The Woman, the Myth, the Legend: Julie d’Aubigny – La Maupin
Julie d’Aubigny. A name you have probably never heard of, but one you are not soon to forget. Known as La Maupin, she was a woman ahead of her time. A bisexual, crossdressing, dueling opera singer – In her short life she was able to create quite a stir. Living life to the fullest, enjoying the pleasures it has to give, and taking no shit along the way – she is an icon of which we all should know.
Born around 1970 (the exact date unknown, to her liking) she was the only child of the secretary to Count d’Armagnac, King Louis XIV’s master of horses. Also titled the Grand Squire of France, he oversaw the massive stables the King had. Being a child of an important worker, she grew up in the aurora of the court. First in Paris, then in Versailles when the court moved by order of the king in 1682. In this environment she had access to learn many courtly talents such as: reading, horseback riding, dancing, drawing, and very important for her story – swordsmanship, and she was a fine one at that.
She became a mistress to the Count at the young age of 14. Married off to a clerk of the name Sieur Jean de Maupins (why she is known as La Maupin) for appearances. She ran away after finding out that her husband was to be stationed off somewhere far, and she was to follow. This began the common theme in her life of making a mad dash, with only a horse beneath her and a sword in her hand.
Her life is riddled with love stories for the books. After leaving her husband and the Count, she fell in love with a fencer. The fencer killed a man in a duel (very much so illegal, even in more primitive times) and the two went on the run. Here is where she began to wear men’s clothes and also started to sing on the road as a way to earn money.
Their love story was short, as she left him for a woman she met at one such performance. The two fell fast and hard. Naturally, once the parents of the girl caught word of their love affair, they were less than pleased. France at this time was not a tolerant place. The fact that they were two girls in love, alongside Julie’s reputation as a girl who threw fists first and asked questions later, made the girl’s parents act extreme. They sent her to a convent to keep her away from Julie, and (I am assuming) fix her unacceptable tendencies. Julie saw this only as a challenge, a test to their love. She devised a plan to get her back. Julie posed as a nun in order to enter the convent and continue the affair. Once inside, she took the body of a recently deceased nun and placed her in her lover’s room. She then set the room on fire and ran away with the girl, leading people to believe the girl died in the fire.
As young passionate love does, it died out fast. The girl returned back to her parents (to their great relief I am sure) and together they went to the courts and told the tale of what Julie had done. Julie was charged and convicted with body snatching, kidnapping, and arson. Her sentence was death by burning – she was to be burnt at the stake. All of this was done without her ever being present at the trial. She was now a fugitive on the run.
She received a pardon from the Sun King himself when her old lover (Count d’Armagnac) pleaded her case to the king. The king found it all very amusing. During this time she was also able to secure an audition for the Paris Opera. At the miraculously young age of 17 she got the opportunity of a lifetime when she was accepted as a member
She sang as a star for years in the Paris Opera garnering massive fame, a movie star of the time. Here the name La Maupin came center stage and was the title she was known by. The Opera house is the baby of King Louis XIV. As a lover of the arts, in 1669 he opened the first opera, making such entertainment no longer limited to just the court elite, but anyone who can afford to buy a ticket. He was even said to have performed there a number of times – acting and dancing.
Whenever on stage, she dazzled crowds with her natural charisma and innate acting ability. People also marveled at her often androgynous characters. Her debut act was as Athena, Greek god of war. Fitting for her personality, but also ironic in the deeper meaning Athena holds. Though a goddess, she was anything but feminine and historically is portrayed as more masculine presenting, as well as her sister, Artemis the huntress.
Often getting in trouble behind the curtains, she had many rendezvous with fellow actors and actresses alike. Always there to defend those being picked on, she dueled any man who dared harass the women working at the Opera.
One of the most splendidly outrageous stories from her life comes from this time. Invited to a ball being put on by the King’s brother Phillipe d’Orleans, she came dressed as a man. The King’s brother was known to be gay, making the energy of the court more lenient to queer people and identities. This perhaps played a role in why that night she so proudly portrayed her queer side. In men’s clothes, though still letting it be known she was a woman, she flirted and danced with women throughout the night. She even went as far as to kiss one, for all to see. This particular woman was a desirable single marquis, and had many suitors pursuing her that evening, those of whom were not happy to see her lips on another, especially someone like La Maupin. Three men challenged her to a duel. She went outside and one after the other, she beat them!
Dueling was against the law at the time. Honor duels were illegal, and the king had done so to stop citizens from taking disputes into their own hands instead of working them out in more civilized ways or through the courts. Unlike her previous crime against the church, this crime was against him. Fearing punishment, she ran away to Brussels where she engaged in more rambunctious behavior. But, yet again (and not without persuasion from the King’s brother and her friends) she was pardoned for her crimes by Louis.
Back in Paris she continued her career as a singer, reaching its peak between the years 1698-1705. A huge moment came when she starred in an opera written specifically for her entitled, “Tancrede”. This was the first French opera in which the principal female was not a soprano. It was during this time that she fell the most deeply she ever had with Madame la Marquise de Florensac, said to have been the most beautiful woman in France. They lived together happily and in harmony, until the marquise’s untimely death. Devastated by the loss, La Maupin retired from the stage immediately. She entered a convent (for real this time) to live a calmer life with more solitude, away from the commotion of her past. It is here where her story comes to an end. She died at the age of 33 in this quiet, perhaps of heartbreak.
With a life full of facts so interesting they seem like fiction; these are just some of the harrowing tales from her life. A lover and a fighter in the truest sense.
Existence is Resistance: What She Means for Queer People, Then and Now
As an openly bisexual women whose gender expression step outside of the “norm” of the time, even for a more tolerant country, she was living radically. What does it mean to wake up every day and be unashamedly you, despite the backlash and danger that might come from it? It is important to honor those who came before us, who had to exist in a world filled with more hate than we can imagine. Although modern day America is not perfect, especially when it comes to protecting the rights of those within in LGBTQ community, we should not take for granted the life we are able to live now.
We stand on the shoulders of the queer people who walked so we can run. To live in an identity that puts you in danger (whether in relation to gender, sexuality, race, religion, or immigration status) is to be existing in resistance to bigotry. You do not need to march on the streets or put your life further on the line to be seen as a hero. Existence is resistance. And that is what she did, she existed so proudly and loudly.
A queer celebrity in her life, she must have meant a lot to the silently queer children of the time. To hear the stories of their beloved opera singer living the life they so desperately wanted to live themselves. Whether it be people whose gender did align with their sex or same gender loving folks, she was someone they could look up too. She unforgivingly loved who she loved, and defended those she loved against persecution of their love.
It’s Good to be Gay: A history on French Queer Rights – Pioneer of LGBTQ Rights
Up until the 18th century homosexuality was illegal and punishable by death across all of Europe, including France. The only persons allowed to engage in such behaviors (openly or in private) were royalty or those in the royal court/entourage. King Louis XIV’s brother, Phillipe d’Orleans, was notoriously queer openly having a male lover (the Knight of Lorraine) for decades, though he was still married to a woman for the formalities of the time. As a friend of the court, La Maupin certainly received some favors from the King as far as her own lifestyle choices. Still, many were killed during this period. Gay and trans people were subject to discrimination and harassment.
Until the French Revolution. In “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” (written in 1789) homosexuality was decriminalized. Here is the first time in modern history a law such as this was made. Monumental in the history and fight for gay rights.
Man, I Feel like a Woman: Her Female Impact and a French History on Women’s Rights
Her life cannot be over-expressed for her ability to live as she had in the body she was in. Of course, I do not want to assume gender, and given the fact that she liked to dress more masculine/androgynous at times, she could be gender queer. But from the research I conducted and everything I have read it seem she identified as a cis-female and will acknowledge her as such.
That being said, the rights of women have been limited for millennia. Even in France, a more progressive country, historically whose foundations stand on rights for all, lagged on this front. Within the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” (1789) women were given no liberty. A document praised for its controversial stance that “Men are born and remain free and equal in rights” women were not seen as a part of this equation.
Not until many years later (1791) did women try to render this omission. In “The Declaration of the Rights of Women” written by the brilliant Olympe De Gouges declaring “Woman is born free and remains equal to man in rights”. Ground shaking words La Maupin would surely agree with if her actions say anything.
A badass woman. Defender and protector. A fighter for her cause to whatever end. The “kill men meme” incarnate. La Maupin was a trailblazer in how she stuck up for herself and others in the face of men who believed they held power over women.
Julie and Me
So, what does this woman who lived a life so far removed from my own have anything to do with me? I am a Black American born in the twentieth century. I come from an immigrant low-income family. She lived centuries before me and was a white securely middle class woman. But, both her and I love whom we love, gender not important.
The queer community is one that transcends culture, race, place and even time. Her and I are sisters in this. It was amazing to learn about her story. Often, when looking at queer history you are bombarded with tragic story after tragic story. Although her story is not one of only happiness, it is refreshing to hear one that had so much unabashed joy.