When studying the dispatches sent from the Swedish ambassador in London’s office in 1775, I made an interesting discovery. When ambassador Gustav Adam von Nolcken left London to travel Europe, his substitute Per Olof von Asp was immediately approached by a Frenchman named Jean-Joseph de Vignoles, who asked if Asp could deliver letters to some, according to Asp, “suspect persons” in Stockholm. Vignoles visited Asp three times asking him to deliver the letters, but Asp finally told him never to show himself at the embassy again. As it turns out, Vignoles was the secretary of the infamous French spy Chevalier d’Eon who often disguised himself as a woman. d’Eon had fallen out with French Secretary of State, Comte Vergennes, over some secret information concerning the young king, Louis XVI. The Chevalier was hiding some vital documents that would secure his “health”, meaning Vergennes could not have him killed if he wanted to get his hands on the documents.
d’Eon was known to be very androgynic, and when working as a spy at the court of Catherine the Great of Russia, he infiltrated that same court masquerading as a woman. HHe had always claimed to have been assigned female at birth, and when hiding from the French foreign minister in London, d’Eon decided in 1777 to always wear women’s clothing. He was then 49 years old and is most likely the first transvestite in history to appear dressed as a woman publically.
In 1787, the Prince Regent George arranged a fencing match between monsieur de Saint-George and Mademoiselle la Chevalier d’Eon de Beaumont at Carlton House. The match was won by d’Eon who fenced dressed as a woman to the amusement of the audience.
Chevalier d’Eon died in 1810 at the age of 82. When doctors examined his body they discovered he had “male organs in every respect perfectly formed, but the breasts were remarkabla full”. He is buried at St Pancras Old Church in London.
What is interesting is that the society in the 18th Century seemed more tolerant to trans-gender persons than our modern society is.
The paintings are showing the androgynic d’Eon masquerading as a woman.