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The Amazing Life Of Julie D’Aubigny, The Bisexual, Sword-Fighting 17th-Century Opera Star

On the stage, she was acclaimed as La Maupin, but behind the curtains, Julie D'Aubigny stirred up so many scandals that she found herself seeking royal pardons on two occasions. Growing up in the vicinity of King Louis XIV's court, D'Aubigny engaged in duels, pursued romantic affairs, and violated the law. She even managed to seduce a noblewoman in the midst of a royal ball and resorted to exhuming a deceased nun for a daring deception.

D'Aubigny never shied away from challenges or opportunities to expand her list of conquests. While it's undeniable that her legend has likely been embellished over time, she remains a truly unique and revolutionary figure of the 17th century.

Who Was Julie D’Aubigny?

Julie D'Aubigny, born in the early 1670s in the vicinity of Paris, experienced an unconventional upbringing. Raised by her father, a skilled swordsman, she acquired proficiency in gambling and combat rather than pursuing more conventional feminine education.

D’Aubigny’s father worked for King Louis XIV’s Master of Horse, the Count d’Armagnac. So, she spent her days with the king’s pages. Royal tutors instructed Julie and the pages in literature and grammar.

Outside of class, D’Aubigny practised fencing. Master swordsmen trained the young girl. And at 12, d’Aubigny could best any of the boys in a swordfight.

It didn't take long for Julie D'Aubigny to capture the attention of Count d'Armagnac. While still in her teenage years, she became the count's mistress. To conceal their relationship, the count orchestrated a marriage for D'Aubigny. At the age of 17, around the time of her father's passing, D'Aubigny wedded Jean de Maupin, a clerk. The count promptly dispatched the clerk to rural France to enable the continuation of their affair.

However, Julie d'Aubigny was not content with just one man or woman. Before long, she found herself escaping Paris with another lover, who ultimately engaged in a duel that resulted in the death of a rival.

La Maupin, The Sword-Fighting Singer

Parisian authorities pursued Julie D'Aubigny and her lover, the skilled swordsman Séranne. However, in the southern regions of France, her true identity and scandalous history remained unknown.

D'Aubigny and her lover reinvented themselves as itinerant entertainers, traversing the countryside to showcase their fencing skills. Dressed in men's attire, with only her distinctive golden curls hinting at her gender, D'Aubigny occasionally incorporated singing into their acts.

Gifted in music, D'Aubigny was eventually offered a position at the Opera de Marseille, where her passion for opera blossomed, and she performed under the stage name La Maupin.

Nevertheless, leaving Paris did not mean leaving scandal behind. In the southern part of France, D'Aubigny fell in love with a young woman named Cécilia Bortigali, which scandalized the Bortigali family. In response, they sent Cécilia to a convent.

Undeterred, D'Aubigny decided to join the same convent, where she continued her romantic involvement with Cécilia. When life within the convent grew monotonous, the lovers devised a plan involving a staged corpse in Cécilia's bed and a room set ablaze. The intention was to feign Cécilia's death, allowing the two to escape the convent. However, the scheme unraveled when authorities identified the deceased as a recently departed nun and sentenced La Maupin to death.

By that time, D'Aubigny had once again fled, returning to Paris and resuming her career at the opera.

Royal Pardons

En route to Paris, Julie D'Aubigny found herself embroiled in a tavern brawl. She issued a challenge to three men, emerging victorious in the ensuing duels. Notably, one of her opponents was the son of a duke. Following a fierce encounter where she thrust her blade into his shoulder, rumors circulated that she and the duke subsequently became romantically involved.

Nonetheless, the specter of a death sentence still loomed over La Maupin. Upon her arrival in Paris, she sought an audience with Count d'Armagnac. The count consented to approach King Louis XIV regarding a royal pardon. The king, amused by the audacious opera singer, granted the pardon, thereby clearing the path for D'Aubigny to embark on a career with the Paris Opera.

King Louis XIV agreed to pardon La Maupin for her crimes.

La Maupin took to the stage four nights a week, regaling audiences with her voice. One listener declared that La Maupin had “the most beautiful voice in the world.”

When she wasn’t singing, D’Aubigny found herself in hot water once again. Dressed in men’s clothes, Julie d’Aubigny crashed a royal ball. Sweeping aside three noble suitors, D’Aubigny romanced and kissed a young noblewoman.

The infuriated suitors challenged D'Aubigny a to duel, each of whom she decisively defeated in individual contests. However, it's worth noting that Louis XIV had recently prohibited duelling, leading her to evade the law once more.

Following a year spent in Brussels, where she engaged in a romantic relationship with the Elector of Bavaria, D'Aubigny returned and implored the king for a second pardon. With a wry smile, Louis declared that the law specifically prohibited men from duelling, effectively granting La Maupin another reprieve from legal consequences.

The Scandalous Life of Julie D’Aubigny

On stage, Julie D’Aubigny was just as passionate as she was off stage. During one performance, she bit her lover’s ear until it bled. In another, during the moment her character committed suicide, La Maupin stabbed herself and drew blood. D’Aubigny appeared in dozens of operas, often playing strong women or goddesses.

Mademoiselle de Maupin posing for an artist in a 1902 painting.

In one of her most acclaimed performances, La Maupin assumed the role of an Arabian warrior princess. Onstage, D'Aubigny donned complete armor, engaging in combat with the male lead. She stood as perhaps the sole opera singer in France with the ability to convincingly embody such a character.

D'Aubigny had little inclination to adhere to societal conventions. Despite technically being married to Jean de Maupin, in 1703, she embarked on a new romantic relationship with Madame la Marquise de Florensac. This partnership endured for two years, marking the lengthiest romantic involvement in D'Aubigny's life, until Florensac's unfortunate demise.

Grief-stricken by this loss, Julie D'Aubigny retired from the stage and withdrew from public life. Tragically, she passed away in 1707 at the youthful age of 37.

History primarily remembers La Maupin for her remarkable singing career. Nevertheless, she undoubtedly was not the sole sword-fighting bisexual individual in early modern France. Figures like Julie D'Aubigny boldly defied societal norms, and for every Julie recorded in history, countless others likely existed, concealed from public view.


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