J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, January 10, 2015

Another Side of the Chevalier d’Eon

I’m recommending this podcast lecture from the National Archives in Britain:. It’s titled “The Chevalier d’Eon: Transgender Diplomat at the Court of George III, 1763-1777,” but it’s really about that French nobleman’s career in Britain before he decided to live as a woman full-time (which is the part of his life everyone talks about).

The speaker, Jonathan Conlin from the University of Southampton, draws parallels between D’Eon and the British politician John Wilkes. In 1763, each man fell afoul of his own country’s government and took refuge in the other. For Wilkes, life in France was only a short-term exile. For D’Eon, Britain would be his home for another decade, and the refuge where he returned for good during the French Revolution.

As Conlin explains, D’Eon first arrived in London as a diplomat helping to negotiate the end of the Seven Years’ War, and then in early 1763 became France’s highest diplomat in London—as well as the coordinator of a ring of spies scouting for vulnerabilities in British shoreline defenses for when the next war came.

After only a few months the French government appointed someone in D’Eon’s place, and he simply refused to come home. What’s more, the chevalier started a pamphlet war in London, arguing that his government was treating him unjustly. He published some of the diplomatic correspondence he possessed, an implicit threat to publish even more sensitive documents.

Conlin describes how D’Eon, though writing only in French, adopted the Wilkesite rhetoric of justice threatened by a corrupt government. And Wilkes’s followers in London protected the French aristocrat from capture by his countrymen.

This lecture stops when D’Eon and the French monarchy reached an accommodation in the late 1760s. Later they’d make another deal that allowed him to return to France and adopt a female identity. Only then, it appears, did the chevalier rewrite his/her earlier career to claim that he/she had been a woman all along.

1 comment:

Len d'Eon said...

First, Congratulations on your publication. I just found it. Great concept. Thanks for all that.

The true story of the Chevalier d'Eon is one of the greatest love stories ever not told. It's been kept secret for many years by the British Crown. And for good reason. The French Foreign office still has it under wraps.
It's a story of boy meets girl and engage to be married. England's Queen Mom sends an entourage to Germany to get girl named Charlotte for the King of England.. Girl's mother says no way…"Over my dead body will she marry a deranged king". Girl's mother dies the next day… according to English history, of "happiness". Girl is dragged away to become Queen of England and is ensconced in St. James Court. Girl buys a place called Buckingham House to get away from nut-case King. They call the place "The Queen's House".Boy moves in. Newspapers reveal that King is "unable" and that The French Ambassador aka Le Chevalier d'Eon is the father. France and England might go to war over this one. Until…..a painting surfaces of the Chevalier d'Eon as Lea de Beaumont, The painting proves he's not the father because "Woman cannot impregnate woman". Le Chevalier agrees to wear the dress of a woman for the rest of his life. Buckingham House has a new French governess. Girl has 15 kids. England gets all those heirs with an "unable" George III.
England is happy. France is happy. Boy and girl are ecstatic.

My novel, THE CAVALIER, by Leonard J. d'Eon, first published by G.P.Putnam's New York some years ago, is out of print. The soft-cover is available at Amazon.com….and yup…the above mentioned painting of le Chevalier d'Eon as Lea de Beaumont is still in London…in the British Museum.

Leonard J. d'Eon, Author