Charles-Genevieve Louis August Timothee D’Eon de Beaumont or the Chevalier D’Eon was born on October 5, 1728, to noble but impoverished parents. After a brief stint in the French civil service, in 1756 D’Eon took up an exciting new career as a spy. His new employment was in a secret organization known as ‘The King’s Secret” – a group answerable directly to the King himself. D’Eon was perfect for life as a spy. He was a good actor. He also had a very androgynous appearance- something that served him well during a mission to the court of Emperoress Elizabeth of Russia.
Ongoing Anglo-French hostilities meant only women and children were allowed across the land border into Russia. So D’Eon disguised himself as a woman. He succeeded in crossing, and after a time as a maid of honor at court and a stint in the French embassy, he returned to France in 1760. D’Eon then joined the dragoons and fought in the Seven Years War. He obtained the title of ‘Chevalier ‘ for his part in the peace process and, finally, the French government sent him to London as French Ambassador.
However, D’Eon became involved in an argument with a rival that quickly escalated and ended with him threatening to expose “The Kings Secret.” He actions left him exiled in England and was only able to negotiate a return home after the death of Louis XV. After agreeing to hand over papers from his days as a spy, D’Eon returned to France- dressed as a woman.
Madame Campan stated in her memoirs that D’Eon adopted feminine clothing to fulfill a condition of his return. The disguise was meant to hide him from those he offended. However, London society had already speculated about D’Eon’s gender- something he had refused to settle. Either way, D’Eon’s return to France was anything but discrete. He made a nuisance of himself demanding to be publicly acknowledged as a woman, claiming he had only been registered as a boy so his parents could claim an inheritance.
He lived the last thirty-three years of his life as a woman. He survived the French revolution, alive but impoverished. After the new government refused his offer to lead a female division of French soldiers against the Hapsburgs, he ended his day’s lodging in Southampton, England. He died on May 21, 1810. Doctors found that he had “male organs in every respect perfectly formed” but some feminine attributes such as ‘rounded limbs’ and breasts that were “remarkably full.” His sexual ambiguity coined the phrase “Eonism“ which was for a time used to describe those with transgender characteristics.