10. Maria Antoinette: The French Queen made a Scapegoat by the French Revolution.
The French may have branded Isabeau de Bavaria, a traitor. However, she was never tried. Another French Queen did not so easily escape the charge of treason- even though, in reality, she had done little to justify the accusation except to live the pampered, privileged lifestyle enjoyed by all French aristocrats. In August 1793, just under a year after the new revolutionary government abolished the monarchy and seven months after her husband’s execution, Marie Antoinette was taken from her children. Her new home was a dank cell in the Conciergerie in the Temple prison, Paris. Only a flimsy screen separated her from her guards. Here she was to wait for her trial for the next two and a half months.
On October 14, the trial began. The queen sat for 15 hours, then a further 24 hours the next day while the prosecution built their case for treason. They accused Marie Antoinette of incest and adultery based on the fact that she had allowed her young son, Louis Charles to share her bed. She was also charged with depleting the treasury of France of millions to fund her extravagant lifestyle and sending money to Austria. The critical charge, however, was that Marie Antoinette and Louis had planned a counter-revolution in 1792 that would have declared her son the new king of France.
Most of the evidence was fabricated and flimsy. However, early on October 16, Marie Antoinette was found guilty of High Treason. The court decreed that she had acted as an enemy agent against France, depleted the national treasury and threatened the internal and external security of the state. At 4.30 am, the former Queen was told she would die that day by guillotine. She did not say a word. She knew that the events were a foregone conclusion and that whatever her faults as a monarch, the charge of treason was just a pretext for her execution.
9. Magdalena RudenschÃ¶ld: The Swedish Countess who committed treason for love
Magdalena Charlotta Rudenschold was the daughter of Count Carl Rudenschold and his wife, Countess Christina Sophia Bielke. The family had close connections with the Swedish royal court, so in 1783, aged 17 Magdalena took her place there as the chief lady in waiting for King Gustav III’s sister, Sophia Albertina. Magdalena soon became popular. She was beautiful and lively and had many admirers. By the time she was twenty, however, she was involved in an affair with Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt, one of King Gustaf’s closest advisors. It was this affair that was to lead Magdalena down the path of treason.
In 1792, King Gustaf III was assassinated. The new king, Gustav IV was only 14, so a regency government was established. Nominally, the new King’s uncle, Duke Charles, was its head. However, the real power was Charles’s adviser, Gustaf Adolf Reuterholm. When Magdalena’s lover, Armfelt was denied a place in government by Reuterholm, he left the country, to set into motion a conspiracy to, overthrow Reuterholm with Russian aid and so head Sweden’s regency government himself.
Armfelt had essentially abandoned Magdalena. However, he continued to write to her and slowly began to draw her into the conspiracy. Magdalena attended receptions at the Russian embassy in Stockholm where she acted as a go-between for Armfelt with the Russians. The plan was to win over the young King to the conspirator’s side and persuade him to sign an agreement to the coup. This letter would then be handed over to the Russians, who would then step in and topple the guardian government.
However, Gustaf IV preferred to stay loyal to his Uncle and after months under surveillance, government agents arrested Magdalena on December 18, 1793. Initially, she was held under house arrest, but then she was transferred to a “terrifying prison where I saw neither sun nor moon.”Magdalena denied any involvement in the plot. However, as more and more of her letters emerged, it became difficult to deny her guilt.
On September 22, 1794, Magdalena Rudenschold was sentenced to death for treason. Her sentence was quickly commuted to public pillorying and then life imprisonment. She was stripped of her title and last name and spent two and a half years in prison in Stockholm. Finally, her royal patrons secured her release and pardon. Magdalena had her title restored, and the crown granted her a small estate and pension. She eventually had a son with one of her servants but she never married, for she continued to hold a torch for Armfelt for the rest of her life.
8. Elizabeth Van Lew: A Confederate Traitor During the American Civil War
Elizabeth Van Lew came from a wealthy slave-owning family in Richmond Virginia. However, in her teens, the young Elizabeth began to question the morality of slave-owning. By the time of her father’s death in 1843, Elizabeth felt confident enough to petition her brother to free all the family’s slaves. Astonishingly, he agreed, and many of the Van Lew’s freedmen stayed on as paid members of staff.
However, when the American civil war broke out in 1861, Elizabeth’s crusading spirit took her down the path of treason against the south. Many southern ladies visited Union prisoners of war out of charity and Elizabeth was no different. She and her mother began to visit prisoners of war in Richmond’s Libby prison, bringing the men food, clothing, and other essential provisions. However, Elizabeth also began to smuggle out letters and pass on information about Confederate strategy. She even helped enemy soldiers escape, hiding them in her home before smuggling them out of the south. When the Union hierarchy heard of Elizabeth’s activities, they recognized a likely recruit. So, in 1863, General Benjamin Butler officially recruited Elizabeth Van Lew as a spy.
Elizabeth became the head of the Richmond spy ring. She was responsible for recruiting new members to her cause and even managing to turn a high-ranking officer at Libby prison. In between these activities, she continued to pass on information about Confederate movements. Elizabeth had managed to cultivate a reputation for mental instability that had earned her the name of “Crazy Bet.” This reputation for harmless madness meant she could information gather undetected. Elizabeth conveyed her information in coded messages hidden in hollowed-out eggs and vegetables which were transported by her servant Mary Bowser.
When Richmond finally fell to the Unionists in 1865, Elizabeth unashamedly raised the stars and stripes above her house. At the war’s end, she was appointed Richmond’s postmaster by General Ulysses S Grant. However, her neighbors never forgave her betrayal of the southern cause. She was shunned in her community and lived in isolation on her family’s estate until her death in 1900. Elizabeth had also impoverished herself in the Union cause. However, the family of one of the unionist officers she had helped escape during the war showed their gratitude to her by supplementing her income.
7. Mata Hari: The Dutch Exotic Dancer Shot by the French for being a German Spy.
In 1905, Dutch housewife Margaretha Zelle abandoned her unhappy marriage to take up a career in Paris as an exotic dancer. Margaretha invented a whole new persona for herself: Mata Hari from the Indonesian “eye of the day.” As Mata Hari, Zelle tantalized Europe with her semi-nude routines that were an early form of striptease. She toured all the major cities of Europe, drawing crowds of thousands wherever she went. Amongst those fans were some of the most important men of the day.
Then in 1914, war broke out. Mata Hari’s international fame meant she had freedom of movement across Europe. This freedom made her an attractive prospect as a spy. The French recruited her almost immediately. However, in 1915, Mata Hari turned double agent. According to her account, Mata Hari was in The Hague and desperate to return to Paris. The German’s agreed to help her- in return for information. Mata Hari did what she believed was a one-time deal. However, for the German’s she became agent H21.
Many people now believe Mata Hari was set up. One theory is the allies used her as a scapegoat for their military failures. However, another suggests that the Germans already knew the Allies had cracked their code. So they sent a telegram implicating Mata Hari so the French would kill their own spy. Either way, in October 1917, Mata Hari was taken from Saint Lazare prison in Paris and executed by firing squad. She reputedly showed great bravery, refusing a blindfold and maintaining eye contact with her executioners until the end. However, after her death, her body was not claimed. So the remains of one of the twentieth century’s most glamorous and notorious female traitors ended up as a subject for dissection practice at the Paris School of Medicine.
6. Sophie Scholl: The Heroine Declared a Traitor for her Defiance of the Nazi Regime.
Sophie Scholl was a real-life heroine, a young woman who put her life on the line to speak up against the Nazi regime. However, to that regime, she was a traitor because of her bravery, and the bravery of the rest of her organization, The White Rose, threatened to shatter the stranglehold of fear the Nazis had over the German people.
Sophie was the daughter of Robert Scholl, the Mayor of Forchtenberg. Robert was critical of the Nazi regime, and Sophie grew up surrounded by people who were equally anti-Nazi. At the age of twelve, she was required to join the League of German Girls. However, her initial excitement turned to criticism when she experienced Nazi propaganda first-hand. In 1942, Sophie joined her brother Hans as a student at the University of Munich. It was there that the brother and sister and some of their like-minded friends formed The White Rose Organization, an anti-Nazi movement dedicated to peaceful resistance.
Many of the young men in the group had seen some military service before university and had seen first hand Nazi murders of Jewish people. The horror of this and the groups increasing awareness of the situation in Germany caused them to publish leaflets advocating the restoration of democracy and justice and urging the German people to refuse to comply with the Nazi regime. These leaflets were distributed secretly to cities across Germany. Unsurprisingly, their message began to attract the attention of the Gestapo. However, no one could pin down the origin of the group.
On February 18, 1943, Sophie took a suitcase of leaflets with her to university. She left stacks of them in corridors for other students to find. However, she found she had a few flyers remaining. So, instead of leaving them undistributed, Sophie took the leaflets to the top of the university building and scattered them onto the ground below. She was spotted and soon after arrested along with the rest of the group.
At her trial, Sophie remained unrepentant. “Somebody, after all, had to make a start.” She said, “What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just do not dare express themselves as we did.” Although many people secretly admired the stance of The White Rose, few dared to protest their execution. On February 22, 1943, Sophie, her brother and their friend Christoph Probst were found guilty. They were beheaded as traitors at 5 pm that same day.
5. Mildred Gillars: “Axis Sally,” The American Radio Propagandist who sided with the Nazis
While some German citizens opposed the Nazi regime from within, certain allied civilians aligned themselves with the Nazi cause. American Mildred Gillars was one of them. Gillars was a bit part actress who had seen little success touring in American theatre groups. So, in 1929, she left for North Africa, with the intention of making her way to Europe. Eventually, in 1934, Gillars reached Dresden in Germany, where she settled down to study music.
Gillars remained in Germany. When America joined the Second World War in 1941, she joined the Nazi propaganda machine at Radio Berlin as a radio announcer. Announcing herself as “Sally,” Gillar’s targets on her programme “Home Sweet Home,” were the thousands of homesick and lovesick American servicemen whose hearts and thoughts were with their loved ones at home. Gilliar’s remit was to demoralize the troops. “Hello, gang, “her broadcasts began. “Throw down those little old guns and toddle off home. There’s no getting the Germans down.”
After the war, Gillars attempted to hide amongst the dispossessed of Berlin. However, in 1946, a US counter-intelligence agent spotted her and had her extradited to the US. There, in 1947 Gillars stood trial for ten counts of treason. Gillars offered a variety of often contradictory mitigating circumstances for her treachery. One moment she claimed she only did the broadcasts to please her German husband, Foreign services officer Max Otto Koischwitz. Then she blamed the US embassy in Berlin for taking her passport away in 1941, forcing her to sign the German oath of allegiance.
None of this convinced the jury. However, they convicted Mildred Gillars on only one count of treason, based around a broadcast made before the Allied Invasion of Normandy. In this broadcast, “Axis Sally” as she was then known attempted to demoralize US forces by delivering an exaggerating account of what awaited them if they were foolish enough to breach Hitler’s Europe. Gillars was fined 10,000 dollars and sentenced to 10-30 years in prison. After serving 12 years, she was paroled. Gillars immediately opted to enter a convent in Columbus Ohio. There, she taught students at the convent French, music -and German.
4. Tokyo Rose: The stranded Japanese-American Student Made a Scapegoat for Radio Tokyo’s Anti-American Broadcasts.
Very similar to the case of “Axis Sally” was that of “Tokyo Rose” a young Japanese American woman recruited to deliver very similar broadcasts to US troops for Radio Tokyo. However, unlike Sally who was complicit, there is a real chance that Tokyo Rose was innocent. Born in Los Angeles on July 4, 1916, Tokyo Rose’s real name was Iva Toguri. In 1941, Iva had just graduated from UCLA. So her proud parents decided to reward her by paying for her to visit her sick aunt in Japan.
The timing could not have been worse. For twenty-five-year-old Iva found herself stranded after missing the last ship leaving for America after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. The secret police visited her and demanded that Iva renounce her US citizenship. Iva refused. However, her decision meant she was classed as an enemy alien and denied a food ration card. Iva eventually found work, first at a newspaper and later at Radio Tokyo, where she typed out scripts for broadcasts to US troops in the South Pacific. However, it wasn’t long before she was broadcasting herself.
Under the alias “Orphan Ann,” Iva was just one of a group of English-speaking women employed to broadcast from Radio Tokyo. Known generically by the troops as “Tokyo Rose” their job was to demoralize American troops with false propaganda. However, it seems that aside from calling the troops, “boneheads,” broadcasts identified as Iva’s did not contain very much propaganda at all. However, after the war, a journalist who interviewed Iva decided to style her as the one and only Tokyo Rose. The American army investigated her for treason but released her for lack of evidence. However, when reporter Walter Winchell got hold of the story, he pressed for to be brought to trial.
The army extradited Iva. Her trial in 1949 was one of the most expensive in US history. It was also designed to make Iva a scapegoat. Transcripts of Iva’s actual broadcasts were withheld from jury and years later, Ron Yates, a reporter on the Chicago Tribune, unearthed evidence that witnesses were forced to lie. On September 29, 1949, a grand jury convicted Iva Toguri on a single count of treason for speaking “into a microphone concerning the loss of ships” She was sentenced to 10 years in prison. She was released after six and forced to live as a stateless individual until President Ford pardoned her in 1977 and reinstated her US citizenship.
3. Blanka Kaczorowska: The Polish Resistance Fighter turner Nazi informant and communist Collaborator
Blanka Kaczorowska betrayed her homeland not once but twice: firstly to the Nazis and later to Communist Russia. However, she began her covert activities with the best of intentions. In 1942, she joined the Polish Home Army, the main organized force of resistance in Poland. Operating under the codename “Sroka,” Kaczorowska became a member of an underground group operating in Warsaw, under the command of her then-husband, Ludwik Kalkstein.
However, the Nazi’s captured the couple and Kalkstein, and Kaczorowska turned. Together, they were responsible for the betrayal of at least fourteen underground officers to the Gestapo, including the Commander of the Home Army, General Stefan Grot-Rowecki in June 1943. On March 25, 1944, a special military court of the Home Army sentenced Kaczorowska in her absence to death for her treason. However, they never attempted to carry out the sentence because she was pregnant. Kaczorowska remained under German protection until the end of the war. Then she disappeared.
She re-emerged in Warsaw in 1948 as a student of art history. Here, Wlodzimierz Sokorski, a polish communist official who was the Soviet appointed Minister of Culture and Art took Kaczorowska under his wing. Sokorski was responsible for implementing Stalinist doctrine in Poland during some of the darkest post-war days and strictly controlled the media. Under his auspices, Kaczorowska became a Master of Art History and took up a post in the State Institute of Folk Art and Folklore Research.
Eventually, however, her past caught up with her. In 1952, she was arrested and tried for her wartime activities and sentenced to life imprisonment. However, Kaczorowska only served five years. She was released in 1958 and promptly became a collaborator again, this time for the communist Polish Security services. She remained in this position in 1971 when she left for France where she remained until her death.
2. Ethel Rosenberg: The American Housewife Executed by the US for passing on nuclear secrets
In 1953, Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg followed her husband Julius to the electric chair after being convicted of passing on information about the construction of the atom bomb to the Soviet Union. Both Rosenbergs were committed communists and identified as part of a spy ring by the FBI in 1950. Evidence against Ethel was initially thin. However, this changed when two other members of the group, Ethel’s brother and sister-in-law, David and Ruth Greenglass testified that it was Ethel who had typed up the stolen secrets from notes taken from David. It was this evidence that sent Ethel to the electric chair.
The Rosenbergs waited for 26 months for their sentence to be carried out, during which time they were offered a reduced sentence if they implicated others. Neither cracked. Outrage followed the execution as people regarded the couple as scapegoats of McCarthyism. The couple’s orphaned children agreed. In adulthood, they began to collect evidence that showed that the Rosenberg’s connection to a Soviet spy ring was peripheral at best. Julius had only passed on military information to the Russians during the Second World War when the US and the USSR were allies against the Nazis. However, he was dropped as an agent after the war because he no longer worked for the US army.
As for Ethel, the Soviets had never registered her as an agent. However, Ruth Greenglass was. It was Ruth who typed up the notes made by her husband, David Greenglass- not Ethel. David only implicated his sister after pressure from the federal prosecutors. Many years later he admitted he lied at the trial to cut a deal that saw him and his wife walk away free. It seems the only reason Ethel was arrested in the first place was to pressure Julius. When she refused to co-operate, a US prosecutor said that despite the weak evidence against her, Ethel should be convicted and given a stiff sentence. Essentially, Ethel Rosenberg joined her husband in the electric chair because unlike her brother; she refused to be bullied.
1. Shi Pei Pu: The Spy who lived as a woman and who inspired the story of Madam Butterfly.
Strictly speaking, our last female traitor was not a woman. However, Shi Pei Pu lived as a woman and even managed to convince his male lover, Frenchman Bernard Bouriscot that he was one. The couple met in Beijing in the 1950s. Shi was an opera singer and Bernard was an employee at the French embassy. Although Shi was dressed as a man when they first met, he managed to explain this away to Bernard by attributing it to his father’s desire for a son.
Shi must have had convincing female features because the pair began a passionate if intermittent twenty-year affair, with intimate relations conducted in the dark. Shi even adopted a son who she managed to convince Bernard was his biological child. During their relationship, Bernard passed on 150 classified documents through Shi to the Chinese government. However, the couple’s espionage was discovered in 1983 after Shi moved to France. The couple was sentenced to six years in prison for espionage in 1986.
Ultimately, however, Shi’s treachery was to Bernard, by hiding the truth about himself- even though he later claimed he never told Bernard he was a woman. The trial, however, revealed that truth to the world and made Bernard a laughing stock in France. He was so distraught when he learned the truth about Shi’s gender, he tried to slit his throat. After his release from prison, Bernard slipped into welcome obscurity. He showed no sign of grief when he learned his former lover died at the age of 70 in 2009. Shi’s however, had returned to the opera after his release from prison. He refused to speak of the affair with Bernard. However, his story was immortalized in the 1988 Broadway show “Madame Butterfly.”