Born nearly 350 years ago, Julie d’Aubigny was a bisexual badass who managed to live a scandalous, wild life, which ended all too briefly in her thirties, sometime around 1707.
Likely born in 1673, during the prosperous reign of the Sun King Louis XIV, her father, Gaston d’Aubigny, was in charge of training the royal court Pages under the employ of Comte d’Armagnac, the Grand Squire of France or better known as the Master of the Horse.
In the Versailles home of Comte d’Armagnac, the cousin of the king, Gaston d’Aubigny raised his daughter Julie among the nobles and royal retinue. It would appear from genealogical records, Gaston was married to an Emilie Roux but she died around the age of 24, so it would stand to reason Julie’s mother died in childbirth or suddenly when Julie was very young.
She was instructed in writing, dancing, grammar, and drawing. The widower Gaston trained her in the art of the sword. He seems to have thought that training with rapier and foil was the only way that one could be safe upon the streets of Paris, and determined to see his child safe, regardless of her sex. It was not uncommon for Julie to attend lessons in boys clothes along with the Pages and kept up the habit of cross-dressing in her later years.
As a young woman she learned the finer points of necessary life skills such as horseback riding, horse maintenance and repair, drinking excessively, gambling, fistfighting, avenging honor, and stabbing people in the fucking face when they don’t have the good sense to step off when you’re threatening them. Growing up surrounded by tough men, this tall young beauty with the dark auburn hair and piercing blue eyes was forged into an instrument of badassitude.badassoftheweek.com
So, her father was basically the French Gunny R. Lee Ermy, a hard drinker who frequented bars and brothels, taught his daughter how to defend herself and often ran through her potential suitors rather than allow them to seek her hand.
Sometime in her teenage years (some say 14, some 16), Julie began an affair with the Comte d’Armagnac who was 32 years her senior, her father’s boss and the only man her father couldn’t challenge to a duel besides the King. It was through the successful seduction of the Count that Julie was introduced to the Court and the town. She was quickly married off to Sieur Maupin from Saint-Germain-en-Laye, a clerk and not really anyone special, but her affair with the Count d’Armagnac continued for a while longer.
Eventually, Julie became too much for the Count to handle so he assigned her husband to an administrative position overseeing the taxes in the provinces, in hopes of sending them both away from Paris. Julie instead chose not to accompany her husband and remained behind while her husband left the country. Without supervision from her father, her lover, or her husband, she went a little feral and there were reports of her striking shopkeepers and provoking fights with young aristocrats.
During this period of freedom, Julie frequented the salles d’arms (hall of arms, which was where one would go for combat practice). It was there she met Sérannes, some claim he was her fencing teacher but more likely a sparring partner as her skills quickly exceeded his. Turns out he was a fugitive on the run for having stabbed a man to death in an alley outside Paris. At the time, there was this French cop, Nicolas-Gabriel de La Reynie, Lieutenant-General of Police, founder of the first modern police force. He was put in charge of maintaining the peace and hunting down those who defied the “no duelling” law.
They both fled Versailles and together they would travel to Marseille (in the Southern Coast along the Mediterranean, more than a weeklong journey on foot, but only a few days on horseback) under the pretense that Sérannes had adequate prospects to support them both. That ended up being bullshit, so Julie resorted to performative ways of making money: public fencing exhibitions and singing in taverns.
The fencing exhibitions were troll level mastery akin to the Insult Clowns at State Fairs: she would pull out her sword, sing a song or two, challenging anyone in the audience to a duel. If someone stepped up, she’d sing an improvised diddy intent on humiliating her opponent, and then thoroughly finishing the job of eviscerating their pride, making them look feeble compared to her incredible skill.
Due to this skill, she once had a man in the audience proclaim that she wasn’t a woman, just some cross-dressing Cavalier swindling kind folk. Her response was to rip open her blouse, exposing her breasts, and told the audience to judge for themselves. It’s said that performance garnered particularly good tips from the audience.
Soon after arriving in Marseille, a newly opened music academy held auditions. Julie apparently had great affect on Pierre Gaultier, the highly influential director and friend to Jean-Baptiste Lully (an Italian-born French composer and was considered a master of the French Baroque style who was in charge of the Paris Opera). Her melodious, contralto voice offered her the opportunity to sing instead of stab for a living, and she jumped on it. Within a few months, she was known in Marseille simply as Mademoiselle d’Aubigny.
Her early appearances on stage were admired, particularly by one young woman (name unknown) with whom she fell in love. The girl’s family quickly packed her off to a convent in Avignon. Julie followed, taking the vows and entering as a postulate. One night after an elderly nun died, the pair stole the body, placed it in the girl’s cell and set fire to the convent, and escaped. They were on the run for three months and Julie was sentenced to death in absentia by the parliament in Provence under the name Sieur de Maupin.kellygardiner.com
Yeah, so she managed to get her husband’s name dragged through the mud, remember that dude she was married off to? It’s speculated that the Parliament of Aix was unaware that the young woman’s “kidnapper” was indeed a woman, since Julie was well in the habit of cross-dressing at this point, or perhaps it just seemed too ghastly a thing for another woman to do willingly, perhaps the girl’s family insisted the young woman’s honor be salvaged thus lying about her “captor”.
Upon her condemnation by the tribunal, Julie fled Marseille for Paris, a journey that would take her several months. We find her next in Orleans, down on her luck. Returning to eking out a living singing in taverns and inns she makes her way along the Loire valley. She seems to have thrown herself into this occupation with the zeal that seems to be her most defining characteristic. She is quoted as saying of this time, “I tried even to compose the words and airs of some chansonettes, which were liked well enough by my rough audiences.“
Eventually, she made her way south to Poitiers where she met an aging drunk named Marechal. Marechal, a talented musician and actor, recognized Julie as someone who belonged on the stage in Paris, and not living the life of a vagabond. “If you wanted, you could be the best singer in Paris within four or five years. I’ll teach you,” he offered and she accepted.
Marechal trained her for a time, but soon his drunkenness took its toll and he began to fall into incoherence. He taught her as long as he was able and according to her, “what he taught me was a true revelation“. In the end, as drink overcame him, he sent her away, advising her to go to Paris and there to take whatever job she could find in the theatre. If she continued to apply herself fame and fortune would be hers.eldacur.com
Julie took Marechal’s advice and worked her way north, retracing her route back to Paris. In Villeperdue, just south of Tours she had another encounter that would change her life. The following has two versions that both seem plausible so I’ll go over them both:
One night, while out carousing on the town, a particularly ardent man began crudely hitting on her. She’d just finished singing for the crowd, and he let loose with the one-liner “I’ve listened to your chirping, but now tell me of your plumage” — a come-on which I take to be the 17th-century version of “does the carpet match the drapes?” [having seen through her cross-dressing ruse.] She was, shall we say, unimpressed. In short order, she got into a fight with him and two of his buddies, won, and ran her sword clean through his shoulder.Rejectedprincesses.com
However, this encounter actually ate at her a bit. She couldn’t sleep and the next morning she made her way to the village barber, who also served as the local surgeon and asked about her opponent’s health. She was assured that he would recover, and she asked who she had run through. Later that evening, one of his companions called upon La Maupin to relay the injured man’s apologies and that he was in his cups. He was hoping for forgiveness and so she sent the messenger away to inform she would deliver her reply in person.
Some accounts say it was merely a drunken disagreement, as Julie was still going around in men’s clothes. “At a tavern in Villeperdue, she came upon a number of young squires at an inn. As she sat down, the leader joined her at her table and they began drinking together. The more he drank and spoke with her, the louder he became and eventually began gesturing expansively while bragging about the virtues of his horse in great and boring detail. For a time, La Maupin responded in kind, bragging about her steed but she tired of his argumentativeness. She stood to leave, and he clumsily grasped at her, tearing the lace on her cuff. In turn, she rebuffed him, causing him to spill his wine.
At this point, all swords were drawn in anticipation of a brawl. They took it outside and the man, having studied under the finest tutors, fancied himself an excellent swordsman, but found his best attacks parried, and then with a lightning riposte, La Maupin drove her sword clear through his shoulder and six inches beyond. She held him, skewered on her blade long enough for him to look back over his shoulder and see his own blood on the blade behind him. She withdrew her sword and sheathing it, helped to carry him to one of the inn’s rooms.
There she was informed he was a gentleman of promise, Louis-Joseph d’Albert de Luynes, Comte D’Albert, son of the Duke of Luynes and Anne de Rohan Montbazon. She countered that she was a gentlewoman of some birth herself, and introduced herself as Mlle. d’Aubigny, known as La Maupin. She withdrew, leaving d’Albert astounded and besotted.
He insisted upon being nursed only by her, raving and tearing off his bandages until she agreed to tend him. Thus began their life-long love affair. Both had many lovers, over the years, but theirs was always a special relationship. When he was recovered, d’Albert received orders from the King to rejoin his regiment. They parted and he returned to Paris and then on to Germany. Their farewells were tearful and they swore undying love and fealty and agreed to meet when they could, in Paris or Germany.Rejectedprincesses.com – Julie daubigny
What we do know, she presented herself to the Count in a dress this time, and called upon his room. They began a passionate, albeit brief (most accounts say only a few weeks, others near 3 months), love affair and she helped nurse him back to health.
La Maupin still had the condemnation of the tribunal hanging over her so she couldn’t return immediately to Paris. Instead she travelled north to Rouen. There, she paired up with a new lover, Gabriel-Vincent Thévenard, who also fancied himself a singer. Together they returned to Paris and on their first day there, Thévenard auditioned for the Paris Opéra, while she went on in disguise to the Comte d’Armagnac’s country estate in Marais.
The Comte proved to be just as susceptible to her charms as ever, and despite all the trouble she had put him through he was glad to see her. She explained her troubles to him and he agreed to look into the matter. He did, and three days later at his request the King, who is said to have been secretly amused by her impudence and daring, annulled the death sentence by the Parliament of Aix.
At this time, the Palais Royal theatre was being managed by Lully’s son-in-law Jean Nicolas de Francine, Master of the King’s Household. Francine had taken over in 1688 after the death of Lully. Thévenard had arrived in Paris before Julie, and as he had dreamed, was hired by the Académie Royale de Musique (the Paris Opera) his first day in the city, making him one more influential friend. His condition for accepting the position was that Julie also be allowed to audition and Francine reluctantly agreed.
While she went by the name of Mlle. d’Aubigny in Marseilles, in Paris she used the name of Mlle. Maupin. She was not accepted into the company of the Opera as quickly as Thévenard. For some reason, Francine was not initially impressed with her but the ever-resourceful Maupin didn’t let that hold her back. She looked up the retired singer Bouvard, whom she persuaded to intercede with Francine, who soon warmed to her beauty and lovely voice. She and Thévenard remained best of friends until her retirement, although they also had some infamous spats, and one evening on stage she bit his ear so hard he bled.
And thus she made her debut on the stage of the Opera as Pallas Athena in Cadmus & Hermione. The title roles were played by M. Ardouin and Mlle. Rochois. Mlle. Rochois won La Maupin’s heart just a quickly as La Maupin won the audience’s. They applauded her appearance, whereupon the goddess rose from her machine, doffed her helmet and took a bow.
Sources differ as to whether she had a great talent for singing or merely an extremely lovely voice. They agree though that she was a beautiful woman, perhaps the best looking in the company, and she is said to have been a good dancer and a fine actress. This last is not too surprising given her obvious flair for the dramatic. It is said she also had eidetic memory (near photographic) and rarely had to rehearse her lines or work to remember difficult lyrics.
One or two sources claim that she excelled in “trouser roles”, that is in playing male roles, but the only roles explicitly named in any of the sources are female. She played the goddesses Minerva and Pallas Athena, queens Medea and Dido, founder of Carthage and the warrior woman Clorinda.
Scandal followed her to the Opera, where she both loved and fought the actors and actresses with whom she shared its stage. It is said that she fell in love first with the soprano Marthe Le Rochois, and then with Fanchon Moreau who shared with her and Mlle. Desmatins the leading roles after the retirement of Mlle. Rochois in 1698. When La Moreau failed to return her ardor, it is said that La Maupin tried to commit suicide.
Whether it was because her operatic career took a while to blossom or for the mere love of adventure, La Maupin had a second career in Paris, as a professional duelist. This was a time when a great many professional duelists lived in the Latin Quarter and Faubourg St. Germain. Having been trained at arms as a child and then honed her skills in Marseille and on the road, La Maupin was highly successful as a duelist.
An encounter with another actor at the Opera shows that not only hecklers, but even personal acquaintances could mistake her for a man when she dressed the role. He was Duménil, an ex-cook elevated to a tenor with the Paris Opera due to his magnificent voice. He is said to have been a dull and stupid fellow with an enormous ego, the sort who strutted like a peacock and coarsely propositioned the women of the Opera, and to have made off with their worldly valuables as well as their virtue. On the night in question he angered La Maupin by first insulting and embarrassing Mlle Rochois and then Fanchon Moreau and her sister. He then turned his eye on La Maupin. She rebuffed him and he replied with a vulgar epithet. With quiet menace, La Maupin warned “it does not end here.”
Later that night she donned the clothes of a nobleman and waited for him at the Place des Victoires. There she challenged him to a duel but he refused to cross swords so she paddled him severely with her cane and took his watch and snuff box. The next day Duménil told his friends at the Opera that he had been assaulted by a trio of robbers and though he fought back they overwhelmed him and stole the watch and snuff-box. This was just what La Maupin had hoped for, the opportunity to disgrace him publicly, which she did by declaring, “Duménil, you liar and base coward! It was I alone who defeated you. You were afraid to fight and so I gave you a sound thrashing. As proof, I return to you your miserable watch and snuff-box.”
Sometime after, she attended a Royal Ball (thrown either by King Louis XIV or his brother, Philippe) dressed as a man. She spent most of the evening courting a young woman, which earned the ire of three of the woman’s suitors. When La Maupin pushed things too far and kissed the young lady in full view of everyone, the three challenged her to a duel. She fought all of them — outside of the royal palace, mind you — and won. According to some accounts, she actually killed them.
Nicolas-Gabriel de La Reynie, remember that cop that was hunting down her crappy boyfriend Sérannes that killed a dude in an alley? So he’s trying to track down d’Aubigny to uphold the King’s Law but the King’s brother Philippe who had hosted the party entreatied for mercy on Julie’s behalf. Her boldness entertained Louis XIV so much, being older and seeing fewer novelties as time went on, that he pardoned her from any punishment as the duelling laws only applied to men, and for this time at least, she was free to go.
She had to flee to Brussels, where she became the lover of the Elector of Bavaria and performed in the opera in Brussels from 1697 to 1698. He found her a bit too much to handle after she stabbed herself on stage with a real dagger, and offered her 40,000 francs to leave him alone, sending the husband of his new lover, a Countess. She threw the coins at the feet of the Count, called him a cuckold, and stomped off to Madrid in a huff.
She found herself working as a maid to a Countess Marino, whom she resented so much that one night before a grand ball she dressed the Countess’s hair with radishes so that everyone but the Countess could see them. Needless to say she was on the road back to Paris before the Countess arrived home.
She performed for the court at Versailles, appeared once again in most major Opéra productions, and introduced the Italian idea of the contralto voice to France. She defended chorus girls against lecherous barons and pompous tenors, became infatuated with the soprano Fanchon Moreau, tried to kill herself, threatened to blow the Duchess of Luxembourg’s brains out, and ended up in court for attacking her landlord.
*So much of the preceding paragraphs were taken directly from this article, not tryna plagiarize, shout out to Kelly Gardiner for her writing!
In 1703 she fell in love with Madame la Marquise de Florensac, the “most beautiful woman in France” – so beautiful that she too had had to flee to Brussels for several years because the Dauphin, the King’s son, was obsessed with her. La Florensac was also one of the most famous, wealthy and well-connected women in France. The two women lived, according to one account, in perfect harmony for two years, until de Florensac suddenly died of a fever.
After her lover’s death, Julie, still in the opera, lived for another few years, likely into her mid-30s. The exact cause of her demise is unknown. Most contemporary accounts of her life were written by men offended by her actions and by the fact that d’Aubigny always won or by women aghast at her immorality and violent behaviors. She even inspired an 1835 French novel, Théophile Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin, in which a character named Madeleine de Maupin seduces both a young man and his mistress while in various disguises.
Some say she entered a convent and died a few years later, having her body thrown onto a trash heap, without any ceremony for the disgrace she showed to her faith. It’s more likely she re-united with her long estranged husband, Sieur de Maupin and hopefully died peacefully.
17th Century France was a unique time and place in history and one of the few places that allowed openly bi-sexual, gender non-conforming people like Julie d’Aubigny to exist. Louis XIV was her patron partly in his ongoing efforts to undermine the political power of the Church through the arts, opera being one of the battlegrounds in the war of artist patronage. He also couldn’t take too strong a stance against being gay, since his brother, the Duke of Orleans was openly gay, effeminate and a cross-dresser. Julie was less a product of her time and more a woman who knew how to use the time she’d been born into to be the person she truly was.
Few people blaze through life the way she did. A great deal of her story has contention surrounding it, everything from dates, to people, to entire sections of her life, but what cannot be denied is that a woman over three-hundred years ago lived the life she wanted, despite the entire world around telling her no.
She deserves to be remembered alongside the other greats of history, if for no other reason than to show that bisexual people, and gender non-conforming people, have always and will always exist.Julie D’Aubigny: Duellist, Opera Singer, Agitator