Opera singer. Duelist. Saucy girl. Julie d’Aubigny always got the job done.
Julie, also known as Mademoiselle Maupin or La Maupin, was an opera singer in the 17th century. We don’t know much about her for certain, but her career and lifestyle was certainly entertaining. During her lifetime, rumors and colorful stories about her made their way into many gossip mills around France.
The following is all true as best as we can tell, but it sure is one hell of a story.
Julie was born in 1673. Her father, Gaston d’Aubigny, was a secretary to Louis de Lorraine-Guise, the count of d’Armagnac, the Master of the Horse for King Louis XIV. Gaston trained court pages. Julie learned dancing, reading, drawing, and fencing with the pages.
Though no one truly knows what she looked like, most accounts say she had blue eyes, light skin, dark auburn curly hair, an athletic build, and perfect breasts.
When her dad wasn’t spending the day training her and the pages, he was drinking and carousing in the taverns and brothels. He wasn’t quite the 21st century role model, but it’s all she had. Her father was also a hardass and wasn’t going to let his daughter be taken advantage of. He trained her to be able to handle herself.
She learned everything about horses, from riding to maintenance, gambling, fistfighting, drinking to excess, avenging your own honor, and stabbing people in the face when they threaten you.
Julie liked sex and seemed to enjoy killing. At age fourteen, the Count took her as his mistress. Her father got a promotion – can’t imagine why. His daughter, however, had become too much to handle alone.
Her father arranged for Julie to marry Sieur de Maupin of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. In 1687, and she became Madame de Maupin, or La Maupin. Shortly after the wedding, her husband received an administrative position in southern France, but the Count arranged for her to remain in Paris with him.
La Maupin promptly began an affair with Sérannes, an assistant fencing master. When the police attempted to arrest Sérannes for killing a man during an illegal duel, he and La Maupin fled to Marseille. The pair made a living on the run providing fencing exhibitions and singing at local fairs and taverns.
When the couple arrived in Marseille, La Maupin joined an opera company using her maiden name. Sérannes trained her in some of the finer arts of fencing. The pair had quite the racket together.
La Maupin would sing a song or two, pull out her sword and challenge anyone listening to a duel. When someone did, she sang a song to humiliate the person, then used her phenomenal skills to win the duel. Allegedly, during one challenge, someone said she was not really a woman. La Maupin proceeded to rip open her blouse and told the audience to “judge for themselves.”
She eventually left Sérannes and returned to Paris. She declared she was tired of men and seduced a local merchant’s daughter.
It seemed she could seduce almost anyone. Her most famous example was when La Maupin became a nun just to have sex with one of the sisters in the convent. According to the story, she seduced a young woman, who fell in love with her. When the woman’s parents found out their daughter was a lesbian, they sent her to a convent.
La Maupin entered the convent as an initiate. The two began an affair. When an older nun died, La Maupin is said to have disinterred the body and put the heart in her lover’s room. Then, she set the convent on fire, creating a diversion so she could kidnap the woman. The pair reportedly enjoyed three months together in sexual bliss until La Maupin got bored and took the young woman back to her parents’ house.
Everyone was pissed and La Maupin was sentenced to death by fire, but Louix XIV revoked her sentence. He reportedly was amused by the story.
In 1690, La Maupin was hired by the Paris Opéra. She gained some fame performing regularly. She began singing soprano before moving into natural contralto, which suited her voice more. The Marquis de Dangeau once wrote in his journal that La Maupin possessed, “the most beautiful voice in the world.”
She performed in Paris and Brussels, singing in new and old operas. She sang for the court at Versailles several times. She was the lead actress with coveted roles of Pallas Athena, Medea, and Dido. André Campra reportedly composed the role of Clorinde in Tancrède specifically for her bas-dessus (contralto) range.
She didn’t just sing in Paris. She slept her way around town and participated in many swordfights. Once, when Dumenil, an actor, was talking about the women in the operate and was getting too aggressive toward a friend of La Maupin, she stepped in and told him to back off. He, effectively, told her to fuck off.
When Dumenil walked home that night, La Maupin met him in the street. She challenged him to a duel. He refused to fight or unsheathe his sword. She beat him with a cane and stole his snuffbox and pocketwatch.
He told everyone he had been jumped by a gang of thieves. La Maupin called out his lie, showing everyone his snuffbox and pocketwatch. She then forced him to kneel and beg for forgiveness. When he did, she returned the snuffbox and pocketwatch back.
Another time, La Maupin was singing in a tavern and three drunk men were razzing her. Naturally, she kicked their asses. One of the men, d’Albert, had been 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?” 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. She felt a bit bad about that, so she visited her impaled victim in the hospital and hooked up with him anyway. Although the relationship only lasted a short while, they were apparently lifelong friends.
La Maupin apparently had a lot of downtime in between shows. In 1695, when she attended the royal ball in Louis XIV’s palace, as the guest of Prince Philippe, Louis’s brother, she attended dressed as a man. She danced with all the single women. She french-kissed one of the women, which angered three men. They challenged her to a duel. These men, somehow, had not heard about her swordfighting skills and were promptly shown how awesome she was. Some accounts say she actually killed them.
Louis XIV was so pleased with her behavior he said she could not be punished because the law spoke only of men, not women. Still, she took off to Brussels where she had an affair with the elector of Bavaria, who was in charge of the Spanish Netherlands.
For some reason, she stabbed herself onstage with a real dagger. He tried to bribe her with 40,000 francs to leave town. She threw the money back at him and cursed. Some versions of the story have her kicking him down a flight of stairs.
Other accounts find her commonly arguing with men before challenging men to duels, which she always won. The final humiliation for the men was when they found out she then went and had sex with their wives.
La Maupin is said to have finally found love, if only for a little while.
In 1703, she fell in love with Madame la Marquise de Florensac, the “most beautiful woman in France” (Saint-Simon 1897) – so beautiful that she too had had to flee to Brussels for several years because the Dauphin 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 died of a fever.
Some accounts say La Maupin finally settled down with her husband. Did you forget she was married through all of this?
In 1705, La Maupin retired from the opera. In stories that have a moral bent to them, they claim she had a change of heart and rejoined the convent to repent for her life.
It is believed she died in 1707, around age 33 of unknown causes. I imagine all that free-wheeling sex might have had something to do with it.
La Maupin may not have been a good role model, but she certainly was an entertaining figure.