Sunday, March 31, 2013

Lover, Sword Fighter, Diva - the Life of Julie d'Aubigny

Julie d’Aubigny was a 17th century fencer and opera singer. Also known as La Maupin or Mademoiselle Maupin, many stories about her life are more legend than fact. She sounds like something out of an adventure novel, but the basics are true. She was a star of the Paris Opera as well as traveling swordswoman.

Born in Paris in about 1670 (or 1673), Julie d’Aubigny was the daughter of Gaston d’ Aubigny, secretary of the Comte d’ Armagnac. Her father might have been the one who got her fencing lessons so she could defend herself. As a teenager she became the Comte’s mistress and he introduced her to life at court. To hide the affair, the Comte married her off to Maupin, of St. Germain-en-Laye, but the Comte ended the romance within a year.  Shortly after, the newlyweds separated as well.  There are separate accounts about their separation. Some indicate that her husband got a government position in another province. Others say she left him for a fencing-master a few months after they married.

Regardless of how they separated, she did meet Sérannes, an assistant at a fencing academy. Some sources say that it was Sérannes who taught her to use a small sword. She proved to be a better fencer than he was. In around 1688 Sérannes killed a man in an illegal duel, and the Lieutenant-General of Police, Gabriel Nicolas de la Reynie went after him. The couple fled Paris for Marseilles. To travel safely, she dressed in male’s clothes and called herself Monsieur d’Aubigny. They didn’t have much money so they sang in inns and held dueling exhibitions. D’Aubigny fenced in male attire, though she didn’t hide that she was female – this probably made her more popular. Both reportedly had good voices, and despite knowing very little about music they were hired by the opera-house of Marseilles.

In 1690, the daughter of a rich merchant saw d’Aubigny on the stage and was smitten.  Sérannes all but forgotten, the equally smitten d’Aubigny tried to run away with the girl in the dark of night.  Some sources say that they were discovered and had to escape to a convent. Others say that the girl’s friends or family opposed their relationship and sent the girl to a convent in Avignon. After the girl was admitted to the convent, d’Aubigny went after her and became a novice. Soon after, a nun died. D’Aubigny stole the body, put it in her lover’s bed and there she set the room on fire. In the commotion, they ran away to a village. They hid for weeks but were eventually found. When officers appeared to take the girl back, d’Aubigny reportedly killed one and injured two others. The girl was returned to her family, and legend says that d’Aubigny was sentenced to be burned for kidnapping, body snatching, arson, and missing court proceedings.

But La Maupin had already headed back to Paris. On the way, she made money traveling from town to town singing in cabarets. In Paris she enrolled into the school of Lulli. Two months later, she debuted as Mademoiselle Maupin at the Opera in Lulli’s Cadmus et Hermoine. Audiences loved her contralto voice.

None of this kept her out of trouble with her fellow actors, one fellow named Dumenil in particular. In some accounts, Dumenil insulted her, so she thrashed him one night in the Place des Victoires. She made off with his snuff-box and watch. The day after, Dumenil told his colleagues that thieves had assaulted him and though he fought them bravely, they subdued him and made off with his belongings. La Maupin heard this lie and said:
"Fellow! you are a base liar and poltroon. It was I alone who assaulted you; and as a proof, I restore your miserable property." 
Then she presented his missing snuff-box and watch. In the other account La Maupin might have thought Dumenil insulted her.  So, during one of his performances, she jumped onto the stage, stopped the performance, and caned him in front of the audience.

One night in 1695, she donned her male attire and crashed a masked ball being hosted by King Louis XIV’s brother at the Palais Royale. She flirted shamelessly with a well born woman, and three jealous suitors were outraged, perhaps knowing that La Maupin was really a woman. La Maupin challenged them to a duel and they all went into the gardens. There she either injured or killed one or more of the men. It seems that the King himself pardoned her the next day because he concluded that anti-dueling laws could only applied to men.

Immediately after the ball, Mlle. Maupin left France for Brussels where her legend, beauty, and talent dazzled the people of Brussels. Maximilian II Emanuel von Bayern, Elector of Bavaria allegedly became infatuated with her. Their relationship lasted until the Comtesse d’Arco distracted him. He had the Comtesse’s husband give Mlle. Maupin 40,000 livres to leave Brussels. She reportedly flung the purse at the envoy and in a fit of rage left for Madrid hours later, taking the 40,000 livres with her.

After her stay in Spain, she returned to Paris in about 1698. She went back to the Opera and she was named prima donna since the soprano Marthe le Rochois had just retired. Her role in 1702 as Clorinde in André Campra’s Tancrède was written specifically for her. It was the Paris Opera’s first role for a female lead who wasn’t a soprano.

Towards the end of her life, La Maupin began a relationship with Marie-Louise-Thérèse de Senneterre, La Marquise de Florensac. After the marquise died suddenly in 1705, La Maupin was so heartbroken she left the stage. She reunited with her husband and they lived quietly together until he died. Soon after his death she went to a convent and died there in 1707.

Queens of Song by Ellen Creathorne Clayton
Chevalier, Louis-Joseph, prince de Grimberghen by Neil Jeffares
The Sketch Book of Character

Further Reading
Mademoiselle Maupin


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