Author’s note: For the following biography, I found that most sources were very redundant, possibly because so little information about the subject can be confirmed. I found the link below by Kelly Gardiner to be the most complete, so if you enjoy this post, I encourage you to visit her site and check out her novel about La Maupin, Goddess.
Have you watched the Anne Lister series on Amazon, Gentleman Jack? I have to say that I was utterly in love with the series from the moment I first saw the trailer, so it’s really no surprise that when someone tweeted about another cross-dressing, dueling, lady-seducing woman I immediately dove into Google trying to find out more about the mysterious Julie d’Aubigny, who predated Anne by a good 200 years.
While we know a fair amount about what she did, the woman herself is a big of a mystery. Historians aren’t certain about her dates or place of birth and death, or even her first name. We know nothing about her mother, and after the incident I’m about to relate below, her father vanishes from the pages of history.
We do know that she was born sometime between about 1670-73, and that her father was secretary to the Master of the Horse, Count d’Armagnac, at Versailles. Part of his duties included training new pages, and he educated his daughter right along with them in everything from dancing and singing to fencing–and she was really good at fencing.
Her father, Gaston d’Aubigny, had a reputation for drinking and gambling. Between that and being lumped in with the boys, it’s no surprise that his daughter developed daddy issues at an early age; by 14 she was hooking up with his boss, the one person he couldn’t run through in a fit of pique.
Maybe because he was sick of the drama (which seems unlikely; I mean, this is France), or maybe he just decided it was time to move on, but d’Armagnac arranged for young Julie to marry a tax collector, but the teen was less than thrilled by this. If anyone hoped that getting hitched to sieur de Maupin, aka The Most Boring Man Ever, Julie ran those hopes through with her sword–by some reports, the day after the wedding. No, she didn’t stab her husband. But he was immediately transferred to the south of France, where he, like the rest of her family, vanishes from history.
Julie, meanwhile, did not take kindly to her ex trying to set her up and make her “settle down,” so as soon as her husband was out of the picture (possibly because his job demanded it, possibly because someone else demanded his job demand it), she took up with a fencing master named Séranne. They traveled all over France giving demonstrations and earning a pittance. Julie wore men’s clothing, but didn’t hide her gender. Though she was young, it quickly became clear that the “student” had far outclassed the “master.” At one such demonstration, a drunken spectator shouted that Julie couldn’t possibly be a girl because she was far too good.
In response, she tore open her shirt.
The crowd stopped objecting after that.
As might be expected, her relationship with Séranne didn’t last all that long. They parted ways in Marseille, and Julie began singing at the Marseille Opéra, where she was loved by one and all–particularly a young woman with a strict father who thought Julie was a bad influence. The girl (whose name has been lost to history) was packed off to a convent, but honestly…if you want to keep a couple of female lovers apart, that is probably NOT the best way to go about it. Especially if one of them is Julie d’Aubigny.
Julie entered the convent herself and the two continued their affair under the noses of the nuns…until one of them died. As far as we know, the girls had nothing to do with the sister’s death, but what happened afterward was DEFINITELY Julie’s fault: To cover their escape, the couple needed a distraction. So Julie stole the nun’s body, put it in her girlfriend’s bed, set it on fire, and they made a run for it in the chaos.
I mean, obviously, right? Isn’t that what you would have done?
Despite all of that, the relationship wasn’t meant to last and some time later Julie returned her lady love to her family and went back on the road, once again dressed in men’s garb. At some point she literally walked into the Comte d’Albert. Not realizing she was a woman, he challenged her to a duel. She won, of course. In some reports she also beat a couple of his friends, then proceeded to sleep with him while he was in the hospital. In other versions, she nursed him herself. Either way, they had a short lived but passionate romance, and even afterward remained friends until her death.
Her next beau was a wannabe singer, Gabriel-Vincent Thévenard, who managed to wrangle an audition with the Paris Opera. He was so smitten, though, that even though he was offered a job right away he insisted Julie be given an audition, too. Lucky for both of them, she was also hired on the spot.
There was just one little hiccup: thanks to her bout of arson, she’d been sentenced to death by burning in absentia. So while Gabriel-Vincent was having that first audition, Julie was back with her old, old boyfriend, the Master of the Horse, d’Armagnac. Between his efforts and the influence of the Parisian Opera–who apparently really, really liked her voice, the king was swayed to pardon her.
For those keeping track, you might be surprised to note that at this point, Julie was still only about 17.
Plot twist: it would not be the last time she needed a royal pardon.
Between 1690 and 1694 she became one of the most celebrated sopranos and then contralto singers in Europe. The public loved her indiscretions and the drama she stirred up both on and off stage.
Through all of this, she used her married name, even though it’s doubtful she ever saw her husband again. According to convention, she took the title Mademoiselle Maupin (all opera singers were “mademoiselles” in those days) or La Maupin.
Despite hanging out with the creme-de-la-creme of society, she didn’t stop dressing in men’s clothing, however, and she couldn’t shake her penchant for causing trouble. At a ball she showed up in a suit and spend the whole night flirting and dancing with a young woman. When she kissed her in front of everyone, the girl’s suitors–all three of them–snapped. In true d’Artganan fashion, Julie told them to meet her outside, where she soundly beat all of them at once.
Alas, the laws on dueling were much more strict than when she’d last been a court. Though the king’s brother argued on her behalf and managed to secure a pardon, Julie fled to Brussels until things cooled off. Once there she continued to act, sing and attract paramours, becoming the lover of the Bavarian Elector. That didn’t last long, however. I guess he thought stabbing herself with a real knife on stage was just a little more drama than he wanted in his life. He offered her 40,000 francs to leave him alone. If he thought the money would help avoid more drama, he was sorely mistaken. According to some reports, Julie threw the money and her ex down the stairs in disgust and stormed off to Madrid.
Perhaps thinking a little honest work might be in order or maybe just trying to lay low, Julie eschewed the stage in Spain, as well as other lovers and took a job…as a maid? As can be expected, that lasted about as long as her fling in Brussels and ended about as badly. She hated her employer, Countess Marino, so much that while dressing her hair for a ball, Julie snuck radishes into the impossibly tall coiffure, making the countess the laughing stock of the ball. Both middle fingers in the air (metaphorically, if not literally), Julie once again went back to Paris and the opera.
You would think that going back to Paris for a third time would make her happy, and it might have–for a while. She gained a reputation for defending other female performers from the lecherous advances of fans and male leads, fell for another woman, threatened a duchess, and then was arrested for attacking her landlord. It was the definition of “Well, that escalated quickly.”
At some point during all of that she also fell for yet another woman, Madame la Marquise de Florensac, who was well known for her beauty. She was so beautiful, in fact, that the Dauphin was obsessed with her and the pair had to flee to Brussels. They lived in peace there for two years, until Florensac contracted a fever and died.
At different points during her life, Julie d’Aubigny went by various names and titles, including Julie, Emelie, and Madeline, in addition to her stage names, so it’s no wonder that official records of her are rather difficult to track down. And considering how much trouble she got into, it’s probably not a surprise that she had a pseudonym or two. The woman had even more enemies than she did lovers.
Sadly, she died in obscurity. After the death of Florensac, little is known of her, other than she died sometime between the ages of 33-37. Some say she entered a convent and lived as a recluse, the fight having gone out of her. Some say she died of a broken heart. Either way, her grave has never been identified and the location and date of her death are unknown.
I wish I’d known about Julie d’Aubigny when I was writing All for One, because while she does have some similarities with Louise, those are mostly coincidental. I can see Louise looking up to her starry-eyed, however, with Athena and Portia trying to reel her back in–and Arabella, equally starry-eyed, encouraging her from the background. But if you haven’t figured it out, sword-wielding give-no-fucks heroines who sweep princesses off their feet are kind of my favorite thing.
Biography by Kelly Gardiner
Bio on Culture Trip
Facts about Julie d’Aubigny
Like what you see? Check out All for One and Goddess on Amazon!