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Why was Margaretha MacLeod executed in 1917?

This enquiry focuses on the colourful life of Margaretha MacLeod  who was otherwise known as Mata Hari. Mata Hari was the Dutch exotic dancer who was executed in 1917 for her supposed espionage activities during the First World War.

Students are challenged to work out why Margaretha was executed.   They consider a range of evidence (much of it from original MI5 sources) as they formulate and refine their hypotheses.

Once students have worked out why Margaretha was executed, they turn to a new question: Did she deserve her fate? At this point, they delve deeper into the story by exploring historians’ interpretation.

They tap into new historiography suggesting that Margaretha was in fact innocent of the charges made against her, and was instead scapegoated by the floundering military authorities in France.

The enquiry is a great way of grabbing students’ interest about the work of female spies in World War One, as well as developing their understanding of the myriad ways in which ordinary people’s lives were affected by the politics of this global war.

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  • Lesson presentation: PowerPoint
  • Lesson write-up: PDF
  • Resource 1: PDF
  • Worksheet 1: PDF

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