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Chevalier D'Eon

  • Object:

    Print

  • Place of origin:

    London (published)

  • Date:

    1791 (published)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Condé, Jean (engraver)

  • Museum number:

    E.175-1930

  • Gallery location:

    Prints & Drawings Study Room, level D, case G, shelf 2, box A

Physical description

An engraved portrait of Mademoiselle La Chevalier D'Eon de Beaumont depicted in female dress.

Place of Origin

London (published)

Date

1791 (published)

Artist/maker

Condé, Jean (engraver)

Descriptive line

Portrait of the Chevalier D'Eon by J. Conde. Published in London, 1791.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Charles, Chevalier d’Éon de Beaumont, (born Oct. 5, 1728, Tonnerre, France—died May 21, 1810, London), French secret agent, soldier, and fencer from whose name the term “eonism” is derived, denoting specifically male to female transvestism or transition.
Le Chevalier d’Eon joined 'Le Secret' as a spy in 1755 on the eve of the Seven Years War. Their first mission was to Russia to gain the trust and ear of the Tzarina Elizabeth. This appears to be the first record of the Chevalier dressing as a woman for the purposes of espionage, taking the name Mademoiselle Lia de Beaumont. The Tzarina was described as more likely to respond to the attentions of 'a pleasant young woman', coupled with the fact that border controls put in place by the English prohibited French access to Russia. However, women and children were permitted to cross. The truth of whether this mission ever took place at all is contested, like many other mysteries in the Chevalier’s life. After continued good service to the nation as a dragoon captain, they went to London in 1762 returning to Versailles the next year with the ratification of the Treaty of Paris. They received the cross of St. Louis and returned to London, this time with ambassadorial status and instructions from the King for further espionage to rebuild France’s fortunes by invading England following the loss of their American colonies. However, after a quarrel with another ambassador, the Chevalier was fired and ordered to return to France but they refused to go, instead opting to air French secrets in a libellous and scandalous publication of diplomatic letters in 1764.
Forced into exile, they remained in London and speculation mounted as to the Chevalier’s gender with bookmakers setting odds from 1771 to gamble on the question. This posed a considerable danger to the Chevalier who couldn’t leave their home without guards for the threat of people attempting to strip off their clothes in the street. In 1775 they signed an agreement to hand back any official documents to France and be publicly recognised as a woman by the King. Living out the remainder of their life in London as a woman, they died in 1810 and were interred at St Pancras Old Church. An autopsy performed two days after death certified them as “male-bodied” but with "unusual roundness in the formation of limbs...[and] breast remarkably full" giving rise to speculations more recently that they may have been intersex. The complexity of the Chevalier's gender identity has become a central narrative in the search for gender non-conforming histories in 18th century Europe.

Materials

Paper

Techniques

Printing

Subjects depicted

Subject; Trans; Portrait; Cross-dressing; Gender issues

Categories

Gender and Sexuality; Portraits; Prints; LGBTQ

Collection

Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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