Mademoiselle Maupin: A Damsel Who Was Never in Distress
Swords, brawls, and clandestine love affairs are often the stuff of fairy tales and adventure stories. But in the case of Julie d'Aubigny of Paris, this was all part of her everyday life. Also known as Mademoiselle Maupin or La Maupin, d'Aubigny was born in the 17th century and is renowned as an expert sword-fighter and singer - two careers somewhat contradicting one another. While one involved beautiful lyrics and melodies, the other was a strict discipline and held a consistent risk of death. But for a woman of Julie d'Aubigny's caliber, whose lifelong excitement was certainly not limited to swords and singing, the risks of swordplay were well worth it.
Julie d'Aubigny was born into a relatively middle-class family. Her father worked for the Master of the Horse who in turn was employed by King Louis XIV. Thus, Julie was given a very well-rounded upbringing learning, dancing, reading, and fencing—skills that were usually reserved for rich young women or, more significantly, wealthy young men. It was during this period of her life when she and her fencing teacher—and lover—fled to Marseille. Then her lover was accused of killing another fencer.
The fictional Mademoiselle de Maupin, from Six Drawings Illustrating Theophile Gautier's Romance Mademoiselle de Maupin by Aubrey Beardsley, 1898. ( Public Domain )
Lover Affairs and Boys’ Clothing
One of the most intriguing aspects of Julie's life is that she chose to dress as a boy during her self-imposed exile from Paris, participating with her lover in fencing exhibitions to get money while on the run. What is fascinating about this shift away from gender norms is that her clothes were not intended as a disguise; she dressed in the clothes of a male page while keeping her femininity abundantly obvious to all those who saw her.
She continued this traveling circus-like routine, singing in taverns and joining Pierre Gaultier's opera company as a singer. Around this time, she engaged in a relationship with another woman—an outrageous act in the 17th century. Julie evidently felt very strongly about the relationship, however; when her female lover was sent to a convent, Julie helped the girl stage her death so the pair could escape the nuns. The couple likely would have gotten away with their actions had the other woman not gone back to her parents three months later, resulting in Julie being charged as a male with kidnapping and arson. She was later pardoned by her first love, the Master of the Horse.
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Dress uniform of the Master of the Horse. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Julie d'Aubigny's string of clandestine lovers continues after she fought in a duel with the son of the Duke of Luynes. After defeating the son, they quickly became lovers when she visited him to check on his recovery. In 1690, she joined the Royal Opera of Paris with the help of her newest lover, Gabriel-Vincent Thévenard, and, though she became a very popular singer and lover among both performers and audience members, Julie attracted numerous enemies as well.
Gabriel-Vincent Thévenard. ( Public Domain )
Kissing another woman in 1695 resulted in Julie having to defend her honor and that of the woman from three different men. Even though she won each fight, she was nonetheless forced to flee to Brussels as duels were illegal in Paris at the time.
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Monsieur de Maupin
Throughout all these affairs and brushes with both death and the law, Julie d'Aubigny was actually married to Sieur de Maupin. She married him soon after she turned fourteen. However, it appears Monsieur de Maupin was either uninterested in his wife's life or he never knew what had become of her, as he moved to the south of France soon after their marriage, while she remained in Paris.
Julie d'Aubigny died at the young age of 33, after the death of her current lover, Madame la Marquise de Florensac in the early 1700s. It is unknown where—or if—she was buried, or if her husband ever learned of her death. Regardless, the life of Julie d'Aubigny was undoubtedly far more exciting and tumultuous than most who lived to their old age.
Top image: Page from the Codex Wallerstein ( Public Domain )"Mademoiselle Maupin de l'Opéra". Anonymous print, ca. 1700. ( Public Domain )
By Ryan Stone
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Gilbert, Oscar Paul. 1932. Women in Men's Guise. John Lane: London.
Smiedt, David. "A Life Most Rakish. The Renaissance Woman: Julie d'Aubigny." The Rake: the Modern Voice of Classic Elegance. Accessed 23 August 2016. http://therake.com/our-world/a-life-most-rakish/the-renaissance-woman-julie-daubigny/
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How did she die?
A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world ~ Oscar Wilde