Image of two men kissingHomosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook compiled by Rictor Norton

The Case of Chevalier D'Eon

NOTE: Chevalier D'Eon de Beaumont (1728-1810) is one of the best-documented transvestites of the eighteenth century. Though very highly competent in all manly skills, he had been dressed as a girl during his childhood, and retained a taste for female clothes throughout his life, even collecting his own scrapbook of materials relating to hermaphroditism. When his appearance as a lady at a masquerade ball was noticed by the Prince de Conti and King Louis XV, they formed the idea of hiring him as a spy to engage in secret diplomacy while disguised as a woman. In 1755 he was sent to Russia disguised as Mademoiselle Lia de Beaumont, where he became a confidant to Empress Elizabeth.

He resumed male costume a year later, and was awarded by King Louis for services rendered, and made a Captain of Dragoons. He continued working for the secret service, and as a member of the French Embassy in London from 1763 was involved in many political intrigues. From this period, numerous rumours spread to the effect that the Chevalier D'Eon really was a woman. In 1775 King Louis XVI granted the Chevalier a large state pension in return for some state papers and on condition that D'Eon henceforth dress in the garments of the female sex. This transaction prompted a fever of gambling speculation, of which the following case is a celebrated example. The "Chevaliere Charlotte D'Eon" made her first public appearance on 21 October 1777, the feast of St Ursula (who was martyred with 11,000 virgins), but by June 1778 "she" was sick of dressing as a woman, and returned to France dressed as a Dragoon in March 1779, for which he was imprisoned for defying the King. He was released on agreeing to spend the rest of his days as a woman, in which guise he returned to England, and earned a living as a kind of theatrical performer, giving demonstrations as a swordsman while wearing his female clothes. Only on his death was it finally proven that, despite possessing many feminine bodily features, he was undoubtedly a man.

Rictor Norton

2 July 1777

Yesterday came on to be tried in the Court of King’s Bench, before Lord Mansfield and a special jury at Guildhall, an extraordinary cause, wherein Hayes was Plaintiff, and Jaques Defendant. The Plaintiff had paid the Defendant one hundred guineas, for which the Defendant had signed a policy of insurance to pay the Plaintiff seven hundred guineas whenever he could prove that the Chevalier D’Eon was a female. Mr. Buller opened for the Plaintiff, and concluded he should prove he was a woman, which occasioned a good laugh. Mr. Wallace opened at large, and though he said he could not go so far as his friend required, he should prove that the person called the Chevalier D’Eon is a woman.

Two physical French gentlemen were called to prove that, from their own certain knowledge and observation, the Chevalier D’Eon is a female; one of these medical gentlemen could not speak a word of English, therefore Monsieur De Morande was called to be his interpreter. This gentleman had previously undergone a very long examination himself, and, after much ceremony, circumlocation, and relation of presumptuous circumstances, proved the last demonstration – that he was sure she was a woman.

Mr. Mansfield, on the part of the Defendant, pleaded, that this was one of those gambling, indecent, and unnecessary cases, that ought never to be permitted to come into a Court of Justice; that, besides the inutility and indecency of the case, the Plaintiff had unfairly taken in his client, being in possession of intelligence that enabled him to lay with greater certainty, although with such great odds on his side; that the Plaintiff, at the time of laying the wager, knew that the Court of France treated with the Chevalier as a woman, to grant her a pension; and that the French Court must have some very strong circumstances to imbibe that idea, therefore he hoped the Jury would reprobate such fraudulent wagers. The Defendant’s Counsel did not attempt to contradit the Plaintiff’sw evidencc, by proving the masculine gender.

Mr. Wallace, in reply, observed, that the Defendant had thought it no indecent thing to take a hundred guineas of his client, and sign the policy, and to keep the money three or four years, leaving the Plaintiff under the onus probandi, the difficulty of proving the sex in question; that, even since the institution of the suit, he had not thought proper to pay into Court the hundred guineas, but had prudently kept al the money, trusting to the impracticability of the proof; but now it was come to the proof, truly it was indecent. It would not have been indecent to have let him kept all the money. That so far from the Plaintiff being in possession of certain intelligence about the wager, he had sold Baron Nolcken a moiety of his chance upon the same terms he had laid, eleven or twelve months after signing the policy, which he could not think of doing if he had been sure of winning.

Lord Mansfield, with his usual delicacy of precision, expressed his abhorrence of the whole transaction, and the more so, their bringing it into a Court of Justice, when it might have been better settled elsewhere, wishing it had been in his power, in concurrency with the Jury, to have made both parties lose; but as the law has not expressly prohibited it, and the wager was laid, the question beofre them was, Who had won? His Lordship observed, that the indecency of the proceeding arose more from the unnecessary questions asked, than from the case itself; that the witnesses had declared they perfectly knew the Chevalier D’Eon to be a woman; if she is not a woman, they are certainly perjured; there was, therefore, no need of enquiring how and by what methods they knew it, which was all the indecency.

As to the fraud suggested, of the Plaintiff’s knowing more than the Defendant, he seemed to think there was no foundation for it. His Lordship then recited a wager entered into by two gentlemen in his own presence, about the dimensions of Venus of Medicii, for a hundred pounds. One of the gentlemen said, ‘I will not deceive you; I tell you fairly I have been there, and measured it myself.’ ‘Well (says the other), and do you think I would be such a fool to lay if I had not measured it – I will lay for all that.’ This short anecdote, accompanied with a facetious, pointed manner of telling it, set the whole Court, which was very full, in one universal fit of hearty laughter and good humour, beyond all that the indelicate part of the trial had done. His Lordship then went on with becoming dignity to state to the Jury, that this Chevalier had publickly appeared as a man, had been employed by the Court of France as a man, as a military man, in a civil office, and as a Minister of State here and in Russia; that there was all the presumption against the Plaintiff, and the onus probandi lay upon him, which might never have been come at; for it appeared, the only proposition of a discovery of sex that had been made to the Chevalier, by some gentlemen upon an excursion, had been resented by D’Eon, who had instantly quitted their company on that account: it might therefore have never been in his power to have proved his wager, but for some accidental quarrels between D’Eon and some of her countrymen.

His Lordship was therefore of opinion, that the Jury would find a verdict for the Plaintiff. The Jury, without going out of Court, after consulting about two minutes, gave a verdict for the Plaintiff of Seven Hundred Pounds, or Guineas – which will probaby decide many other wagers said to be laid on the same subject.
                   (Morning Chronicle)

Wednesday 6 June 1838

THE CHEVALIER D'EON. – One of the most remarkable individuals of those who were in the habit of meeting at her uncle's house, Madame Tussaud considers to have been the chevalier D'Eon de Beaumont, born at Tonnerre. This most extraordinary personage passed the first twenty-five years of her life in male attire; when she was declared to be a woman. The explanation given by the mother was, that her husband being much disatisfied at already having four daughters, she pesuaded him that the fifth child was a son. D'Eon, therefore, received a masculine education, and, entering the Mazarin college, made wonderful progress in the belles lettres and jurisprudence, and whilst still very young, was admitted to the bar. Shortly after, D'Eon was entrusted with a secret mission, and for the first time assumed the female attire. In 1761, D'Eon, again arrayed in male costume, sought employment in the army, and obtained it as a captain of dragoons, and at Osterwich, at the head of fifty men, charged 840 Prussians, and forced them to lay down their arms. Some mistake, it is presumed, must have been made by those who calculated the numbers of the respective parties. D'Eon was next appointed ambassador to England, succeeding the Duke de Nivernois; and being arrested, pitched the bailiff out of window, the displomatic character alone affording protection agaisnt a severe legal visitation for so violent an act. Louis the Fifteenth at length persuaded D'Eon to resume the female garb, adding a pension to his advice. But D'Eon, like Joan of Arc, had lost all relish for petticoats, and, anxious for a helmet, offered to raise a company, saying, 'I trust that I, the sport of nature, of fortune, of war, of men, of women, may be allowed to fight for the nation.' This petition was presented by Carnot; but the horrid atrocities which occurred during the Revolution drove D'Eon again to England, and dying in 1814, different opinions prevailed as to the sexuality of that extraordinary personage. Madame Tussaud remembers often to have heard her aunt remark that there was something about D'Eon which always appears to convey an air of mystery." (Western Courier)

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following citation:
Rictor Norton (Ed.), "The Case of Chevalier D'Eon, 1777", Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook, 1 March 2005, expanded 28 August 2016 <'eon.htm>.

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