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Mata Hari part 1: The Early Life

One of the most intriguing figures in the history is Mata Hari, Dutch courtesan/dancer turned spy in World War I. Triggered by uncomplete/false information I saw at National Geography Indonesia’s website I decided to write this. To make it easier to follow I cut Mata Hari story in three parts. Here is the first one.

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Childhood
Mata Hari was born as Margaretha Geertruida Zelle at 7 August 1876 in Leeuwaarden, North of The Netherlands. She was the only daughter in the Zelle family. Her father, Adam Zelle, run a succesful hat boutique. The family (father, mother, 3 sons and 1 daughter) lived above the boutique. Margaretha learnt French, English and German in her younger years. It was said she often rode a chariot through the street in Leeuwaarden. In 1889 Adam went bankrupt and left his family behind with no money. Margaretha’s mother, Antje van der Meulen asked shortly for a divorce. Antje passed away in 1891 so that Adam, at that time remarried, took care of the children. He sent Margaretha when was she almost fifteen,  to an uncle in Sneek. She didn’t stay that long in Sneek and moved to Leiden where she started as a student in a training college (Kweekschool in Dutch: where young girls were trained to be a good wife. The lessons consisted of cooking, sewing and taking care of the household).

Flirty Margaretha
At that time Margaretha was truly aware of her appearance. She got men’s attention. Especially that of the college’s director, Wiebe Haanstra. He was attracted to her but she ignored him. One day he called her to his room. Apparently they got something going but somebody came in and saw Margaretha partly undressed. She was expelled from school immediately but strangely the director stayed.

Note from me: another version I read is that Margaretha was quite flirty at school and she was the one who seduced the director.

Rudolph MacLeod
Margaretha came back to her father who lived in Den Haag (The Hague) by then. She was 17 years old when she saw an advert in the newspaper Nieuws van de Dag: “Officer on home leave from Dutch East Indies would like to meet girl of pleasant character object matrimony”. Rudolph MacLeod was a KNIL – Captain. For some of you who wonder why a Dutch captain had a Scottish name: his family settled in The Netherlands in the 17th century. Rudolph was born in 1 March 1856 in Heukelum. His mother was a baroness. When he was 21 years old he was sent to Dutch East Indies as a lieutenant. He fought in Aceh war in 1873 which delivered him the Atjeh-cross (an award). Due to his rheumatism and diabetes Rudolph was seriously weakened and decided to come back to The Netherlands on a sick leave. It was then when his friend encouraged him to put the advert.

Fascinated by men in uniform Margaretha once said: “I am never interested in men who are not in the army. The officer is in my eyes a higher being, a hero, always willing to defy all kinds of hazards and to live the adventure”.

Margaretha reacted to the advert. Their first meeting was in March 1895 at the Rijksmuseum. Despite the age difference of 20 years, they were smitten. Six days later they were engaged.  11 July 1895 Margaretha and Rudolph got married in Amsterdam. The pair became parents of a son, Norman John (born in 30 January 1897).

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Marriage life
In May 1887 the MacLeod family parted for Dutch East Indie.  In 2 May 1898 their daughter, Louise Jeanne was born in Malang, East – Java. The marriage was soon filled with arguments on daily basis. Rudolph’s drinking was also one of the problems occurred in their relationship. In the summer of 1899 Norman died due to unclear circumstances. Rumors said he died of poisoning, perhaps by one of the housemaids, this was never proven though. Eventually Margaretha and Rudolph had experienced the age and character differences during their whirlwind romance. He wanted to live an easy live after his retirement in 1900 by moving to quiet Sindanglaya (a remote little town in West – Java) but Margaretha wanted to explore the world. She literally said “Leave, I want to leave at any price. I want to explore my life. I don’t want to burry my youth in a cemetery like SIndanglaya. I wish to enjoy life”. Rudolph gave in to his wife’s wish so that the family came back to The Netherlands in March 1902. 5 months later, in August 1902 their separation of bed and board was spoken by the court in Amsterdam.

Divorced and no money
As a divorcée, Margaretha was determined to make it. She had custody of her daughter Non. Rudolph was not always on time in sending her the alimony and she couldn’t hold a job. This and her urge to explore the world brought her to Paris. She took Non to Rudolph and started her adventure in Paris. The story about her time in Paris, transformation to Mata Hari the dancer and her lovers comes in part II of this chain post.

Read also: Mata Hari: part II A Dancer A Lover

sources:
Fries Museum: Mata Hari exposition
Mata Hari De levende legende by Marijke Huisman
De tranen van Mata Hari by Tomas Ross

19 thoughts on “Mata Hari part 1: The Early Life

  1. haduh, mbak.. mataku sampe nyureng2 (berusaha) memahami isi jurnal ini. Boso enggrisku pas-pas-an banget, kakakkkkk…! *memalukan*😆
    Gimana kalo dibikin versi bahasa-nya, pasti oke, yes..?😀

    • Iya, Non Noni. Kalo dikultur orang Indo Belanda semua anak perempuan dipanggilnya Non dari Noni/Nona. Anak lelaki panggilannya Sinyo berasal dari Senhor (bahasa Portugis) yang dipelesetin lidah Indonesia jadi Sinyo.

  2. The story of her life is fascinating and intriguing. Apparently a lady with personality and guts. She at least managed to break away from the conventions and routines set for women in her socio-economic conditions at that time. To do that she had hardly any choice but to use methods and opportunities which seem weird to us now.

    Though I doubt whether she was a feminist, she perhaps she in a minor way was a game changer in gender relations.

    • Yep an opportunist and a femme fatale who couldn’t live without men in uniform and glamour. The persona she created still lives on today and it resulted in confusing stories which are taken as facts sometimes. That’s why I write this post.

  3. Pingback: Intermezzo | Chez Lorraine

  4. Kisahnya menarik banget ya untuk diikutin.., tapi kelihatannya memang ia mendrive hidupnya dengan kuat sekali (walaupun seperti yang ia bilang : at any cost.. he he) – sehingga tidak heran ia menjadi sedemikian ngetopnya di kemudian hari ya Mbak..

    • Iya. Dari sisi positifnya: ambisi besar & drivenya kuat, negatifnya: agak naif, impulsif dan menghalalkan segala cara. A remarkable woman.

  5. Wah aku sempet baca tentang tokoh bernama Mata Hari ini. Cuma inget bagian dia mata2 aja dan pernah ke Indonesia. Will definitely read this series of article.😀

  6. Nice. Her story is amazing, indeed.

    By the way, for this kind of topic, military spy, do you’ve some reference about Snouck Hurgronje? The polyglot scholar, mastermind of Aceh Oorlog, the military spymaster of JB Van Heutz?

    I’ve met his descendant from Bandung, West Java. He married twice with Sundanese, but they were hiding without any trace, until I found them in Bandung.

    Thanks🙂

    • Interesting! I’d need to dig in the archives, books & internet about Snouck Hugronje. When it is so far, I’ll let you know.

      Thanks for coming by and for the follow.

      • Hurgronje’s protege Panji Sosrokartono, is Kartini’s older brother. Sosrokartono is Soekarno’s spiritual guru, and he’s also one of Indonesian polyglot.

        Thanks🙂

        • I know Sosrokartono was a polyglot, a clever man he was. Looking forward to dig in information about him & Snouck Hugronje & share it here.

  7. Wah baca posting ini, jadi teringat sama 1 buku yang dibeli tahun lalu dan belum selesai dibaca (cuma bolak-balik halaman dan akhirnya letakin kembali ke lemari buku). Bukunya ditulis oleh Remi Sylado. Miris memang kalau melihat foto Mata Hari sewaktu dieksekusi. Miris juga saat baca sekilas bahwa suaminya memperlakukan Mata Hari semena-mena setelah nikah kilat. Tapi salut atas usaha Mata Hari untuk lepas dari suaminya.

    Ngomong-ngomong jadi teringat juga sama pengarang Indonesia yang nikah sama diplomat Prancis: Nh. Dini. Perjuangan merek memang patut diacungi jempol.

    • Walaupun Rudoplh MacLeod memang peminum tapi Mata Hari juga ada andil dalam perceraian mereka. Mata Hari ngga betah tinggal di Hindia Belanda karena sepi, ngga bisa menggapai ambisinya. NH Dini berjuang apa ya?

      • Saya suka cari tahu perkembangan Nh. Dini waktu SMP baca buku seri kenangan dia sampai sekarang. Dari biografi di buku seri kenangan.

        Terakhir baca agak kaget karena mengira perkawinan mereka bakal langgeng. Orang Prancis kan terkenal romantis. Tahunya suami Nh. Dini ini perhitungan banget. Akhirnya Dini pun memutuskan cerai, sampai dijadikan buku juga: Argentuil (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6097181-argenteuil)

        Yang aku tahu tahu sih, Nh. Dini kena penyakit (hepatitis B, batu empedu, blooding). Tapi untungnya sekarang dah sehat, Mbak.

        Miris juga baca perjalanan hidupnya. Pengarang sekaliber dia namun dari negara pun kurang penghargaan.😦

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