The Beurspoortje is all that remains of the world’s first stock exchange, but it wasn’t just a place to trade shares. Booksellers crowded the arcades, often selling books that weren’t allowed to be printed in other countries due to the religious views expressed or the reputation of the author. One such scandalous author was Mademoiselle le Chevalier d’Eon.
There is a legion of contradictory stories about her, many originating from her own writing. The following seems to be the most likely version, but if you don’t like this story, she has others. She was born the son of rural French nobility and joined what was called the King’s Secret, a spy ring the French King hid from his government to pursue his own ends. Her first major role was sneaking into Russia as a woman, as the Tsarina Elisabeth had forbidden foreign men to cross the Russian border.
After fighting bravely as a soldier in the Seven Years War, she was posted to England. While she was gaining popularity in the London scene, the political winds shifted in France. She was demoted and fought openly with the man sent to be her superior, including filing attempted murder charges against him and publishing diplomatic correspondence, which was simply not done. This increased her popularity even as betting houses were taking wagers on whether she was a woman or a man.
As her negotiations with the French government dragged on, she published thirteen volumes on statecraft in Amsterdam. Her notoriety ensured that the books traveled far and wide. When she eventually secured herself a return to France, it was as a woman. She claimed that she had been born a woman and her family brought her up as a boy due to inheritance laws. She was allowed to keep the honors she’d accrued, making her the only woman to be granted the title of Chevalier.
d’Eon eventually returned to London, continuing to live as Mademoiselle d’Eon after the French Revolution severed her connection to its government. She died in London in 1810, and the person who prepared her for burial declared that she was AMAB (assigned male at birth). There is also a suggestion that she may have been intersex, but it is unclear. What is clear is that she lived an adventurous life entirely on her own terms, a rare and impressive feat in any century.