On May 29, 1893, Marguerite Clérisse was born in Baiona. Known by her married name, Marga d’Andurain, she would go on to gain a certain degree of fame and even notoriety in interwar Europe as a libertine adventurer.
Born into a bourgeois family in the capital of Lapurdi, she received a religious education, including some time spent at the Ursuline institute in Hondarribia, Gipuzkoa. In 1911 she married her cousin, Pierre d’Andurain, a member of the Andurain family, owners of the Château de Maÿtie or Château d’Andurain in Maule, Zuberoa. Pierre was a lover of exotic travels and on marrying the couple immediately traversed Spain, Portugal, Morocco, and Algeria. In 1912 they embarked on a journey to Latin America, where they intended to take up cattle ranching. However, the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 brought Pierre back to Europe to enlist in the French army and he was wounded in 1916.
After the war, the couple, now with two sons, Jean-Pierre and Jacques, settled in Cairo where they were involved in trade and commerce. With Pierre unable to travel because of his war wounds, Marga decided to carry on exploring the world on her own. In the company of an Englishwoman, Baroness Brault and a member of the British Secret Intelligence Service, she visited Palestine (under a British mandate after World War I) and Syria (under French Mandate), falling in love with the Syrian city of Palmyra. She relocated the family there in 1927, with the intention once more of establishing a cattle ranch. However, the couple ended up running a local hotel there. Here, in the context of the escalating tension of interwar Europe and in a highly sensitive geopolitical area, rumor has it that she was involved in espionage on behalf of Britain, although nothing seems to have been verified on that count. Visitors to the hotel included Agatha Christie and King Alfonso XIII of Spain.
In 1933, she came up with a daring plan to be the first Western woman to visit Mecca, the holiest city in Islam and only accessible to Muslims. In order to do so, she legally divorced Pierre and entered into a marriage of convenience in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with a Bedouin, Sulaiman Abdulaziz Dikmari, although he died soon after. Subsequently, her plans to visit Mecca, Medina, and Unaizah, before crossing six hundred miles of desert to Hofuf and going on to the island of Bahrain, turned into a nightmare. She was arrested in Jeddah and accused of having killed her new “husband.” In the trial under Koranic law the prosecution demanded that she be stoned to death, but ultimately she was declared innocent and, through French diplomatic pressure, released. The trial itself was somewhat of a cause célèbre, attracting press attention from all over Europe and the US.
On her release, she remarried Pierre but after he died, she returned to France in 1937. One of the many rumors that surround her life there is the allegation that she was an opium dealer in Nazi-occupied Paris during the 1940s, as a cover for her spying duties. She died in 1948, very much in the same kind of circumstances in which she had lived her life. While sailing off of the coast of Morocco, which some observers allege also had to do with drugs smuggling, she was reputedly thrown overboard by the skipper of her yacht in November that year. She was fifty-five years old and her body was never recovered.
Many stories have circulated about Andurain, most of them unverified. In texts she penned herself, she claimed to have inherited the adventurous spirit of the Basques. Sh spoke fluent Arabic and wrote especially about women’s lives in the Muslim world she knew so well.
The Andurain family name lived on, though. Her son Jacques is said to have fired the first shot in anger on the part of the French Resistance in World War II: on August 13, 1941, from a Baby Browning 6.35 mm gun that actually belonged to his mother. And her granddaughter, Julie d’Andurain, is a well-known French historian.