One of the most effective ways to compile information about an enemy (or potential enemy) is by infiltrating the enemy’s ranks. This is the job of a spy. Spies can bring back all sorts of information concerning the size and strength of an enemy army.
They can also find dissidents within the enemy’s forces and influence them to defect. In times of crisis, spies can also steal technology and sabotage the enemy in various ways.
For centuries women have served their allegiances with as much efficacy as their male counterparts in espionage. The spies listed here are the top 10 beautiful lady spies in history.
10. Isabella Marie Boyd
Best known as Belle Boyd or Cleopatra of the Secession was a Confederate spy in the American Civil War. She operated from her father’s hotel in Front Royal, Virginia, and provided valuable information to Confederate general Stonewall Jackson in 1862.
Belle Boyd’s espionage career began by chance. According to her 1866 account, on July 4, 1861, a band of Union army soldiers saw the Confederate flag hung outside her home. They tore it down and turned a Union flag in its place. This made her angry enough, but she was enraged when one of them cursed at her mother.
(May 9, 1844 – June 11, 1900)
Belle pulled out a pistol and shot the man down. She was fuming. A board of inquiry forgave her, but sentries were posted around the house, and officers kept close track of her activities.
She profited from this enforced familiarity, charming at least one of the officers, Captain Daniel Kelly, into revealing military secrets. “To him,” she wrote later, “I am indebted for some very remarkable effusions, some withered flowers, and a great deal of important information.”
Belle conveyed those secrets to Confederate officers via her slave, Eliza Hopewell, who carried the messages in a hollowed-out watch case.
9. Nancy Wake
(born August 30, 1912)
She served as a British agent during the latter part of World War II. She became a leading figure in the maquis groups of the French Resistance and became one of the Allies’ most decorated servicewomen of the war.
Born in Roseneath, Wellington, New Zealand, Wake’s family moved to Sydney, Australia, in 1914. She was two years old at the time and the youngest and most independent of six children. Later, her father left the family to return to New Zealand, leaving her mother to raise the children. Later, in 1939 she met wealthy French industrialist Henri Edmond Fiocca, whom she married on November 30.
She was living in Marseille, France, when Germany invaded. After the fall of France, she became a courier for the French Resistance and later joined the escape network of Captain Ian Garrow. The Gestapo called her the “White Mouse.”
By 1943, she was the Gestapo’s most-wanted person, with a five-million-franc price on her head. From April 1944 to the complete liberation of France, her 7,000 maquisards fought 22,000 SS soldiers, causing 1,400 casualties while taking only 100 themselves.
Her French companions, especially Henri Tardivat, praised her fighting spirit, amply demonstrated when she killed an SS sentry with her bare hands to prevent him from raising the alarm during a raid.
After the war, she received the George Medal, the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Médaille de la Résistance, and the Croix de Guerre thrice. She was not awarded any Australian decorations. Also, she learned that the Gestapo had tortured her husband to death in 1943 for refusing to disclose her whereabouts. After the war, she worked for the Intelligence Department at the British Air Ministry attached to the embassies of Paris and Prague. After marrying John Forward in 1957, she returned to Australia.
8. Margaret Kemble Gage
She was the wife of General Thomas Gage, who led the British Army during the American Revolutionary War, and is said to have spied against him out of sympathy for the Revolution. She was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and resided in East Brunswick Township.
All of the circumstantial evidence shows that Dr. Warren’s informer was indeed Margaret Kemble Gage – a lady of divided loyalties to both her husband and her native land. Most notably Paul Revere’s Ride, historical texts suggest that Mrs. Gage provided Joseph Warren with information regarding General Gage’s raid at Lexington and Concord. As a result, Gage was sent to England aboard the Charming Nancy on her husband’s orders in the summer of 1775.
7. Josephine Baker
(June 3, 1906 – April 12, 1975)
She was an American-born French dancer, singer, and actress. She was nicknamed the “Bronze Venus,” the “Black Pearl,” and even the “Créole Goddess” in anglophone nations. Baker was the first African American female to star in a major motion picture, integrate an American concert hall, and become a world-famous entertainer.
She is also noted for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States (she was offered the unofficial leadership of the movement by Coretta Scott King in 1968 following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, but turned it down), for assisting the French Resistance during World War II and for being the first American-born woman to receive the French military honor, the Croix de Guerre.
6. Noor Inayat Khan
(January 1, 1914, Moscow – September 13, 1944, Dachau concentration camp)
On September 13, 1944, a beautiful Indian princess lay dead on the floor at Dachau concentration camp. The Nazis had brutally tortured her then shot in the head. Her name was Noor Inayat Khan. The Germans knew her only as Nora Baker, a British spy.
The first female radio operator to infiltrate occupied Paris, posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre and the George Cross – one of only three women from the Special Operations Executive to receive the last medal. But while Odette Hallowes and Violette Szabo have had Hollywood films made of their lives and blue plaques put up in their honor, Noor has been largely overlooked.
The gentle Indian woman who sacrificed her life for Britain has become a footnote in history. A memorial to her has long been overdue. And when a bust of Noor goes up in London’s Gordon Square in 2012, it will be the first statue to an Indian woman in Britain – and the first to any Muslim. Given the contribution of Asian women in this country to arts, music, literature, law, human rights, and education, a gap is crying out to be filled.
Noor’s journey from her birthplace in Moscow to London was in many ways part of her exotic upbringing. A descendant of Tipu Sultan – the famous 18th-century ruler of South India, known as the Tiger of Mysore – was brought up a fierce nationalist by her father, Hazrat Inayat Khan, a Sufi preacher and musician.
Noor was trained as a secret agent, given arms training, taught to shoot and kill, and finally flown to Paris under the code name of Madeleine, carrying only a false passport, a clutch of French francs, and a pistol.
Despite her spy network collapsing around her, Noor stayed in France for three months until she was betrayed. What followed in October 1943 was an arrest, imprisonment in chains, torture, and interrogation. Noor bore it all. She revealed nothing to her captors, not even her real name.
When the end came on September 13, 1944, it was not swift or painless. Defiant till the last, she shouted “Liberte” as she went down to a bullet fired at the back of her head.
5. Anna Chapman
(Born February 23, 1982)
Anna Chapman, a beautiful 28-year-old Russian with an IQ of 162, having a diplomat father and a taste for the high life, is a Russian national, who while living in New York, United States, was arrested along with nine others on June 27, 2010, on suspicion of working for the Illegals Program spy ring under the Russian Federation’s external intelligence agency, the SVR (Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki).
Chapman pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without notifying the U.S. Attorney General. She was deported back to Russia on July 8, 2010, as part of a prisoner swap.
4. Violette Szabo
(June 26, 1921 – c. February 5, 1945)
She was a Second World War British secret agent. She was born Violette Reine Elizabeth Bushell in Paris, France, on June 26, 1921, the second child of a French mother and an English taxi-driver father who had met during World War I.
The family moved to London, and she attended school in Brixton until the age of 14. At the start of the Second World War, she worked in the Bon Marché department store in Brixton on the perfume counter.
Violette met Etienne Szabo, a French officer of Hungarian descent, at the Bastille Day parade in London in 1940. They married on August 21, 1940, after a whirlwind 42-day romance. Violette was 19, Etienne was 31.
Shortly after the birth of their only child, Tania, Etienne died from chest wounds at the Battle of El Alamein in October 1942. He had never seen his daughter. Etienne’s death made Violette, having already joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service in 1941, decide to offer her services to the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).
3. Liu Hulan
DShe was born in Yunzhouxi village, in the Wenshui County of the Shanxi province. She was a young, beautiful female spy in the Chinese Civil War between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party. She joined the Communist Party in 1946 and soon after joined an association of women working in support of the Liberation Army.
She was actively involved in organizing the villagers of Yunzhouxi in support of the Communist Party of China. Her contributions involved a wide range of activities, such as supplying food to the Eighth Liberation Army, relaying secret messages, and mending boots and uniforms.
The life and death of Liu Hulan have become a symbol of the courage of the Chinese people, and she is often cited as a homily of their loyalty to Communism. Her story is often told as an homage to the struggles endured and the sacrifices made for the cause of liberating China from centuries of rule by foreign powers.
2. Charlotte de Sauve
(c. 1551 – September 30, 1617)
A French noblewoman and a mistress of King Henry of Navarre, who later ruled as King Henry IV of France. She was a member of Queen Mother Catherine de Medici’s notorious Flying Squadron (Escadron Volant in French), a group of beautiful female spies and informants recruited to seduce influential men at Court and thereby extract information to pass on to the Queen Mother.
Charlotte de Sauve has been credited as a source of the information that led to the execution of Marguerite de Valois’s lover Joseph Boniface de La Môle and Annibal de Coconnas for conspiracy in 1574.
In 1575, Catherine de Medici, abetted by her son Henry III, instructed Charlotte to seduce the king’s brother, her youngest son, François, Duke of Alençon, to provoke hostility between the two young men, so that they would not conspire together in the future.
Charlotte subsequently became the duke’s mistress, creating a rift between the former close friends, as Navarre and Alençon became rivals over Charlotte. According to Marguerite’s memoirs: “Charlotte de Sauve treated both of them [Navarre and Alençon] in such a way that they became extremely jealous of each other, to such a point that they forgot their ambitions, their duties, and their plans and thought of nothing but chasing after this woman.”
1. Mata Hari
(7 August 1876, Leeuwarden – 15 October 1917, Vincennes)
Mata Hari ‘drew every man’s lustful admiration and every woman’s envy. A Dutch exotic dancer, courtesan, and accused spy executed by firing squad in France for espionage for Germany during World War I.
Her popular acts toured other European cities, where she became the courtesan of powerful men in government and the military. Her relationships and liaisons with powerful men frequently took her across international borders.
Before World War I, she was generally viewed as an artist and a free-spirited bohemian, but as war approached, she began to be seen by some as a wanton and promiscuous woman, and perhaps a dangerous seductress. When World War I broke out, the French suspected her of spying for the Germans, even though she was also likely doing so for the French.
In January 1917, the German military attaché in Madrid transmitted radio messages to Berlin describing the practical activities of a German spy, code-named H-21. French intelligence agents intercepted the news and, from the information they contained, identified H-21 as Mata Hari.
Unusually, the messages were in a code that German intelligence knew had already been broken by the French, leaving some historians to suspect that the messages were contrived.
She was subsequently tried for espionage and found guilty. She was executed by Firing Squad on September 15, 1917, at the age of 41.