Daughter of Adam Zelle and Antje van der Meulen, Margaretha was born in a town in the northern Dutch province of Friesland. Her father, wealthy man, assured her a solid education, allowing her to attend institutions where was possible to learn different languages. After the bankruptcy of the parent and the consequent disintegration of the Zelle family, Margaretha, now fifteen, became a student at a school for kindergarten teachers at Leiden. She later moved to The Hague at one uncle, where responding to ads for the purpose of marriage, she met her future
husband, an officer, Rudolph MacLeod, many years her senior. The two married in 1895 and in 1897 birth their first son, Norman John, and later the Mac Leod spouses left for the Dutch East Indies. In 1898, in Toempoeng, born their daughter, Jeanne Louise, but the gruff character of Rudolph and his infidelity soon threatened the serenity of the couple. In 1899, Norman died poisoned. This tragedy away even more husband and wife, and returned to Holland in 1902, she obtained a legal separation.
Mac Leod kept with him the daughter, while Margaretha left for the coveted Paris, where, in 1905, she debuted as an Oriental dancer. It was then that was born Mata Hari, in the Malay language "eye of the day", the sun: from that moment, her reputation grew enormously. The peculiarity of her movements and the interpretation of the dances, as well as the skimpy clothes worn, which left very little to the imagination, led her soon to become the idol of Paris and to perform not only in homes and private clubs, but in many theatres in Europe. The celebrity gave her countless lovers and wealth, but the money earned was not enough to maintain her luxurious lifestyle. After the missed exhibition in Berlin due to the outbreak of war, Mata Hari returned to Holland and rented a house in The Hague. Following the visit by one of the German consuls in Amsterdam and her frequently travels from country to country, about Margaretha began to insinuate many suspects, by the British and French military secret services. During a trip to France in December 1915, British military police officers searched her and divulged information about her, signalling with both the British authorities to the French ones. Was the next trip to Paris, began in May 1916, to be fatal. Mata Hari was then in love with Vadim de Massloff, captain of the first special Russian imperial regiment: to reach Vittel, a town at the foot of the Vosges in a war zone, was induced to knock on the door of Captain Ladoux, head of the French secret service, that granted her the permission to leave, but, above all, he proposed to work in the French intelligence, putting her under control by counter-intelligence agents. However, the surveillance of Margaretha by Ladoux had started long time before, in 1915, at the request of Scotland Yard, but it was not emerged anything against the woman. Returning from Vittel she decided to work for France, agree with Ladoux, went to Spain and then sail to Holland again. When her ship docked in Cornwall, the Secret Service officers who boarded, mistaking her for Clara Benedix, suspected German spy from Hamburg. Arrested and released, she was able to convince the officers of the contrary only after four days of interrogation, with the restriction of not get to the Netherlands and forcing her to return in Spain, in Madrid. The dancer, who had charmed the Europe of the early twentieth century with her dances, was a suspected German spy. Hostile rumours started to spread about her and from Paris did not arrive directives. Margaretha left for the French capital, decided to demand explanations, but no attempt at dialogue went well and 13 February 1917 was conducted in the prison of Saint Lazare.
It was the beginning of the end: in a France devastated by war and heavy losses, Mata Hari would never be released from custody and, after eight months of interrogation to shed light on the nature of her relations with the Germans, would be executed, without it being revealed no concrete evidence of her guilty. During the many interrogations conducted by Captain Bouchardon, Margaretha admitted that agreed to work as a spy for the Germans in exchange for money, but confessed that she had provided them only dated and partly fabricated information, in favour of France, that she would never betray. Nevertheless, the outcome of the trial who underwent in July was negative: she showed disbelief in front of the death sentence ruling. At dawn on Monday, October 15, 1917, Mata Hari was brought in a large square, the polygon of Vincennes, in front of twelve soldiers of the fourth regiment of Zouaves. She did not want to be tied to the stake, refused to put the blindfold and after the verdict, was executed. At 6:15 of that morning, Margaretha had died and her body was used for progress in medicine, and never buried.
Corni Gustavo, Fimiani Enzo, Dizionario della Grande Guerra, L’Aquila, Textus Edizioni, 2014
Scaraffia Giuseppe, Gli ultimi giorni di Mata Hari, Torino, Utet, 2015
Waagenaar Sam, Mata Hari, Appleton-Century, 1964