A Lover And A Fighter

09 14 julie d'aubigneyToday I want to tell you about Julie D’Aubigney. She was born in France around 1670. I don’t know the exact date, but I think a seventeenth century opera singing, sword fighting, bisexual woman is worth a mention, so I’ve allocated this day to celebrate her life. Her father was Master of the Horse to King Louis XIV. She was educated alongside the court pages and learned reading, drawing, dancing and also fencing, which her father considered necessary if she was to keep herself safe on the streets of Paris. She dressed as a boy from an early age.

By the time she was fourteen or fifteen she was the mistress of the Comte d’Armagnac who arranged her marriage to someone else to cover their affair. Her husband was given a job outside of the city and although he moved away, she remained in Paris. She soon began a relationship with a fencing master and when he was accused of killing a man in a duel, the two ran away to Marseille. Along the way they supported themselves by singing in taverns and giving fencing displays. Julie often dressed as a man, which was sensible for fencing. But she did nothing to conceal her sex and found it added interest to their performances. Once a heckler accused her of being a man and she tore open her shirt so that the audience could judge for themselves.

In Marseille, Julie joined an opera company and began to sing professionally. She soon became bored with her fencing master and started a relationship with a young woman instead. Sadly, we don’t know her name but the young woman’s parents were not best pleased and sent their daughter to a convent. Julie followed, also entered the convent and hatched a plan for their escape. When one of the nuns died, she stole her body, placed it in the bed of her lover, then set fire to the room to cover their escape. The affair lasted only three months and the young woman returned to her family. Julie was tried in her absence for kidnapping a novice, body snatching and setting fire to a convent. She was sentenced to death by burning. That was when she had to leave Marseille.

She spent the next seven months journeying back to Paris and on the way met a drunken actor who recognised her vocal talents. He gave her voice lessons and told her she should be on the Paris stage. Eventually he became too drunk to be of any further help and she moved on.

In a town called Villeperdue she was performing in a tavern dressed as a man when she became involved in an altercation which ended with her stabbing someone clean through the shoulder with her sword. This was either because he had recognised her as a woman and been a bit of a sex pest about it, or they fell out after he’d droned on for ages about how great his horse was. Either way it doesn’t sound like the best start to a relationship. But she helped nurse him back to health and they fell in love. Although they never remained faithful to one another they stayed close friends for the rest of her life. His name was Louis-Joseph d’Albert, son of the Duke of Luynes.

As she continued on her journey to Paris she met another young singer who had left a job in his father’s kitchen to pursue a career at the Paris Opera. They travelled together for a time and he fell in love with her. She also visited the Comte d’Armagnac and asked him to plead with the king to lift her death sentence. The king, who was amused by her story, agreed and she was a free woman again.

All of these things happened before she was twenty. In 1690 she joined the Paris Opera. She began to perform under the name of Mademoiselle de Maupin. Here she fell in love with at least two of her fellow actors, two sopranos. She fought with people there too. One of the actors, Duménil, was a terribly egotistic man who was inclined to seduce the ladies in the company and then steal from them. Julie became angry with him after he had pestered her friends and then tried to turn his attentions on her. She had a plan to teach him a lesson.

Later that evening, dressed in men’s clothing, she went out to a place where she knew he would pass by. She challenged him to a duel but he refused. So she beat him with her cane and stole his watch and snuff-box. The next day found Duménil at the Opera describing to his friends how he had been set upon by three vagabonds. He had fought back but they had overwhelmed him and stolen his watch and snuff-box. This was the gift Julie had hoped for. She called him a liar and a coward. She told everyone that it had been she alone and that she had beaten him because he was afraid to fight. As proof she returned his belongings.

Over the course of the rest of her short life she also became involved in a duel where she beat three men. This happened after she attended a ball and openly kissed a woman on the dance floor. She ran away to Brussels and became the mistress of the Elector of Bavaria, a prince of the Holy Roman Empire. After that she returned to Paris and was briefly re-united with her husband (remember she was married?) before rejoining the Opera. She spent the last years of her career in a relationship with Madame la Marquise de Florensac and was inconsolable when she died.

Julie retired in 1705 and died two years later. In 1835 Théophile Gautier wrote an novel loosely based on her life called Mademoiselle de Maupin. It’s all a bit romanticised and a pale imitation of the woman herself. But it was still salacious enough to be banned by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice

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