A Frenchman in a Dress

I stumbled upon this gem of a story in the National Portrait Gallery – the strange case of the Chevalier d’Eon, described as a diplomat, spy and ……transvestite.

The oil painting shows someone in male attire, and looking like a man who has just woken up from a week long bender, so his claims in later life that he was a woman makes me wonder what women looked like back then. But he apparently did a deal with the king, who demanded that he spend the rest of his life dressed as a woman, following his own claims that he had been female from birth.

He made a living in England demonstrating swordsmanship – or rather, swordswomanship, as he did in fact dress as a woman, as a cartoon of him in action shows.

He even planned to take Joan of Arc’s behaviour one further and lead a women’s army, something that we have still not managed, with all the bra burning and legislation of the past century.

There’s stuff on him on wikipedia of course, but here’s a link to an article from ‘History Today’ which is more reliable.


As mentioned in this article, he had links with the radical politician & publisher John Wilkes, who was forced to flee Britain for France, which makes me wonder why the chevalier is not better known.


3 thoughts on “A Frenchman in a Dress

    • I sort of specialise in people who fall through the gaps in history. I think they just don’t fit into the conventional boxes, so get left behind.

      On Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 1:54 PM, texthistory


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