orig. Margaretha Geertruida Zelle
(born Aug. 7, 1876, Leeuwarden, Neth.—died Oct. 15, 1917, Vincennes, near Paris, France) Dutch courtesan and alleged spy in World War I. In 1895 she married Campbell MacLeod, a Scottish officer, and lived in Java and Sumatra (1897–1902), after which they returned to Europe and separated. In 1905 she began to dance in Paris, calling herself Mata Hari (a Malay expression for the sun). Beautiful and exotic and willing to dance virtually nude, she soon had numerous lovers, including military officers. Details of her spying activities are unclear, but she apparently spied for Germany from 1916. She was arrested by the French in 1917, tried by a military court, and shot by firing squad.
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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.