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Julie d'Aubigny with a rapier

Julie d’Aubigny with a rapier

Julie d’Aubigny, La Maupin, was a French fencer, weapons demonstrator, and opera singer who lived from 1670—1707 CE. She was raised in the house of Louis de Lorraine-Guise, Count of Armagnac. Her father, Gaston d’Aubigny, was the count’s nobly born secretary. Her father was taught fencing from a young age by great French masters, and decided to impart his knowledge to his daughter. He knew how dangerous Paris was, especially for young women, and he wanted Julie to be able to defend herself against assailants. She learned how to fence with the rapier, a dueling sword that was primarily used by gentlemen and noblemen (think Princess Bride and Inigo Montoya). It is classified into the small-sword class of weapons, as opposed to the longsword (which includes the broadsword)—think Lord of the Rings. Besides fencing, d’Aubigny ensured that his daughter was taught writing, dancing, grammar, drawing, and geography.

Julie was a very calculating woman, and knew exactly what she would have to do in order to get things. To rise in the Parisian social scene, she seduced her father’s benefactor, the Count of Armagnac. As his mistress, she was able to enter society that she wouldn’t have been able to. After a while, the Count camouflaged their affair by arranging a marriage between Julie and Monsieur Maupin. The affair with the Count went on for about a year afterwards, until Julie’s headstrong and boisterous ways made the Count realize that she would be too hard to control. In order to force Julie to leave Paris, he arranged an occupation for Monsieur Maupin as a tax governor in the provinces. Julie did not accompany her husband, but chose to stay in Paris. Because of the absence of her husband, and the loss of interest from the Count, Julie was given more freedom. Reportedly, she provoked young aristocrats, struck shopkeepers, and caused all sorts of mayhem. She met the duelist, Sérannes, at around this point. There are mixed ideas of what exactly he did as a profession. Some say he was a clerk, and some say he instructed Julie in fencing. The latter is unlikely, however, as her father (her main instructor in fencing) was taught by fencing masters, so she was likely far better in technical blade-work than Sérannes. They became a notorious pair together, as they participated in duels despite Paris’s implementation of strict anti-dueling laws. When Sérannes was accused of killing a man behind a church, the two fled to Marseilles.

Sérannes lied to d’Aubigny on their way to Marseilles when he said that he had enough to support them in the city. When she found him out, she refused to let him earn for her. She took up two occupations: dueling and weapons demonstrations, and singing. During dueling exhibitions she told stories and sang, often during the duel itself. She would duel in men’s clothing, although not to hide her gender but specifically for convenience. In fact, she was very open to stating that she was a woman, and advertised it. She was extremely proficient with a rapier by this time, and when men expressed disbelief that she was a woman, she ripped open her shirt to expose her chest, and yelled for them to “See for themselves”.

She had a lovely contralto voice, and was accepted into a musical academy. She was known as Mademoiselle la Maupin, or Mademoiselle Maupin de l’Opera. Her notoriety attracted many of the Marseillaise society to see her sing. A young Marseillaise lady became infatuated with La Maupin. Deciding that she was bored with Sérannes, Julie turned her gaze to the young lady. When the girl’s parents heard of this, they sent her to a convent in Avignon. Julie followed and entered the convent as a novice. When one of the nuns died, Julie placed her corpse in her lover’s bed, set fire to it, and fled together. Three months later, for reasons unknown, Julie abandoned the novice, who returned to her family in shame. In a trial that Julie never attended, she was sentenced to death by fire for kidnapping, body snatching, arson, and failing to appear before the judge. The documents used “Sieur d’Aubigny” or “Lord d’Aubigny” to conceal the homosexual aspect of the affair. She fled Marseilles, but managed to have the King of France veto the death sentence.

In Poitiers, she met the famous musician and actor, Maréchal, who restarted d’Aubigny’s career on the stage as an opera singer. She received much critical acclaim, many calling her voice “the most beautiful in the world”. After an extensive opera career, d’Aubigny retired in 1705 and entered a convent, where she spent the rest of her life.