The Naples Figural Portrait of the Chevalier D’Eon
The Naples Figural Portrait of the Chevalier D’Eon
The Naples Figural Portrait of the Chevalier D’Eon, standing in a long flowing yellow skirt, wearing puce shoes, a black jacket with frilled white collar over a orange dotted chemise and holding an ostrich feather muff. The high typical styled hair beneath a wide brimmed hat with blue ribbons and a black osterich feather plume. Standing on a textured circular mound base.
Height: 7 Ins (18cms.)
Crowned N in underglaze blue to the underside
Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Timothée d’Éon de Beaumont (5 October 1728 – 21 May 1810), usually known as the Chevalier d’Éon, was a French diplomat, spy, Freemason and soldier who fought in the Seven Years’ War. D’Éon had androgynous physical characteristics and natural abilities as a mimic, good features for a spy. D’Éon appeared publicly as a man and pursued masculine occupations for 49 years, although during that time d’Éon successfully infiltrated the court of Empress Elizabeth of Russia by presenting as a woman. For 33 years, from 1777, d’Éon dressed as a woman, identifying as female. Doctors who examined d’Éon’s body after death discovered “male organs in every respect perfectly formed”, but also feminine characteristics.
In 1756, d’Éon joined the secret network of spies called the Secret du Roi (King’s Secret) employed by King Louis XV without the knowledge of the government. It sometimes promoted policies that contradicted official policies and treaties. According to d’Éon’s memoirs (although there is no documentary evidence to support that account) the monarch sent d’Éon with the Chevalier Douglas, Alexandre-Pierre de Mackensie-Douglas, baron de Kildin, a Scottish Jacobite in French service, on a secret mission to Russia in order to meet Empress Elizabeth and conspire with the pro-French faction against the Habsburg monarchy. At that time the English and French were at odds, and the English were attempting to deny the French access to the Empress by allowing only women and children to cross the border into Russia. D’Éon had to pass convincingly as a woman or risk being executed by the English upon discovery. In the course of this mission, d’Éon was disguised as the lady Lea de Beaumont, and served as a maid of honour to the Empress. Eventually, Chevalier Douglas became French ambassador to Russia, and d’Éon was secretary to the embassy in Saint Petersburg from 1756 to 1760, serving Douglas and his successor, the marquis de l’Hôpital. D’Éon’s career in Russia is the subject of one of Valentin Pikul’s novels, Le chevalier d’Éon et la guerre de Sept ans.
D’Éon returned to France in October 1760, and was granted a pension of 2,000 livres as reward for service in Russia. In May 1761, d’Éon became a captain of dragoons under the maréchal de Broglie and fought in the later stages of the Seven Years’ War. D’Éon served at the Battle of Villinghausen in July 1761, and was wounded at Ultrop. After Empress Elizabeth died in January 1762, d’Éon was considered for further service in Russia, but instead was appointed secretary to the duc de Nivernais, awarded 1,000 livres, and sent to London to draft the peace treaty that formally ended the Seven Years’ War. The treaty was signed in Paris on 10 February 1763, and d’Éon was awarded a further 6,000 livres, and received the Order of Saint-Louis on 30 March 1763, becoming the Chevalier d’Éon.The title chevalier, French for knight, is also sometimes used for French noblemen.
Despite the fact that d’Éon habitually wore a dragoon’s uniform, rumours circulated in London that d’Éon was actually a woman. A betting pool was started on the London Stock Exchange about d’Éon’s true sex. D’Éon was invited to join, but declined, saying that an examination would be dishonouring, whatever the result. After a year without progress, the wager was abandoned. Following the death of Louis XV in 1774, the secret du roi was abolished, and d’Éon tried to negotiate a return from exile. The writer Pierre de Beaumarchais represented the French government in the negotiations. The resulting twenty-page treaty permitted d’Éon to return to France and retain the ministerial pension, but required that d’Éon turn over the correspondence regarding the secret du roi.
Madame Campan writes in her memoirs: “This eccentric being had long solicited permission to return to France; but it was necessary to find a way of sparing the family he had offended the insult they would see in his return; he was therefore made to resume the costume of that sex to which in France everything is pardoned. The desire to see his native land once more determined him to submit to the condition, but he revenged himself by combining the long train of his gown and the three deep ruffles on his sleeves with the attitude and conversation of a grenadier, which made him very disagreeable company.”
The Chevalier d’Éon claimed to have been assigned female at birth, and demanded recognition by the government as such. D’Éon claimed to have been raised as a boy because Louis d’Éon de Beaumont could only inherit from his in-laws if he had a son. King Louis XVI and his court complied with this demand, but required in turn that d’Éon dress appropriately in women’s clothing, although d’Éon was allowed to continue to wear the insignia of the Order of Saint-Louis. When the king’s offer included funds for a new wardrobe of women’s clothes, d’Éon agreed. In 1777, after fourteen months of negotiation, d’Éon returned to France and as punishment was banished to Tonnerre.
Back in London, d’Éon became chargé d’affaires in April 1763, and then plenipotentiary minister – essentially interim ambassador – when the duc de Nivernais returned to Paris in July. D’Éon used this position also to spy for the king. D’Éon collected information for a potential invasion – an unfortunate and clumsy initiative of Louis XV, of which Louis’s own ministers were unaware – assisting a French agent, Louis François Carlet de la Rozière, who was surveying the British coastal defences. D’Éon formed connections with English nobility by sending them the produce of d’Éon’s vineyard in France; d’Éon abundantly enjoyed the splendour of this interim embassy.
When France began to help the rebels during the American War of Independence, d’Éon asked to join the French troops in America, but d’Éon’s banishment prevented it. In 1779, d’Éon published a book of memoirs: La Vie Militaire, politique, et privée de Mademoiselle d’Éon. They were ghostwritten by a friend named La Fortelle and are probably embellished. D’Éon was allowed to return to England in 1785.
The pension that Louis XV had granted was ended by the French Revolution, and d’Éon had to sell personal possessions, including books, jewellery and plate. The family’s properties in Tonnerre were confiscated by the revolutionary government. In 1792, d’Éon sent a letter to the French National Assembly offering to lead a division of female soldiers against the Habsburgs, but the offer was rebuffed. D’Éon participated in fencing tournaments until seriously wounded in Southampton in 1796. D’Éon’s last years were spent with a widow, Mrs. Cole. In 1804, d’Éon was sent to a debtors’ prison for five months, and signed a contract for a biography to be written by Thomas William Plummer, which was never published. D’Éon became paralyzed following a fall, and spent a final four years bedridden, dying in poverty in London on 21 May 1810 at the age of 81.
The surgeon who examined d’Éon’s body attested in their post-mortem certificate, that the Chevalier had “male organs in every respect perfectly formed,” while at the same time displaying feminine characteristics. A couple of characteristics described in the certificate were “unusual roundness in the formation of limbs,” as well as “breast remarkably full.” D’Éon’s body was buried in the churchyard of St Pancras Old Church, and d’Éon’s remaining possessions were sold by Christie’s in 1813. D’Éon’s grave is listed on the Burdett-Coutts Memorial there as one of the important graves lost.
Height: 7 Ins (18cms.)
Item No. 1824