Image via Wikipedia
The story of Mata Hari, or, to be more exact, a version of it, is quite well known. Mata Hari was executed by firing squad in October 1917 by order of the French government. She is known for her beauty, the large number of military lovers she is supposed to have had, her very provocative oriental dancing and her espionage exploits.
However, she was not particularly beautiful according to opinions based on photographs of her, nor was she oriental, talented, or a spy. Mata Hari was the stage name of a rather round figured lady who was in fact a Dutch divorcee whose real name was Margaretha MacLeod. She had left her heavy drinking Scottish husband in Indonesia which was then called the East Indies, and travelled to England to be a dancer.
The charges of espionage on behalf of the Germans were based only on a case of mistaken identity. She was misidentified as a known spy named Clara Bendix by British authorities in 1916. Mrs MacLeod was put under arrest in Falmouth, Cornwall, England as she tried to board the SS Hollandia for a trip back to Holland. She was released when the mistake was discovered.
After that she was arrested in France and accused of passing information to German intelligence officers whilst in Madrid. At her trial her life as a dancer and the fact that she had been forced to leave her husband behind, were used to add weight to the charges.
It was not until forty six years later that secret files regarding her particular case were made public and the story was reassessed. Most historians are now of the opinion that Mata Hari was certainly not a spy. She was an innocent scapegoat who was executed by the French government because they were trying to cover their own military weaknesses by inventing a powerful ring of German espionage agents that they could then claim that they had destroyed.