Julie D’Aubigny, or known as Mademoiselle Maupin or La Maupin, was a 17th-century bisexual French opera singer and fencing master who killed or wounded at least ten men in life-or-death duels, as well as performing nightly shows on the biggest and most highly-respected opera stage in the world.
Her life was a whirlwind of duels, seduction, graverobbing, and convent-burning so intense that she had to be pardoned by the king of France twice!
Julie d’Aubigny was born in 1673 to Gaston d’Aubigny, a secretary to Louis de Lorraine-Guise, Comte d’Armagnac, the Master of the Horse for King Louis XIV. Her father trained the court pages, and so his daughter learned dancing, reading, drawing, and fencing alongside the pages, and dressed as a boy from an early age.
By the age of fourteen, she became a mistress of the Count d’Armagnac who had her married to Sieur de Maupin of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Soon after the wedding, her husband received an administrative position in the south of France, but she stayed in Paris.
Around 1687, Madame de Maupin became involved with an assistant fencing master named Sérannes. When Lieutenant-General of Police Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie tried to apprehend Sérannes for killing a man in an illegal duel, the pair fled the city to Marseille.
On the road south, Madame de Maupin and Sérannes made a living by giving fencing exhibitions and singing in taverns and at local fairs. While traveling and performing in these impromptu shows, Maupin dressed in male clothing but did not conceal her gender. On arrival in Marseille, she joined the opera company run by Pierre Gaultier, singing under her maiden name.
Eventually, she grew bored of Sérannes and became involved with a young woman. When the girl’s parents put her away in the Visitandines convent in Avignon, Maupin followed, entering the convent as a postulant.
In order to run away with her new love, she stole the body of a dead nun, placed it in the bed of her lover, and set the room on fire to cover their escape.
Their affair lasted for three months before the young lady returned to her family. Maupin was charged in absentia, and as a male, with kidnapping, body snatching, arson, and failing to appear before the tribunal. The sentence was death by fire.
The Paris Opéra hired Maupin in 1690, having initially refused her. She befriended an elderly singer, Bouvard, and he and Thévenard convinced Jean-Nicolas de Francine, master of the king’s household, to accept her into the company. She debuted as Pallas Athena in Cadmus et Hermione by Jean-Baptiste Lully the same year. She performed regularly with the Opéra, first singing as a soprano, and later in her more natural contralto range. The Marquis de Dangeau wrote in his journal of a performance by Maupin given at Trianon of Destouches’ Omphale in 1701 that hers was “the most beautiful voice in the world.”
In Paris, and later in Brussels, she performed under the name Mademoiselle de Maupin – singers were addressed as ‘mademoiselle’ whether or not they were married.
Due to Mademoiselle de Maupin’s beautiful voice, her acting skill, and her androgynous appearance, she became quite popular with the audience, although her relationship with her fellow actors and actresses was sometimes tempestuous.
She famously beat the singer Louis Gaulard Dumesny after he pestered the women members of the troupe, and a legendary duel of wits with Thévenard was the talk of Paris. She also fell in love with Fanchon Moreau, another singer who was the mistress of the Grand Dauphin and tried to commit suicide when she was rejected.
Her Paris career was interrupted around 1695 when she kissed a young woman at a society ball and was challenged to duels by three different noblemen. She beat them all but fell afoul of the King’s law that forbade duels in Paris. She fled to Brussels to wait for calmer times. There, she was briefly the mistress of Maximilian II Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria.
The final years of her career were spent in a relationship with the Madame la Marquise de Florensac, upon whose death La Maupin was inconsolable. She retired from the opera in 1705 and took refuge in a convent, probably in Provence, where she died in 1707 at the age of only 33. She has no known grave.