Women In History: La Maupin

Colleen Brownley, Editor-in-Chief

There are some parts of history almost too outrageous to believe, and Julie d’Aubigny is just that. 

La Maupin’s story all starts with her father, a drunken lousy sack, who trained King Louis XIV’s pages and raised Julie right along with them. Treated as a boy with a striking talent for the sword, Julie quickly drummed up a reputation for herself around the Palace of Versailles. 

Now, most men who found themselves infatuated with Julie were met with a sword to the neck at the hands of her father, but soon a man became interested in her who La Maupin’s father couldn’t duel. His boss. 

At first, Julie liked the life of luxury provided being a mistress to a wealthy man. However, soon she became tired of the oppressive confinements her new job also came with. After her ‘employer’ found out she had a thing on the side with the fencing instructor he had hired, he forced her to marry a little old man he assumed would simmer down her wild spirit. 

This proved futile, and soon enough, Julie had run off with the fencing instructor. Traveling the French countryside Julie and her beloved dueled one another for crowds of many to earn money. 

Most men thought a woman couldn’t be as talented at dueling as Julie was, and one evening, when a man questioned her womanhood, she ripped off her shirt to provide evidence she was in fact completely a woman. Shortly after that, Julie became bored of her life again and decided to ditch her boyfriend to become an opera singer. 

There she met the daughter of a merchant who stole her heart when she was whisked away to a convent. Naturally La Maupin, being the impulsive person she was, also joined the convent. There the merchant’s daughter and Julie fell further in love with each other. They decided to escape the convent together, and Julie devised a plan. Before their departure, she took the dead body of another nun, placed it in her partner’s bed, and lit the nunnery on fire. 

Eventually she dumped her, and was sentenced to death for ‘kidnapping’ the girl. La Maupin had the ruling overturned though, on the grounds that the death sentence got one thing wrong, her gender. Convinced that a woman couldn’t have done what Julie had done, the authority figures labeled her a man all throughout the search for her and the merchant’s daughter. 

After escaping death, Julie returned to the Opera where she beat a coworker senseless for talking trash about the women working alongside them, stabbed a man during a duel only for him to fall hopelessly in love with her, and attended a royal ball dressed as a man. 

During this ball she also kissed a woman, this angered her three suitors who challenged her to a duel. Julie fought all of them and won. Sources vary on whether or not Julie killed them or left them alive, but either way she was sentenced to death yet again. And yet again, she argued her way out of it, stating that the law said a man could not duel a man, but said nothing about a woman. 

Following another narrow brush with death, La Maupin moved to escape the heat that came with her court case. There, she began to sing Opera again, at one point engaging in a romantic relationship with the Elector of Bavaria. However, after Julie was scripted to stab herself with a fake knife on stage and instead purposefully stabbed herself with a real one, the relationship quickly deteriorated. The Elector even tried to bribe her with 40,000 francs to stay away with him, but Julie threw the money on the ground and then, according to some sources, pushed him down a flight of stairs. 

It’s very unclear where her life went after her return to Paris, but most historians seem to agree she returned to her mild-mannered husband.