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.