Title: Papers of Charles Chevalier d' Eon de Beaumont
Classmark: BC MS Chevalier d' Eon
Date: c1690 - 1890s
Main language: Multiple languages; French; English; Russian; Latin; Polish; German
Size and medium: c 3,500 pages including manuscripts
Archive of Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont, known as Chevalier d'Eon. The collection includes substantial numbers of manuscripts, letters, copies of official documents, engravings and printed books.
Much of the material in the collection was created by d'Eon, presumably in the course of writing memoirs. Other files have been added later by different owners of the collection. This is indicated at file level where known.
D’Eon was a master spy who was able to use outstanding skills of persuasion to manipulate public opinion and to earn money by duping the French Government and creditors. As a result, this archive is especially difficult to handle. It contains many forged reports, letters, bills, accounting sheets, etc. D'Eon even produced fake authenticity letters to certify that forged documents were genuine. The numerous versions of d'Eon's epistles to the Duchess of Montmorency-Bouteville perfectly show how texts were repetitively polished until perfect.
Many of the dates written on the documents - and even their contents - are therefore dubious. Gary Kates biography of d'Eon ('Monsieur d'Éon Is a Woman: A Tale of Political Intrigue and Sexual Masquerade', Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), is recommended for anybody wishing to use this archive. Kates tells the “true story”, debunking d’Eon’s elements of the memoirs, for instance that d'Eon was forced to dress as a woman during a diplomatic mission in Russia, or that a horse accident had revealed d'Eon's “true” sex.
Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont (1728-1810) was a French diplomat and spy, who is now mostly remembered for gender transformation.
In 1775, after having lived as a man for 49 years, d’Eon was recognised as a woman by the French Government, which believed d’Eon’s claims to have been born female, but disguised as a boy by family in order to keep the in-laws' inheritance. D'Eon also claimed to have been forced to cross-dress by the 'secret du roi' (the French spying office) for intelligence missions in Russia and England; this bold claim could not be contradicted: d'Eon's former superiors having all opportunely died.
D'Eon was allowed to keep the title of Chevalière and decorations - thus becoming the first woman to receive such honours in French history. Nevertheless, d’Eon deeply resented the forced retirement that followed this transformation, having hoped to continue working as a diplomat, as a woman. After finally moving to London in 1785, where D’Eon had served as plenipotentiary ambassador in 1763 and spy until 1775; D’Eon lived in poverty after the French revolutionary government cut the pension awarded in 1777.
After death, doctors discovered that D’Eon would have been designated male at birth.
This important collection of papers comprises most of the documents found in the Chevalier d’Eon’s house in London, after d'Eon's death in 1810. The papers were then moved to d’Eon’s publisher, Robinson, probably in compensation for debts owed him. His grandsons then sold them to a prominent collector, John Eliot Hodgkin (1829-1912), who also acquired many visual documents about d’Eon, which he bound in several large books. Hodgkin additionally repackaged the papers in new folders as most of them had been damaged by humidity. At Hodgkin’s death, the ensemble was purchased by Lord Brotherton, who bequeathed it to the University of Leeds, along with the rest of his collection (the Brotherton Bequest).
D’Eon apparently added a numbering to his own archives, but as they have been used by many researchers since Hodgkin, most of this numbering has been scrambled. Numbering, where it appears, is noted at file level. The collection has been catalogued in a single series at file level (most closely replicating Hodgkin's arrangement of the material).
Catalogues of archives are usually arranged in hierarchies - one hierarchy for each collection in the archive. The details on display will be of a record at a particular level of the hierarchy. There may be other records above, below, or alongside this record in the same hierarchy. The full hierarchy is shown below.
Books, manuscripts and archives in Special Collections are usually grouped together in collections. Catalogue records for individual objects link to a collection record, which show the object's context, and associated material.
You can see the full hierarchy under 'In this collection'.
Catalogues of archives are usually arranged in hierarchies - one hierarchy for each collection in the archive. The details on display will be of a record at a particular level of the hierarchy. There may be other records above, below, or alongside this record in the same hierarchy. You can see the full hierarchy under 'In this collection'.