‘I am ready!’ Final days of Mata Hari as told by Paulo Coelho in real-time #1917LIVE tweets
Historians argue to this day whether Mata Hari – real name Margaretha Geertruida Zelle – was a powerful femme fatale who steered her own life, or merely a useful tool in the hands of very powerful men. However, it is sadly the case that her inimitable charm and wit had sealed her fate long before she ended up in front of a French firing squad.
It was on October 15, 1917 that she met her fate, nearly three months after she was sentenced by a military court. The harsh punishment, it is believed, was a play by the French government to distract from the staggering wartime losses that its army incurred during the Great War.
Mata Hari had written to the French President not long before, and it was only on the morning of the 15th that it became apparent the request had been denied.
At the break of dawn, barely 05:00, officers came into her cell at the Saint-Lazare prison, accompanied by two Sisters of Charity, Captain Bouchardon and her lawyer, Maitre Clunet. It is said that her resolve never left her.
All she had asked for was permission to write two letters. The Captain obliged; ink, paper and two envelopes were provided to her. Having finished the letters in haste, she gave them to Clunet.
Elegant to the last, she was clad in black stockings; silky and half-transparent. She put on high-heeled slippers, draped a black velvet cloak over a heavy silk dress that she threw over her nightgown.
She was escorted to a waiting automobile, which rushed her through sleepy Paris to the barracks, where a firing squad was already in place. It was by then 05:30. The sun was still barely visible over Paris.
Sadness? Relief? I don’t feel anything anymore #1917LIVE— Mata Hari (@Mata_Hari_1917) October 15, 2017
Twelve guns awaited her, accompanied by Father Arbeaux and several nuns. As the officer asked for the blindfold, Mata Hari is said to have refused, asking “Must I wear that?” She was likewise not bound for the ordeal.
Before the fatal shot was fired, the officers, nuns, Father Arbeaux and Monsieur Clunet had stepped away from her. Mata Hari was said to have never flinched, and instead gazed directly at her executioners.
Mr. Coelho has imbued the enigmatic persona of Mata Hari with a new life after death, providing a real treat for the fans of the #1917LIVE and #1917CROWD projects, as well as his own. The author of The Alchemist studied MI5 archives in preparation, sharing his insights with our team.
Our fans can still join RT’s historical re-enactment project, which will run all the way through December. History buffs, students, professors and role-play enthusiasts are all welcome to inhabit the identity of a historical figure that lived through the turmoil of 1917. They will be joined by the likes of Lenin, Trotsky, Mata Hari and Empress Alexandra.