Mata Hari was a Dutch exotic dancer accused of being a double agent.
Margaretha Zelle was born 7 August 1876, in Leeuwarden, Netherlands. She was the eldest of four children of Adam Zelle and his first wife Antje van der Meulen. She had three brothers. Her father owned a hat shop, made successful investments in the oil industry, and became affluent enough to give Margaretha a lavish early childhood that included exclusive schools until the age of 13. Soon after Margaretha's father went bankrupt in 1889, her parents divorced, and then her mother died in 1891. Her father remarried in Amsterdam. The family fell apart, and Margaretha moved to live with her godfather,
By 1904, Mata Hari began to win fame as an exotic dancer. Promiscuous, flirtatious, and openly flaunting her body, Mata Hari captivated her audiences and was an overnight success from the debut of her act at the Museum Guimet on 13 March 1905. Mata Hari's career went into decline after 1912. On 13 March 1915, she performed in what would be the last show of her career. She had relationships with high-ranking military officers, politicians, and others in influential positions in many countries. Her relationships and liaisons with powerful men frequently took her across international borders.
During World War I, the Netherlands remained neutral. As a Dutch subject, Zelle was thus able to cross national borders freely. To avoid the battlefields, she travelled between France and the Netherlands via Spain and Britain, and her movements inevitably attracted attention. During the war, Zelle was involved in what was described as a very intense romantic-sexual relationship with a Russian pilot serving with the French, the 23-year-old Captain Vadim Maslov, whom she called the love of her life. In the summer of 1916, Maslov was shot down and badly wounded during a dogfight with the Germans, losing his sight in both eyes, which led Zelle to ask for permission to visit her wounded lover at the hospital where he was staying near the front. As a citizen of a neutral country, Zelle would not normally be allowed near the front. Zelle was met by agents from the Deuxième Bureau who told her that she would only be allowed to see Maslov if she agreed to spy for France. Unaware that the Crown Prince did not have much to do with the running of Army Group Crown Prince or the 5th Army, the Deuxième Bureau offered Zelle one million francs if she could seduce him and provide France with good intelligence about German plans. In January 1917, Major Kalle transmitted radio messages to Berlin describing the helpful activities of a German spy code-named H-21, whose biography so closely matched Zelle's that it was patently obvious that Agent H-21 could only be Mata Hari and then Zelle arrested by French. She faced trial and executed on 15 October 1917.