Mata Hari was born Margaretha Zelle on August 7th 1876 in Leeuwarden, the Netherlands. She was the second child of Adam Zelle and Antje van der Meulen. The only girl in a family of four children, she had thick black hair, dark eyes and an olive complexion. Her family gave her the nickname M’greet.
Her father, who had a successful hat business, hit hard times and went bankrupt when M’greet was 13. Her father then left the family to try his luck in Amsterdam, leaving her mother Antje to look after the family alone. Antje became depressed, sick and died when M’greet was 15.
Adam returned for the funeral but then persuaded extended family to take the children. M’greet went with her godfather to live in Sneek. She then went to Leiden to train as a kindergarden teacher. This did not go well and M’greet was forced to take refuge with her uncle in The Hague.
On July 11th 1895, she married Rudolph MacLeod, a 38-year old career man in the Dutch military. Their first child, Norman John, was born on January 30th 1897. By this point the marriage was not a happy one and the fresh start M’greet had hoped for when the family was stationed in Abawara, Java was not to happen. On May 2nd 1898, their second child, a girl, was born.
Rudolph was called to Medan, Sumatra a year later and M’greet and the children did not join him straight away but once they did, the relationship between the two improved.
On June 27th 1889, M’greet was awoken by screams of agony from the childrens’ room. Both children had allegedly been poisoned (unknown by whom) but it is also possible that they had suffered complications relating to the treatment of syphilis contracted from their parents. Norman John died but the little girl, Jeanne, survived. The event pushed the couple apart and eventually they returned to Europe. Despite it being unusual for the time, M’greet filed for a legal separation, which was approved. However, Rudolph did not pay the court ordered monthly support and even took out ads telling the community not to supply goods or services to M’greet.
With everything falling apart, she had no choice but to leave Jeanne in Rudolph’s care and decided to give Paris one more chance.
To be continued…