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Moll Cutpurse, Eleno de Cespedes, King Henri III, Abbe de Choisy, Chevalier d'Eon and More
France's King Henri III, a noted cross-dresser.
Elena de Cespedes, who grew up a normal girl, married, had a child, but her husband deserted her, so she gave away her baby and moved to Granada, where she claimed she suddenly grew a penis.
Throughout the modern history of western society a number of women and men have successfully changed their gender. This article looks at the most famous of them from the sixteenth century through to the nineteenth century.
The Renaissance period in Europe, which followed the Middle Ages, carried many of the vestiges of Medieval ideologies. With regard to sex, the idea that men were superior beings to women continued. With this rationale the woman who strived to be a man is considered to be aspiring for greater intelligence and social superiority, whilst the man who prefers to be a woman rejects intelligence and the social privileges of masculinity. Thus, the authorities were more likely to punish a man for attempting to change his gender than a woman who acted like a man. The case of the Englishwoman known as Moll Cutpurse is a good example of this. Born Mary Firth in 1584 she showed early signs of a preference for being a boy. Although she began dressing in male clothes she never tried to hide her biological sex. But, at one stage she claimed she was a hermaphrodite and wore clothes that could be described as androgynous, such as a skirt, sword and jerkin. She was forced to do penance by the Church for persisting with her manly behaviour, which included petty thievery and pick-pocketing (thus, her nickname), but she seems never to have been punished by the civil authorities. In fact, her adventures so caught the public imagination that two plays were written about her in her lifetime in 1611 and 1618.
Much less fortunate was the Spanish woman Elena de Cespedes (1545 - 1588), who grew up a normal girl and even married at sixteen and had a child. But her husband deserted her, so she gave away her baby and moved to Granada, where she claimed she suddenly grew a penis. She began wearing male clothing and adopted a masculine identity, calling herself Eleno. Eleno had an affair with his married landlady and to escape the wrath of her husband joined the army, and after several campaigns in which he was wounded, he obtained a discharge and settled in Madrid where he fell in love with a peasant girl and proposed marriage. When seeking a priest to perform the marriage ceremony, his sex came under question. He agreed to a physical examination by surgeons and was passed as a man. After some years of married life Eleno's sex came under suspicion once again and he was forced to undergo another inspection. This time the examiners found no penis but a vagina and declared he was a woman. Dragged before the inquisitional court for false pretences, poor Eleno's marriage was annulled, he was given a public whipping of 200 lashes and sentenced to a ten year imprisonment. The strange case of Elena/Eleno de Cespedes was the talk of the town for many years and people were puzzled over the disappearing penis. Either he was a true hermaphrodite or a very skilful tranny who used sleight of hand to maintain his male identity.
If men who cross-dressed were treated more severely this was certainly not so for members of the aristocracy. King Henri III of France, who reigned from 1574 to 1589, was a notable cross-dresser, who strutted about court in female attire and attended balls and masques as an Amazon or wearing a ball gown and feminine make-up and jewellery. Pierre de l'Estoile, the court chronicler, reported that the king often appeared in public gorgeously attired in feminine finery attended by mignons of young men dressed like prostitutes in a bordello. Agrippa d'Aubigne, the Huguenot critic of the French Catholic court accused the King's mother, Catherine de Medici, of corrupting and feminizing her son in order to keep power in her own hands.
The Abbe de Choisy and Other Seventeenth Century Trannys
Francois Timoleon de Choisy
The early seventeenth century was a time of both political and social chaos in Europe. In 1602 "the French parliament condemned an hermaphrodite to death because he made use of the sex which he had abjured", wrote Eugene de Savitsch "Hermaphrodites were forbidden to be judges, advocates and university rectors." Fortunately, by mid century such attitudes had softened a great deal, and many even had reversed in France. Otherwise, the likes of Francois Timoleon de Choisy (1644 - 1724) would never have been able to 'come-out' as he did. Better known as the Abbe de Choisy, due to his appointment to the abbacy of St. Seine, he was a member of a very influential family at court, and because of this he may have gotten away with much more than others of lesser station in society. Choisy's life has been well documented by others, as well as his own very detailed memoirs. By all accounts he was the classic transvestite, never attempting to disguise his biological sex, but frequently going about in public in full female attire and expressing a deep regret for not been born a girl. Choisy's mother dressed him as a girl until he reached eighteen when he began appearing in public as a man. At least one historian has suggested a political motive behind his cross-dressing: he was deliberately feminised so as never to present a threat to King Louis XIVs throne. Be that as it may, Choisy never seems to have had any political ambitions and seems to have been quite contented with his public outings at the opera, the theatre, balls and other events dressed in the most lavish of female fashions.
Choisy was often visited by young women in his chambers. His fascination with female accoutrements made him something of an expert on women's fashions and prominent society matrons brought their daughters to Choisy for advice. According to his own memoirs he took these young maids to bed before their mother's eyes, but did no more than fondle and kiss them. He did, however, manage to get one woman pregnant, a well known actress called Roselie, whom Choisy enjoyed dressing up as a man, and the pair of them strolling about the streets of Paris with she as the husband and he as her wife. As Choisy aged he continued to dress as a woman less and less and spent his final years reminiscing on his youth when he was admired by fashionable society as the prettiest girl in town.
Few men had as exciting and dangerous a life as Christina Davies, who was born in Dublin in 1667. She came into wealth from a rich aunt while still a teenager and as was required of women in those days she had to seek a husband to look after her estate. She married Richard Welsh and had two children by him. But one day her husband disappeared whilst on an errand. Believing him to have been shanghaied by the army to fight overseas, she decided to seek him out by herself joining up in the English dragoons. She cut her hair, put on her husband's clothes and took the name of Christopher Welch. Christopher was shipped to the front line in Holland during the War of the League of Augsberg between England and France. He was wounded and taken prisoner, but was exchanged for a captured French soldier. After a scrap with his regimental sergeant to save a tavern maid from the sergeant's assaults, he was court-martialled. Although pardoned for striking his superior, Christopher resigned from his regiment and re-enlisted in another, which saw action and defeat at Namurs in 1692.
His regiment was disbanded after this disastrous campaign and he returned to Ireland to make sure his children were taken good care of by his mother: Once assured of their wellbeing, he returned to the dragoons and more fighting in Holland. Christopher was wounded again but the surgeons failed to discover his biological sex. While recovering from this wound Richard Welsh turned up. Christopher made him swear not to give the game away, and they returned to the army as brothers. In 1703 Christopher was badly wounded by a mortar fragment, and this time the surgeons discovered he was a female. Thereafter he returned to being Christina but remained with the army as a nurse and cook. Only when her husband was killed in battle did she finally resign for the first time. She returned to Dublin to live the rest of her life with her children. After her extraordinary life as a soldier she seems to have been contented with the quiet life of a matron, and despite her numerous wounds and privations she managed to live to the ripe old age of 108.
The Chevalier d'Eon and Other Eighteenth Century Trannies
Perhaps the best known of all cross-dressers was Charles Geneviéve Louis Auguste André Timothée d'Eon de Beaumont, more simply referred to simply as the Chevalier d'Eon (1728 - 1810), whose name became synonymous with the psychological condition of transvestism, or eonism. He too enjoyed a remarkable life, full of vigorous adventures. The flamboyant d'Eon was an outstanding soldier and superb swordsman, who was slightly built and quite effeminate in appearance. Like Choisy, he was also born into an upper class family influential in the French court. Thus, he too had the advantage of class privilege and protection enabling him to make his cross-dressing habits public. As a young man d'Eon was given a spying mission to Russia and for the first time he made a public appearance dressed as a woman when he was presented to the Czarina as the niece of the king's envoy. Taken into the Czarina's confidence as her maid-of-honour d'Eon was able to deliver to her secret letters from King Louis XV. D'Eon subsequently made two more diplomatic missions to Russia but on these occasions as the Chevalier. In 1757 he made a dashing ride from Vienna to Paris to bring his king news of an Austrian victory over the Prussians in the Seven Years War. After the war he was granted a life pension by the grateful King Louis and a commission as captain in the king's dragoons. He was also sent to England to begin negotiations on the Peace of Paris treaty between France and England that brought the war to an end.
D'Eon continued his double role as spy and diplomat in England but fell out with the French ambassador in London. On one occasion d'Eon challenged him to a duel, but the ambassador, well aware of his reputation as a swordsman, declined and struck back by an attempt at publicly ridiculing him with the story of d'Eon's episode as a maid of honour in the Russian court. When this failed to have the expected impact, the ambassador spread a rumour that d'Eon was really a woman. The English were fascinated and began making bets on his true sex. D'Eon kept the momentum going by sometimes appearing in public as the Chevalier and sometimes dressed as a woman, apparently on the king's orders. He even gave fencing exhibitions dressed as Joan of Arc. Two prominent betters forced d'Eon to prove his sex in court, which ruled in favour of him being a female. When he returned to France following the death of Louis XV, the new king, Louis XVI, ordered d'Eon to dress as a woman as he was convinced that the Chevalier was indeed of the 'fair sex'. He was the sensation of Paris society, which loved a scandal and the notoriety of anything sexual. Apparently, d'Eon was not happy with the king's decision and occasionally made public appearances redressed as a man. But the threat of losing his pension forced him to continue his masquerade. After the French Revolution poor d'Eon lost his pension anyway, and he died in poverty dependent on the charity of old friends. When he was buried his body was carefully examined and it was revealed that he was a perfectly formed male.
Throughout d'Eon's lifetime other men were being punished for daring to dress as women, even in private. In 1709 London police raided a transvestite club called the Mollies and publicly humiliated its members in court. In 1794 an even greater humiliation was experienced by members of another transvestite club in Clare Market. After it was raided they were dragged through the streets to the pillories, where they were pelted with rotten fruit, rubbish and dung sold as ammunition. The women faired much better, as a rule. Also, it seems more women were gender-crossing than men. Between 1761 and 1815 the London annual registrar reported fifteen cases of women dressed as men. A number of them sought high adventure on the high seas, such as the pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonnie, who only escaped the gallows due to their sex, or on the highway, like Lady Maude Ferrars, as daring a robber as any highwayman. Another was Mary Ann Talbot (1778 - 1808), who changed her identity as well as her clothes. Born into a wealthy English family, Mary was raped and beaten by an army officer when she was just fourteen, and then forced her to accompany him to Santa Domingo, where he deserted her. To survive, she disguised herself as a boy and calling herself John Taylor joined the army as a drummer. In Flanders, John was shot with a musket ball and stabbed by a sword-wielding French soldier. To avoid risk of discovery he attended to his own wounds.
He deserted from the army afterwards and joined the navy as an ordinary sailor. But one of his ships was scuttled by pirates and he was taken captive. However, the British navy retaliated and destroyed the pirate ship. John was back in the hands of the navy and once more into the breech. In a naval battle with the French he was wounded again. Miraculously, the surgeons who attended his wounds failed to discover he was a female, and after a period of recovery in hospital John was back at sea, this time as a midshipman. He was captured once again, this time by the French. He was released on a prisoner exchange and immediately joined a merchant ship bound for New York. The American captain was so impressed with his dashing young officer that he took him to his home hoping to make a match with his daughter. The daughter fell in love with John on first sight, and he was forced to flee by going to sea again. In London he was seized by a press gang determined to put him on a ship bound for battle at Trafalgar. He only managed to extricate himself from this dangerous situation by exposing his biological sex. After a discharge from the navy and now identifying as a woman, Mary spent a year fighting the British Navy in court for payment of her war service. She eventually won her case and retired to a quiet life in London. However, her money soon ran out, and she found herself in debt for owing rent. She ended up in gaol, and died shortly after her release from the debtors' prison.
These are just a few of the best known trannys out of hundreds who have dotted the pages of history largely unknown.
Mary Frith / Moll Cutpurse
From Wikipedia: Mary Frith (1584 – 1659), alias Moll (or Mal) Cutpurse, was a notorious pickpocket and fence of the London underworld. The name Moll Cutpurse was a pun: Moll, apart from being a nickname for Mary, was a common name for a young woman — usually of disreputable character. Cutpurse denoted her reputation as a thief who would cut purses to steal the contents. The facts of her life are extremely confusing with many exaggerations and myths attached to her name. The Life of Mrs Mary Frith, a sensationalised biography written in 1662, three years after her death, helped to perpetuate many of these myths.
Born in the mid 1580s to a shoemaker and a housewife, Mary presented herself in public in a doublet and baggy breeches, smoking a pipe and swearing if she felt like it. It is believed that she first came to prominence in 1600 when she was indicted in Middlesex for stealing 2s11d. In the following years, two plays were written about her. First the 1610 drama The Madde Pranckes of Mery Mall of the Bankside by John Day, the text of which is now lost. Another play (that has survived) came a year later by Thomas Middleton and Thomas Dekker, The Roaring Girl. Both works dwelt on her scandalous behaviour, especially that of dressing in men's attire and did not show her in an especially favourable light, though the surviving play is fairly complimentary to her by contemporary standards.
However, Mary seems to have been given a fair amount of freedom in a society that so frowned upon women who acted unconventionally. In 1611 Frith even performed (in men's clothing, as always) at the Fortune Theatre. On stage she bantered with the audience and sang songs while playing the lute. It can be assumed that the banter and song were somewhat obscene, but by merely performing in public at all she was defying convention. Such public actions led to some reprisal. Frith was arrested for being dressed indecently and accused of being involved in prostitution. By the 1620s she was, according to her own account, working as a fence and a pimp. She not only procured young women for men, but also respectable male lovers for middle-class wives. In one case where a wife confessed on her deathbed infidelity with lovers that Mary provided, Mary supposedly convinced the woman's lovers to send money for the maintenance of the children that were probably theirs. It is important to note that, at the time, women who dressed in men's attire on a regular basis were generally considered to be "sexually riotous and uncontrolled", but Mary herself claimed to be uninterested in sex.
She is recorded as being released on 21 June 1644 from Bethlem Hospital after being cured of insanity. Which may or not be related to the (possibly apocryphal) story that she robbed General Fairfax and shot him in the arm during the Civil War. It was said that to escape the gallows she paid a £2000 bribe. She died of dropsy on 26 July 1659 on Fleet Street in London.
Francois Timoleon (Abbe) de Choisy
From Queers in History: Born in Paris, among the notable Frenchmen of the seventeenth century, the Abbé de Choisy, also known as François Timoléon, has left for posterity a vivid firsthand description of a strong cross-gender wish. During his infancy and early youth, his mother had attired him completely as a girl. At eighteen this practice continued and his waist was then "encircled with tight-fitting corsets which made his loins, hips, and bust more prominent". As an adult, for five months he played comedy as a girl and reported: "Everybody was deceived; I had [male] lovers to whom I granted small favours".
In 1676, he attended Papal inaugural ball in female attire. In 1687, he was received in the Académie de France. In 1696 he became the Ambassador of Louis XIV to Siam. Regarding his gender identity he wrote, I thought myself really and truly a woman. I have tried to find out how such a strange pleasure came to me, and I take it to be in this way. It is an attribute of God to be loved and adored, and man - so far as his weak nature will permit - has the same ambition, and it is beauty which creates love, and beauty is generally woman's portion ... I have heard someone near me whisper, "There is a pretty woman", I have felt a pleasure so great that it is beyond all comparison. Ambition, riches, even love cannot equal it ..."
From Wikipedia: Born in 1728 and dying in 1810 at the age of eighty-one, Charles Geneviève Louis Auguste André Timothée d'Éon de Beaumont, commonly known as the Chevalier d'Éon, was a French diplomat, spy and soldier. He lived the first forty-nine years of his life as a man and the remainder as a woman.
Amid rumours that Chevalier d'Éon was actually a woman, a betting pool was started on the London Stock Exchange about his true sex. d'Éon was invited to join, but declined, saying that an examination would be dishonouring, whatever the result. After a year without progress, the wager was abandoned. However, in 1777 he claimed to have been born anatomically female, but to have been raised as a boy because Louis d'Éon de Beaumont could only inherit from his in-laws if he had a son. King Louis XVI and his court complied, but demanded that d'Éon dress appropriately and wear women's clothing, although he was allowed to continue to wear the insignia of the Order of Saint-Louis. He agreed, especially when the king granted him the funds for a new wardrobe.
Doctors who examined the body after death discovered that the Chevalier was anatomically male. He is considered to be one of the earliest openly transvestite or transgender people.
Elena/Eleno de Céspedes
From Ria Brodell: Elena/Eleno de Céspedes was a freed slave born in Alhama, Spain in 1545. Her father was a Castilian peasant and her mother was an African slave. She had brand marks on both sides of her face to indicate her status as "offspring of a slave". She was married at age 16 to a man who left her shortly after she became pregnant. According to her testimony before the Spanish Inquisition in 1587, while giving birth to her son, she grew a penis. She gave the baby to another family and proceeded to live sometimes as a woman and sometimes as a man. Céspedes moved from town to town working as a tailor, a hosier, a soldier and finally a licensed surgeon using whichever gender suited the occasion.
Céspedes had many affairs with women but in 1586 he became engaged to Maria del Caño. Upon asking the vicar for a marriage license, the vicar became suspicious of Céspedes hairless physique and had him examined by his associates. The vicar's men testified that all was intact. However, before the marriage could occur someone came forward and claimed that Céspedes was both male and female so the vicar wanted them examined again. Céspedes was examined multiple times by doctors, surgeons, lawyers, the Secretary of the Inquisition and other people of "good repute" and finally they confirmed that he was indeed male. The wedding was finally allowed to proceed. However, a year later, after a tip from a neighbour, the couple was arrested and charged with sodomy, sorcery and disrespect for the marriage sacrament.
When testifying before the Tribunal of Toledo, Céspedes said that he was a hermaphrodite and had both male and female natures. Céspedes argued that at the time of his marriage to Maria he was of the male nature and had therefore committed no wrong. However, his male member had recently withered and fallen off due to a serious accident. After more examinations by court doctors and midwives Céspedes was found to be a woman and was sentenced for bigamy, fakery, perjury, and mockery of the sacrament of marriage. Céspedes received 200 lashes, and was ordered to serve 10 years in a public hospital, dressed as a woman.
King Henri III of France
From Wikipedia: Henri III (1551 – 1589) was King of France from 1574 until his death. He was the last French monarch of the Valois dynasty. Reports that Henri engaged in same-sex relations with his court favourites, known as the mignons, date back to his own time. Certainly he enjoyed intense relationships with them. The scholar Louis Crompton provides substantial contemporary evidence of Henri III's homosexuality, and the resulting problems at court and politics. Some modern historians dispute this, however, most recently, Gary Ferguson has offered a detailed assessment of Henri III and his court in the context of a discussion of the question of homosexuality in the French Renaissance, and found their interpretations unconvincing. "It is difficult", he writes, "to reconcile the king whose use of favourites is so logically strategic with the man who goes to pieces when one of them dies". Katherine Crawford, by contrast, emphasizes the problems Henri's reputation encountered because of his failure to produce an heir and the presence of his powerful mother at court, combined with his enemies' insistence on conflating patronage with favouritism and luxury with decadence.
Mary Ann Talbot / John Taylor
Edited from Wikipedia: Born in London in 1778, Mary Anne Talbot spent her childhood in the care of different guardians and boarding schools, her mother dying during childbirth. In 1792, at the age of fourteen, when the mistress of Captain Essex Bowen, she enlisted as his footboy under the name "John Taylor" for a voyage to Santo Domingo. She served as a drummer-boy in the battle for Valenciennes, where Captain Bowen was killed and she was also wounded. From Bowen's letters, Talbot discovered that her inheritance had been squandered by her guardians, so she decided to go on living and working as a male sailor.
Having deserted and become a cabin boy for a French ship, the British captured the ship and transferred Talbot to the Brunswick where she served as a powder monkey. Talbot was wounded for the second time in 1794 during a battle against the French fleet when grapeshot almost severed her leg. She never recovered full use of this leg again, later in another battle, the French captured her and she spent the following eighteen months in Dunkirk dungeon before managing to return to London in 1796.
In 1797 she was seized by a press-gang and was forced to reveal her gender - she was however paid the wages due to her for active service. She continued to use sailor's clothes, working in menial jobs and even tried her luck on stage at Drury Lane but eventually was arrested and taken to debtor's prison at Newgate. When she was released she became a household servant for publisher Robert S. Kirby who included her tale in his book Wonderful Museum and following her death in 1808, in The Life and Surprising Adventures of Mary Anne Talbot.
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