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Hidden Histories: reviewing ‘The Chevalière d’Éon Sword’ with our trans community

La Chevalière d’Éon was a trans soldier, spy, diplomat, sword expert, and knightess.

Addressing a group at a trans workshop

Introduction

As part of Leeds 2023 Hidden Histories pilot project we are exploring different perspectives on our collection.

This has involved working with historian Kit Heyam and artist and researcher Luna Morgana to facilitate a session with the local trans community to re-examine a sword owned by the 18th-century spy and diplomat, la Chevalière d’Éon.

The Chevalière d’Éon’s Sword by Eleanor Wilkinson-Keys provides images and a detailed description of the sword.

During the session, the group created a “zine” inspired by the Chevalière d’Éon Sword, which we’re proud to share with a wider audience.

Download the “zine” – The Amazing Life of la Chevalière d’Éon (pdf, 12 MB)

Ezekiel Foster-Eardley reflects on the group’s visit to the University of Leeds library and the Royal Armouries Museum and offers a unique interpretation of the sword and the legacy of la Chevalière d’Éon through the perspective of a trans person more than 200 years on.

Rob Freeman, Community Engagement Officer,
Royal Armouries

La Chevalière d’Éon: remembering her legacy through a trans lens

By Ezekiel Foster-Eardley

A person dressed in black and wearing make up squats and poses for the camera

I was granted the fantastic opportunity to delve into the history of her fascinating and prestigious life thanks to Luna Morgana, Kit Heyam, and Kit Day in collaboration with Trans Leeds, Non-Binary Leeds, the Royal Armouries Museum, LEEDS 2023, and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Chevaliere d’Éon dressed as Minerva, holding a spear and shield, and wearing a plumed helmet with one breast exposed.Chevaliere d'Eon dressed as Minerva, holding a spear and shield, and wearing a plumed helmet with one breast exposed.
Chevalière d’Éon as the Roman goddess Minerva, published by Samuel Hooper, 1773 © The Trustees of the British Museum CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

On April 5th, 2022, I went to the special collections at University of Leeds library with Luna Morgana and Kit Heyam to view a collection of 18th-century letters, documents and articles written by, of, and to la Chevalière d’Éon. Interacting with the physical artefacts and witnessing the research of such an incredible figure in history was phenomenal. Even the minutiae of such artefacts – the crumbling wax seals she had opened herself, the ancient ink in her handwriting, the names of her friends – was surreal; I was in such proximity to someone who not only died 212 years ago but was also a brilliantly prestigious historical figure. The reverence I felt as a person living in the 21st century was even more powerful from the perspective of our shared trans identity.

An 18th century fencing match between a man in red jacket and a woman in black dress and white bonnet, being watched by a crown of men.
The Fencing Match between le Chevalier de Saint-Georges and la Chevalière d’Éon.
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2022

On May 7th, 2022, I attended the Sword d’Éon tour and “zine” workshop at the Royal Armouries Museum. We were taken on a dedicated tour of objects in the Royal Armouries’ collection relating to the life of la Chevalière d’Éon and trans history, took part in a workshop to create a “zine” detailing the illustrious story of her life and even got to view the sword she gifted to her friend George Keate in 1777.

The day was imbued with compassionate care for the local trans community as we all came together to enjoy fun and fascinating trans history. We were shown a selection of artefacts that represented gender and gender-nonconformity throughout history paired with talks from museum staff outlining the objects’ prominence and symbolism to reflect on, sparking a deep understanding and connection for the attendees who otherwise may have lacked such an engaging and tailored experience during museum tours. Each attendee got to contribute to the “zine” during the workshop in any creative way they felt – another unique and exciting way of encouraging everyone to feel a part of their own history by submitting something of their own creation that represented their individual experience and newfound knowledge.

Two trans people enjoying crafts at a workshop
Participants at the “zine” making workshop 
a group of trans people in a room gather around a sword in display case, one person stares intently.
A participant getting up close to the la Chevalière d’Éon sword

To explore our history and stories of important figures sharing our trans identities is such a powerful and important experience for the trans community. We are deserving of acknowledgement and empowerment for our history, to know that we have always existed, lived exuberant lives, and have made important contributions to society. This is something that should be brought to the attention of wider society, and the tour and workshop proved that our history deserves its place in the cultural firmament.


Heritage Fund
Non-Binary Leeds
TransLeeds
LEEDS
University of Leeds

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