Cesario wasn’t the only one…

And neither was Ganymede.

There was the strange affair of the Chevalier d’Eon (1728-1810) — a man of medium height, beautiful blond hair, smooth cheeks and delicate features, sent by Louis XV to England as a diplomat in May 1762, though secretly he had been charged by the king to prepare a plan for the invasion of England.  He was received everywhere. 

But his lack of libertine propensities aroused the suspicions of his hosts.  And soon there were wagers being placed on his gender, and caricatures circulated publicly showing him as half-man, half-woman. 

Meanwhile, he felt he needed more money and a better title from the French crown, so he tried his hand at a little blackmail.  Whereupon Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, author of The Marriage of Figaro, as well as spy and financier, was sent to encourage him to reconsider his position; and to relieve him of any articles or papers which might be damaging to the personal reputation of Louis or his family members. 

And, finally there was a plot to kidnap him in order to force him to submit to a physical examination in order to settle all those wagers.  But the Chevalier learned of it and absconded, back to France, where he dressed and lived as a woman for a while. 

Eventually though, he resumed his male attire.  Because he was, you see, a man. 

Later, the most famous French spy of the Napoleonic era, Louis Bayard (b. 1775), used to travel with one Madame Mayer or Madame de Sablonniere who appeared as a male servant, a brother, a hotelier, or an actress.  Or was she his mistress, or his sister?   She was certainly a double-agent though.  And she owned and ran a very successful hotel at 30 Leicester Fields, an address where many French emigres were known to congregate.  Not unlike Mrs. Miggin’s Pie Shop in its way, I fancy. 

Lovey Warne (baptised 1796) — she of the smuggling Warne family of Burley, Hampshire — lived at Crow, in a house called Knave’s Ash with her father and brother.  She was pretty, and popular with the young preventative officers stationed along the coast.  And, whenever she learned that they were sniffing about, she would parade across Vereley Hill, wearing a red cloak, to warn the smugglers on the coast of the officers’ presence. 

But when she went to visit the ships in Christchurch harbour, she would dress in oversized boys’ clothes.  Once inside the captain’s quarters, she would strip off, and taking the smuggled silks and lace from France, she would wind these round and round her middle, then redress in her boy’s clothing to transport the contraband to safe-keeping at her father’s inn, the Queen’s Head.  Because in those days, they didn’t strip-search girls. 

Curious, isn’t it?

5 comments on “Cesario wasn’t the only one…

  1. authorsanon says:

    Remember Cevalier d’Eon. ‘Member him very well, ’cause of Beaumarchais. And I remember Beaumarchais ’cause I translated his memoirs. Actually have an 1880’s edition of his complete oeuvres (sadly messed up by high water in Venice – long story)and, I wrote a radio play about him and sent it (misguidedly, as it turned out) to BBC. Heard it being performed on BBCRadio a few years later – minus any kind of acknowledgement. Which peeved me considerably I might add. They even performed the music excerpts I had suggested. Cheek. I did enjoy finding out about Beaumarchais and co, however.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      I reviewed the single volume abridgement (in English) of Maurice Lever’s three volume biography of Beaumarchais. It was frankly bizarre–an unhappy mixture of coyness, nudge nudge wink wink and Victorian disapprobation. Drove me mad. I kept shouting: “Just tell me what happened, for heaven’s sake!” But it rarely did.

      Instead, it would launch into a description of an event as if staged by a third-rate provincial theatre company’s production of something by Moliere.

  2. authorsanon says:

    There were some hilarious moments with Beaumarchais. . .scenes of inkpots being thrown out of windows, I recall . . .the sort of thing I revel in. Is the portrait of Lovey Warne, by the way ?

  3. Like the snow. ‘Bout all we’ll have this year, I warrant.

    • M M Bennetts says:

      Well, I don’t know…they’ve already had heaps of snow in Spain, and they reckon it may be headed this way. Perhaps I’m encouraging it?

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