Beautiful, valiant, generous and supremely unchaste
Photo composition by Lili Aluca
Julie D'Aubigny (1673 – 1707), better known as Mademoiselle Maupin or La Maupin, was a 17th-century prominent French opera singer, fencing master and duelist. She was a pioneer as a woman contralto and performed nightly shows on the biggest and most highly-respected opera stage in the world. Being a bisexual, she participated in numerous romantic adventures, both with men and women; she provoked many fights and duels (with men only), having killed or wounded at least ten men in life-or-death duels.
She is said to have been born with masculine inclinations as well as having been educated in a very masculine way. Certainly, she often dressed as a man and when she did so could be mistaken for one. She also seemed to have at least as much an eye for members of her own sex as for men. Her skill with the sword, either in exhibition or duels fought in earnest, seems to have been absolutely exceptional among the best male fencers of her time.
Her tumultuous career and flamboyant life were the subject of gossip and colorful stories in her own time, and inspired numerous portrayals afterwards. Theophile Gautier loosely based the title character, Madeleine de Maupin, of his novel Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) on her.
"Mademoiselle Maupin de l'Opera". Anonymous print, ca. 1700.
From the resource History Masquerade
One of the most badass human beings ever produced by France was born in 1670 into a life of wealth, privilege, and one-percenter opulence that meant she could have just spent her entire life chilling out Real Housewives style without ever so much as having to shank a single human being in the eye in a hellacious fit of rage, but, as we shall soon see, that sort of malaise really wasn't Julie’s bag. Her father was Gaston D’Aubigny was the Grand Squire of France and secretary to the Count D’Armagnac, one of the seven great officers of the Crown. Actually, he was the number-one person responsible for training King Louis XIV's pages and maintaining the Royal Stables, and he didn’t let his little daughter grow up without learning the finer arts of dishing out knuckle sandwiches to her enemies or running would-be suitors through the small intestines with the pointy end of a rapier. He trained young Julie the same way he trained the King's Squires: dancing, singing, painting; and as a young woman she also learned the finer points of necessary life skills such as horseback riding, horse maintenance and repair, drinking excessively, gambling, fistfighting, avenging your honor, and stabbing people in the face when they don't have the good sense to step off when you're threatening them. Surrounded as she had been all her life by men and boys, she had learned, it would seem, the art of seduction as well as arms. So, this tall young beauty with the dark auburn hair and piercing blue eyes was forged into an instrument of badassitude.
Mlle. Maupin was, excepting her sex, the very image of the swashbuckling romantic cavalier: tall, dark and handsome, one of the finest swordswomen or swordsmen of her day. Slender, with firm muscles and breasted almost like a boy, she was athletically built, had very white skin and dark auburn curls with blonde highlights, a beautiful face, blue eyes, an aquiline nose and a pretty mouth. By the time she was sixteen, she could best most of the men she met at her father’s fencing salle. Soon D’Armagnac claimed her as his mistress. As seems to be ever the case with her, she was victorious and captured the count's heart, and through him found her introduction to the Court and the town. The young Mademoiselle D'Aubigny soon proved herself way too hot for the Count to handle, however, so before long he gave her father a promotion, then got her married off to some colorless figure whom she so ignored that even before her eighteenth birthday he ruefully departed Paris for the country, leaving his young wife to her pleasure. The Count seems to have been of the impression that Madame Maupin would accompany her husband out to the country, but she informed him that the position was too meager to support them both and stayed in Paris.
As a matter of fact, Maupin was a Count or Viscount or Demi-Count, and he lived in one of the colonies across the sea and rarely spent time in France, and since this Julie wasn't about to move out to nowhere and be a quiet little housewife in some malaria-infested corner of the world she rarely saw him and he doesn't factor into her life story in any appreciable manner at all. The only real thing her husband provided was a title, some money, and a wedding ring, all of which allowed Julie to use her marital status as a way of being able to live promiscuous life she wouldn't have been able to get away with as an unmarried woman. Marriage had freed her from the constraints that propriety placed on to marriageable young ladies, and now her husband's absence and the Count's loss of interest gave her more freedom. She proved herself her father's daughter by going wild. There are reports of her striking shop keepers and of provoking fights with young aristocrats.
While frequenting the fencing saloons, she met and became romantically involved with a certain Baron de Seranne (Serranes), an accomplished fencing master, with whom she frequented the leading salles of the city, honing her fencing skills. While one source calls him a clerk, all of the rest say that he was a fencing master and some say that he instructed her in sword, but that she soon surpassed him. That may be, but as her father is said to have engaged fencing masters such as de Liancourt, a famous weapons master and author of "Le maistre d'armes ou l'exercice de l'espee seule" (1686), it seems unlikely that Serannes's main role in her life was fencing lessons.
She was still only eighteen, when the pair ran afoul of one of the most powerful men in Paris, the Lieutenant-General of Police, Nicolas-Gabriel de La Reynie. He was a strict enforcer of the anti-dueling laws and the regulation of weapons. Either on his own, or perhaps at the urging of the Comte D’Armagnac, La Reynie was on the trail of Seranne, who was accused of being involved in a duel that led to the death of a man behind the church of the Carmelites, and had to flee the city. Madame Maupin ran away with him to Marseilles, where Seranne claimed to have adequate prospects to support them both.
When Seranne prospects turned out to be much thinner that he had claimed, the pair were forced to find a way to support themselves. Unwilling or unable to let Seranne provide for them both, Julie found two occupations in Marseilles: the sword and the song. They gave exhibitions of dueling, sang and told stories in the tap-room of the inn where they we staying. By this point she had adopted her habit of dressing in men's clothing, which was certainly more suited to the fencing exhibitions than a woman's. Still, it would seem, she advertised rather than concealed her sex: rumors about a woman disguised as a man participating in exhibitions with blades drew attention to her and increase the interest in their exhibitions. So proficient was she with the sword, so strong, graceful and skilled, that some doubted she could in fact be a woman, and one night a heckler called out that she was a boy, some Cavalier or fencing master's protege and not a woman at all. Enraged at this, Julie cast down her foil and ripped open her shirt so that the audience could judge for themselves whose claim had the greater merit. It is said that the receipts that evening were particularly good.
Then Julie or someone around realized that she possessed beautiful albeit untrained contralto, so she gained an audition with Pierre Gaultier, the director of the Marseilles opera company, who engaged her at once, despite her inexperience. Her beautiful contralto voice had great effect on Gaultier and she was accepted into the academy. Her professional singing debut in Marseilles, under the name of Mlle. D'Aubigny was a sensation: a woman contralto was a “new tone” in French opera. In the span of a few months, the woman known in Marseilles only as "La Maupin" (meaning "The Maupin") went from a completely untrained street performer to the lead actress in the respected Opera. Seranne now passed from the picture, and La Maupin embarked on a series of celebrated affairs – with women as well as men.
La Maupin (right) romancing a fair maiden.
Picture from the article Duelists
After a while she became bored with Seranne, and she declared, with men in general. Having experienced the attentions of young ladies who at first mistook her for a man, she thought it would make a charming contrast for a virile woman such as herself to be seen around town with a young girl, and a blonde would show off her own dark coloring. Soon a beautiful young blonde, perhaps mistaking La Maupin for a man, demonstrated some infatuation for La Maupin, who reciprocated with ardor. The young lady's parents, not surprisingly, did not approve of the liaison, and quickly sent her into the Visitandines convent in Avignon in order to keep the two apart. Our heroine followed, entering the convent herself as a novitiate. Shortly thereafter, one of the nuns died. La Maupin disinterred the body of the deceased nun and, placing it in the bed of her beloved, set the room afire so that the two could flee in the ensuing confusion.
They disappeared for three months before La Maupin abandoned the young novice who returned in shame to her family and the convent. A tribunal of the Aix Parliament tried La Maupin in absentia and condemned her to death by fire for her crimes, which seem to have included kidnapping the novice, body snatching, setting fire to the convent, and failing to appear before the tribunal. The condemnation, interestingly, was of "sieur" (Sir) D’Aubigny, perhaps to conceal what was considered one of the more delicate aspects of the whole affair, the homosexual nature of her relationship with the young lady.
Upon her condemnation by the tribunal, La Maupin fled Marseilles 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.”
Having the condemnation of the tribunal hanging over her, La Maupin could not return immediately to Paris. Instead, she continued north to Rouen. There she met another young singer, a few years her elder, Gabriel-Vincent Thevenard, the son of a caterer from Orleans. He had left his job in his father's kitchens to pursue a career as a singer. Like La Maupin he was on his way to Paris and was practicing in the provinces, and like her he was gifted with a remarkable singing voice. Not surprisingly, Thevenard soon fell under La Maupin's spell, consumed with passion for her.
Eventually, she made her way south to Poitiers where she met an aging drunk named Marechal. Marechal was a talented musician and an actor and recognized a La Maupin 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 La Maupin, "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. La Maupin 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.
She was once again singing for her supper at inns and taverns on her way towards Paris. In Villeperdue she came into the company of a number of young squires at an inn. There are two quite different versions of this encounter. Both agree that she was, as usual, dressed as a man. In the first, she had just finished singing when one of the young men accosted her. It would seem that he had seen through her masculine disguise. "Tell me, o pretty bird, I've listened to your chirping, but now tell me of your plumage?" he called out to her. This angered La Maupin. She rebuffed him and reached for her sword. The young bravo responded in kind and soon the challenge was given and accepted and La Maupin found herself facing three of the squires over cold steel. They withdrew to the tavern's courtyard where she fought all three at once and won. The match ended when she ran the fellow who had offended her clean through the shoulder. Pinned by her blade, her foe twisted around until he could see her sword's point, red with his blood, emerging from his back. She sheathed her blade, turned her back upon the fallen man and withdrew to her room. Her conscience bothered her that night and she couldn't sleep, nor in the morning did she continue on her way. Instead she went to the village barber who acted as the local surgeon and asked after the health of her opponent. The barber assured her that he would recover, and she inquired as to his identity. He was, she was told, Louis-Joseph d'Albert de Luynes, son of the Duke of Luynes and Anne de Rohan-Montbazon. That evening, one of d'Albert's companions called upon La Maupin to convey his apologies for the insults that he had offered her while he was in his cups. He begged her forgiveness and she answered that she would deliver her reply in person. That night, dressed as a woman, she called upon d'Albert in his room, and so began a passionate love affair. She helped to nurse him back to health.
In the second version of the tale, d'Albert did not recognize her for a woman. When La Maupin arrived at the inn, there were a number of lackeys tending the horses of their masters in the yard. La Maupin strode in and took a place at one of the tables where she was joined by the leader of the band. She ordered Burgundy and greeted the young man with a barely stifled yawn. As the drink flowed, the fellow became loud and boisterous, gesturing expansively as he extolled the many virtues of his horse in great and boring detail.
Artwork by artist Gina
For a time, La Maupin responded in kind, discoursing on the merits of her own steed, but eventually she became bored with the young man's argumentative ways. She stood to leave and he grasped her arm clumsily to restrain her, tearing the lace at her cuff. She rebuffed him, throwing off his grasp and spilling the wine. In a trice, swords were drawn all around. D'Albert, hot with anger, and backed by his followers faced La Maupin's cold steel and colder temper. D'Albert, 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 thereupon withdrew, leaving poor 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.
Once in Paris in about 1690, La Maupin went to see her old lover, the Count Armagnac, and had a word or two in his ear about the pending charges. Armagnac, charmed by her beauty and especially by her seductive complacency, intervened with the king and the matter was arranged, charges were dropped and La Maupin went on to be employed at the Paris Opera in 1690, making her debut as Pallas Athena in the musical tragedy “Hermione and Cadmus” in the last month of the year. It has been stated by some of her biographers that La Maupin excelled in "trouser roles" - playing a man's role on stage. However, the facts suggest that her parts were usually those of female warriors and martial goddesses (Minerva and Pallas Athena, queens Medea and Dido, founder of Carthage and the warrior woman Clorinda), requiring her to carry a spear and helmet, which may explain the numerous anecdotes surrounding her theatrical career. Some sources stated however, that La Maupin was not accepted into the company of the Opera as quickly as her friend Thevenard because its director Francin was not initially impressed with her. But later, La Maupin gave Thevenard the boot, she took Paris by storm. She looked up the retired singer Bouvard, whom she persuaded to intercede with Francin, who soon warmed to her beauty and lovely voice. And thus she made her debut on the stage of the Opera as Pallas Athena in «Hermione and Cadmus». The title roles were played by M. Ardouin and Mlle. Rochois.
Spectators loved La Maupin, they applauded her appearance, whereupon the goddess rose from her wagon, 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. Scandals 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, who won La Maupin's heart just as quickly as La Maupin won the audience's. Then she had an involvement with Fanchon La 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. Germaine. Having been trained at arms as a child and then honed her skills in Marseilles and on the road, La Maupin was highly successful as a duelist; and she fought against gentlemen only.
Mademoiselle de Maupin. Reproduction by Boussod Valadon and Co from a Water color painted in 1897 and contained in 'Six Drawings illustrating Mademoiselle de Maupin' published by Leonard Smithers and Co 1898.
From Wikipedia Commons
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 Dumenil (Dumeni), 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. 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 with him so she paddled him severely with her cane and took his watch and snuff box. The next day Dumenil 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, "Dumenil, 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."
While her masculine dress and behavior caused Dumenil not to recognize her and to mistake her for a man, there were times when they brought her fame and scandal rather than anonymity. One of the most dramatic was at a Court ball.
On September 11, 1693, La Maupin created the role of Dido on stage to much praise and enthusiasm. After the show, she dressed in her breeches and in the costume of a nobleman, got her sword and crashed a party thrown at the Palais Royal by Phillipe of France. for the ball which was given either by King Louis XIV, or by his elder brother Philippe I, Duke of Orleans. Still, La Maupin proceeded to cause a terrific scandal by her attentions to a pretty young marquise at the ball - dancing with a young marquise, flirting and finally sealing their promised liaison with a passionate kiss on the lady's mouth. Three noblemen, taking umbrage at this most public display, surrounded the couple on the dance floor, protesting La Maupin's disgraceful behavior, mistaking her for a gentleman. One version says that the three challenged La Maupin to a duel. "At your service, gentlemen." she answered them in the standard formula of the duel, and all four withdrew to the dark gardens without to settle the affair. According to another version, she was requested for an apology but refused to apologize and challenged the three gentlemen to accompany her out. Nobody could know what exactly happened in the dark garden, we just can repeat rumors. As soon as she came out of the ball accompanying by the three gentlemen, she unsheathed the sword and instantly killed one of the men. Then the other two got in fight with her and were killed by the angered fencer. There was another version that La Maupin came to the ball in the costume of Dido, with a sword. One of noblemen floutingly asked her what was the reason a lady had a sword. She was insulted and challenged him to a duel. He was surprised and refused to fight against a woman. Then she demanded public apology. Marshallers were displeased by such behavior and asked her to leave but she refused. Then ladies asked gentlemen to take the “presumptuous singer” out.
In any event, she retired to the garden with her opponents and returned alone, unscathed and unscratched... but unfortunately noticed by the King who required the stranger to come over; the stranger removes the wig atop his head; long, auburn hair rolls down to his hips. "You are the jade La Maupin?" ask Louis "I have heard of your handiwork! Need I remind you of my decree against duels in Paris?" She denied nothing, for how could she? She was well known and had clearly been the center of everyone's attention. The dueling Amazon retired for the evening, after informing the marquise of the fate of her gentlemen protectors whom she stabbed one by one in the garden, and returned home expecting an arrest warrant any minute. But the King was in a tolerant humor. The next day, when the city was agog with the news, he issued a statement which concluded that the laws against dueling had specifically stated that men were forbidden to engage in fighting - not women. It would seem however that she did present herself to Monsieur who interceded for her. Still, taking no chances, La Maupin rode to Brussels to wait out the scandal.
In Brussels, she became, for a little over a year, the mistress of Maximilian Emanuel, the Elector of Bavaria (one of the German princes of the Holy Roman Empire and governor of the Spanish Netherlands). Although the Elector was a lusty lover, she proved too furious a bedmate for his tastes; he eventually tired of her and she was replaced by a countess. After stabbing herself theatrically in supposed chagrin, La Maupin was asked to leave the country and given a purse of forty thousand livres as "compensation." Infuriated by the insulting implication that she could be bought, Julie hurled the gold into the emissary's face and took the road to Spain.
Completely lacking funds, La Maupin found a position in Madrid as a lady's maid to the Countess Marino, enduring numerous slurs upon her intelligence and criticisms about her service. She bided her time. Having at last saved enough money to get her to Paris again, La Maupin took a creative revenge upon her ultra-discriminating mistress. Dressing the lady's hair for state function, La Maupin included in the coiffure a small bunch of radishes that could only be seen from the back. Imagine the Countess' surprise when a long queue formed at her heels to observe her new and imaginative hairdo, until a kindly old magnifico finally told her the truth. There was no time for counter revenge, however; La Maupin had fled, returning to Paris after a three year absence to once again take the city as her own.
La Maupin rejoined the Paris Opera and returned to the public eye in 1698, playing Minerva in Theseus, and her career was to last another fifteen years, during which she would create twenty-nine parts.
Singing with her old lover Thevenard on stage created a local wonder - during their duets, she would bite his ear savagely while he responded with secret but violent pinches. At last, Thevenard capitulated, offering peace; La Maupin generously accepted his surrender, but only on the condition of public apology. He complied and endured the jibes from his fellow artists, content that at least his health would remain unimpaired by the firebrand whose intimate company he had once enjoyed.
Shortly after her return to Paris in 1698, La Maupin learned that d'Albert had been doing "agricultural studies" with the Duchess of Luxembourg. Completely infuriated, she knelt beside the Duchess while the great lady was at her prayers, and promised in a conversational tone to cut her throat if d'Albert was ever seen in her boudoir again. Fortunately for the intended victim, d'Albert was imprisoned for a fatal duel. Upon regaining his freedom, he dashed La Maupin's hopes forever by marrying Mademoiselle Montigny, a former mistress of the Elector of Bavaria - who came complete with a dowry of forty thousand livres. Heartbroken, La Maupin swore off the opposite sex forever... but her remarkable life was drawing to a close.
La Maupin's last public appearance was on May 26, 1705, when she played the role of Isabelle in the musical comedy “La Venitienne” by composer Michel de la Barre. After d'Albert's marriage, Julie quit the Opera and in August, wrote her lost love a final letter in which she communicated her desire to retire to a convent. Receiving his blessing, the once fiery Maupin spent her last years as a bride of Christ. Her flame was extinguished on July 2, 1707, after being stricken down by puerperal fever. She was thirty-seven years old.
As a historical figure, La Maupin is memorable because of the many parts she played, both in life and on the stage - daughter, fearless duelist, impetuous lover, singer, sinner and absolutely no saint. She was a woman who relished the meaty roles, the daring leaps, the awesome vitality and roaring blood of adventure and anarchy. Beautiful, unchaste and bold in her breeches, La Maupin could not be constrained by the restrictions of her day.
In fact, women’s duels were not wonders in France, and their peak of popularity just happened to be in the XVII century. Women challenged each other for various reasons: cutting eye, careless statement, jealousy, similar dressing, insults (perceived and real), gossip, and ultimately, for their honor. Anything could cause a duel to death. As they said, women’s duels were much fiercer and bloodier than men’s duels: eight out of ten women’s duels ended with fatalities against four out of ten dead male duelists. However, gentlemen and ladies didn’t challenge persons of the opposite sex. That’s why what really surprised contemporaries of mademoiselle Maupin was not just her perfect sword skills but more her willingness and courage to fight against men and her great success in those affairs.
La Maupin took her life in both hands and never feared to be herself or fight for her beliefs. She ventured to be very different from other ladies of her epoch, she was strong, explosive, furious, quarrelsome, combative, sometimes cruel, and for that alone, she must - and will be - remembered. She really made the history!
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