemason whose first 49 years were spent as a man, and whose last 33 years were spent as a woman.
D'Éon de Beaumont was born in Tonnerre, Yonne to Louis d'Éon de Beaumont, an attorney, and Françoise de Chavanson, a noblewoman. Most of what is known about d'Éon's early life comes from a partly ghost-written autobiography, the reliability of which is questionable. D'Eon later claimed to have been born female, but to have been raised as a boy because Louis d'Éon de Beaumont could only inherit from his in-laws if he had a son. The title chevalier, 'Knight', refers to the honorary title 'chevalier des ordres du Roi', conferred by the King of France.
D'Éon excelled in school, graduating in 1749 from Collège Mazarin, in Paris. D'Éon served as a secretary to the administrator of the fiscal department and was a royal censor.
Life as a spy
In 1756 d'Éon joined the secret network of spies called Le Secret du Roi which worked for King Louis XV personally, without the knowledge of the government, and sometimes against official policies and treaties. The monarch sent d'Éon on a secret mission to Russia in order to meet Empress Elizabeth and intrigue with the pro-French faction against the Habsburg monarchy. Later tales claim that d'Éon disguised himself as a lady Lia de Beaumont to do so, and even became a maid of honour to the Empress. D'Éon's career in Russia is the subject of one of Valentin Pikul's novels.
In 1761, d'Éon returned to France. The next year d'Éon became a captain of dragoons under the Marshal de Broglie and fought in the later stages of the Seven Years' War. D'Éon was wounded and received the Order of Saint-Louis.
In 1763, after a successful negotiation with the British government as secretary of the Duke of Nivernais with the title special ambassador, d'Éon became plenipotentiary minister in London - essentially an interim ambassador - and used this position also to spy for the king. He collected information for a potential invasion - an unfortunate and clumsy initiative of Louis XV, of which Louis's ministers were unaware. D'Éon formed connections with English nobility by sending them the produce of his vineyard and abundantly enjoyed the splendour of this interim embassy.
Upon the arrival of the new ambassador, the Count of Guerchy, d'Éon was reduced to his former rank as secretary and humiliated by the count. D'Éon complained, and eventually decided to disobey orders to return to France. In his letter to the king, d'Éon claimed that the new ambassador had tried to drug him. In an effort to save his station in London, d'Éon published most of the secret diplomatic correspondence about his recall under the title Lettres, mémoires, et négociations in 1764, disavowing Guerchy and calling him unfit for his job. This breach of diplomatic secret was scandalous to the point of being unheard of, but d'Éon had not yet published everything (he kept the King's secret invasion documents and those relative to the Secret du Roi as "insurance"), and the French government became very cautious in its dealings with d'Éon, even when he sued Guerchy for attempted murder. With the invasion documents in hand, d'Éon held the king in check.
In 1766, Louis XV granted him a pension for his services (or as a pay-off for silence) and gave him a 12,000-livre annuity. D'Éon continued to work as a spy, but lived in political exile in London. His possession of the king's secret letters protected him against further actions, but d'Éon could not return to France.
Life as a woman
Despite d'Éon's wearing a dragoon's uniform all the time, there were rumors that he was actually a woman, and a betting pool was started on the London Stock Exchange about his true sex. D'Éon was invited to join, but declined, saying that an examination would be dishonouring, whatever the result. After a year without progress, the wager was abandoned. In 1774, after the death of Louis XV, d'Éon tried to negotiate a return from exile. The French government's side of the negotiations was handled by the writer Pierre de Beaumarchais. The resulting twenty-page treaty permitted D'Éon to return to France and keep his ministerial pension, but required that he turn over the secret correspondence about le Secret du Roi.
D'Éon claimed to be physically not a man, but a woman, and demanded recognition by the government as such. King Louis XVI and his court complied, but demanded that d'Éon dress appropriately and wear women's clothing. D'Éon agreed, especially when the king granted him funds for a new wardrobe. In 1777 d'Éon returned to France, and afterwards lived as a woman.
When France began to help the rebels during the American War of Independence, d'Éon asked to join the French troops in America. D'Éon was jailed below the castle of Dijon for 19 days, and spent the following six years with his mother in Tonnerre.
In 1779, d'Éon published the memoirs La Vie Militaire, politique, et privée de Mademoiselle d'Eon. They were ghostwritten by a friend named La Fortelle, and are probably embellished.
D'Éon returned to England in 1785. He lost his pension after the French Revolution and had to sell his library. In 1792, he sent a letter to the French National Assembly, offering to lead a division of women soldiers against the Habsburgs; the offer was rebuffed. D'Éon participated in fencing tournaments until, in 1796, he was seriously wounded. In 1805, d'Éon signed a contract for an autobiography, but the book was never published. D'Éon's last years were spent with a widow, Mrs. Cole.
The Chevalier d'Éon died in London. Doctors who examined the body after death discovered that the Chevalier had been anatomically male. However, it is possible that d'Éon had Kallmann syndrome, a hormonal disorder in which a person's body does not go through puberty. This is suggested by the fact that no known portraits of the Chevalier show any facial hair — even the portrait of taken from a death mask, which was cast at the time of death in 1810. It was highly unusual, however, for fashionable European gentlemen of the 18th century to sport any facial hair.
The term eonism was coined by Havelock Ellis to describe similar cases of transgender behavior; it is rarely used now.
The Beaumont Society, a long standing society for transgendered people, is named after the Chevalier.
The Oxford English Dictionary records the following: Eonism . . . . Also eonism. [f. the name of the Chevalier Charles d'Éon (1728–1810), a French adventurer who wore women's clothes: see -ism.] Transvestism, esp. by a man. So Eonist, one who wears the clothes of the opposite sex. 1928 H. Ellis Studies Psychol. Sex VII. i. 10 It was clearly a typical case of what Hirschfeld later termed 'transvestism' and what I would call 'sexo-aesthetic inversion', or more simply, 'Eonism'. Ibid. 12 The Eonist (though sometimes emphatically of the apparent sex) sometimes shows real physical approximations towards the opposite sex. 1970 Times 5 Sept. 8/4 Today we can see that the Chevalier was an a-sexual transvestite. From his name Havelock Ellis coined the term eonism to describe this minor deviation.