Chevalier d’Éon is perhaps one of the most intriguing Masonic characters of the eighteenth century. Born in Tonnerre, Burgundy, France in 1728 to a noble family, d’Éon entered into the secret network of spies called the Secret du Roi in 1756, and frequently disguised himself as a woman quite convincingly. He fought in the Seven Years War, gained the Order of Saint-Louis, becoming a Chevalier, and continued to spy for King Louis XV in London, where he became embroiled with a French ambassador, entering into a personal dispute that saw d’Éon become an exile living in England.
Questions about the true sex of d’Éon persisted while he was in London, and even a betting pool was started on the London Stock Exchange to determine if he was male or female. When he was allowed to return to France after the death of Louis XV, he was allowed to dress as a woman and declared that he had actually been born female but had been declared a boy so his father could inherit from his in-laws if he produced a male heir.
In 1779 d’Éon published his memoirs, and returned to England in 1785. With the advent of the French Revolution there was a downturn in his luck; his pension from the King ceased and his properties in Tonnerre were confiscated by the revolutionary government, d’Éon having to sell his jewellery and books to make ends meet and appearing in fencing tournaments dressed as a woman. He offered to lead a division of female soldiers against the Hasburgs for the French National Assembly, but the offer was rejected, and after being wounded in a fencing tournament, he spent time in debtor’s prison, became paralyzed after a fall, and died in poverty in London in 1810. It was a sad end for one of the most colourful characters of Freemasonry, yet in light of the new transgender policy recently introduced by the UGLE, his intriguing career may well be re-evaluated.