Julie d’Aubigny (1670–1707), better known as Mademoiselle Maupin or La Maupin, was a 17th-century swordswoman and opera singer. Her tumultuous career and flamboyant life were the subject of gossip and colorful stories in her own time, and inspired romances and novels afterwards. Théophile Gautier loosely based the title character, Madeleine de Maupin, of his novel Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) on Julie.
Julie d’Aubigny was born 1670 to the family of Gaston d’Aubigny, who was a secretary to Louis de Lorraine-Guise, comte d’Armagnac, the Master of the Horse for the king Louis XIV. Her father trained her in dancing, literacy, drawing and fencing, possibly for self-defense. In her teens she became a mistress of the Count d’Armagnac and through him was introduced in the court. The count had her married to sieur de Maupin of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Soon after the affair ended, her husband received an administrative position in the south of France but she decided to stay in the city.
Wild reputation and career
In the following years, d’Aubigny gathered a reputation as a wild woman who hit shopkeepers and fought duels with young aristocrats. She became involved with an assistant fencing master named Serannes. In about 1688, when lieutenant-general of the police Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie tried to apprehend Serannes for killing a man in an illegal duel, the pair fled the city to Marseille.
In Marseille, d’Aubigny and Serannes gave dueling exhibitions, sang and told stories in inns. When dueling, d’Aubigny dressed in male clothing but did not conceal her sex, which served to increase interest in her. While in Marseille, it is said she joined the music academy of Pierre Gaultier, singing in the theatre under her maiden name.
Eventually she grew bored of Serannes and became involved with a young lady. When the girl’s parents put her away in a convent in Avignon, d’Aubigny followed, entering the convent as a novice. There she stole a body of a dead nun, placed it in the bed of her lover and set the room afire to cover their escape. Their affair lasted for three months before the young lady returned to her family. D’Aubigny was charged in absentia—as a male—with kidnapping, body snatching, arson and failing to appear before the tribunal. The sentence was death by fire.
D’Aubigny left for Paris and again earned her living by singing. Near Poitiers she met an old musician named Marechal, who began to teach her until his alcoholism got worse and he sent her on her way to Paris. Along the way, she continued to earn her living singing dressed as a man.
In Villeperdue she fought a victorious duel against three squires and drove her blade through the shoulder of one of them. Next day she asked for his health and found out he was Louis-Joseph d’Albert Luynes, son of the Duke of Luynes. Next evening one of his companions came to offer his apologies and she appeared in his room in female clothing. They became lovers.
After the Count d’Albert recovered and had to return to his unit, d’Aubigny continued to Rouen. There she met Gabriel-Vincent Thévenard, another singer and began a new affair with him. They continued together towards Paris. In Marais she contacted Count d’Armagnac for help against the sentence hanging over her and he convinced the king to nullify it.
In Paris she began to use the name of Mademoiselle Maupin. The Paris Opéra hired Thévenard in 1690, but initially refused her. She befriended an old singer Bouvard who convinced Jean Nicolas Francin, master of the king’s household, to accept her in the opera. She debuted at the Paris Opéra as Pallas Athena in Cadmus et Hermione by Lully the same year.
Due to both her beautiful contralto voice and her flamboyance, she became quite popular with the audience. Her relationship with her fellow actors and actresses was tempestuous. From the first she was enamoured with Marie Le Rochois, at the time the Opera’s star. This quickly embroiled her in arguments and even duels with other members of the troupe. She also fell in love with Fanchon Moreau, another singer who was the mistress of the Great Dauphin, and tried to commit suicide when she was rejected.
On the side, she became a professional duelist. When she fought three noblemen in a court ball around 1693, she fell afoul of the king’s law that forbade duels in Paris. She fled to Brussels to wait for calmer times. According to the legend, she was briefly a mistress of Maximilian Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria.
According to documented theatre history she appeared at the Opéra du Quai au Foin from November 1697 to July 1698, after which she returned to the Paris Opera, where she replaced Marie Le Rochois (who had retired), from the end of the year. Until 1705 La Maupin sang in new operas by Pascal Collasse, André Cardinal Destouches and André Campra. In 1702, André Campra composed the role of Clorinde in Tancrède specifically for her bas-dessus (contralto) range. She later reconciled with her husband and lived with him until his death in 1701 or 1705. She appeared for the last time in La Vénitienne by Michel de La Barre (1705). After she retired from the opera in 1705, she entered a convent in Provence, where she died in 1707.
Gautier’s Mademoiselle Maupin
Théophile Gautier, when asked to write a story about d’Aubigny, instead produced the novel Mademoiselle de Maupin, published in 1835, taking aspects of the real La Maupin as a starting point, and naming some of the characters after her and her acquaintances. The central character’s life was viewed through a Romantic lens as “all for love”. D’Albert and his mistress Rosette are both in love with the androgynous Théodore de Sérannes, whom neither of them knows is really Madeleine de Maupin. A performance of Shakespeare’s As You Like It, in which La Maupin, who is passing as Théodore, plays the part of Rosalind playing Ganymede, mirrors the cross-dressing masquerade of the heroine. The celebration of a purely sensual, yet unconsummated love was found deeply troubling to the 19th-century critics and press.