Do You Know Diva and Swords Woman Extraordinaire, La Maupin?

Black and white illustration of a French woman in a high wig, in an ornate Midieval dress with a full skirt and train standing on the set of an opera stage with a greco-roman background

Mademoiselle Maupin (nee Julie d’Aubigny) had an extraordinary life. A French opera singer, she was also an accomplished swords woman. In a time when society dictated women should spend their lives tending to their husbands and children, Julie was a maverick. She pioneered an operatic vocal range, had affairs with men and women, dueled, and even killed three or more men. 

The historical accounts of her life are sketchy thanks to her gender, the time passed, and her colorful lifestyle. In the history books, she’s referred to most often by her maiden name, but has also been called Émilie or Julie-Émilie. Her stage name was Mademoiselle Maupin, more commonly La Maupin. 

Early Life

Gaston d’Aubigny, a secretary to Louis de Lorraine-Guise, Count d’Armagnac, the Master of the Horse for King Louis XIV, and his wife Emilie d’Aubigny became the proud parents of Julie d’Aubigny in 1673 Paris or near Paris. Her father was a master swordsman, a gambler, and a drinker who indulged in the nightlife. Responsible for training the court’s pages, Julie’s father taught her academic subjects, usually taught only to boys. He also passed along his vices.

Around the age of twelve, Julie began fencing. It was not an unusual sport for women of the day, but she couldn’t do it like all the other women. Julie excelled at it. She not only competed with and beat the boys, she dressed like a boy. 

She was around fourteen or fifteen when she became the mistress of her father’s employer,Count d’Armagnac.

Her father died around 1687.


After her father’s death, Julie married a clerk, Sieur Jean de Maupin, of Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Almost as soon as they were married, Count d’Armagnac sent Maupin out of Paris to collect taxes. Julie and Maupin remained married but physically apart. 

Historical accounts of their relationship vary. Some say Maupin grew fed up with Julie’s wild ways. Other documents say Julie became bored with Maupin. Whatever the case, she developed a relationship with a fencing master, Séranne. When he killed a man in a duel, he had to flee Paris. Julie went with him. 

Traveling Fencing Exhibitionist

The couple made their living by giving fencing demonstrations all across the country. Both wore male attire. Both also had pleasant singing voices, so they added singing to their performances. It is said that Julie would challenge the men in the audience to duel with her and shame them for losing to a woman.

During her travels with Séranne, Julie’s attractiveness and her natural singing and acting talents got her some roles at the recently founded Opéra de Marseille. This may have been when she started using the stage name La Maupin.

First Lesbian Affair

Around this time, she fell in love with a young woman. The young woman’s family wanted to get her away from La Maupin and sent her to a convent in Avignon. Julie followed her, entering the convent as a postulant.

The two women decided to escape the convent. In order to prevent the family from having authorities search for the young woman, Julie came up with a daring plan. She stole a dead nun’s body, placed it in the young woman’s bed, and set fire to the room. They escaped, hoping authorities would identify the burnt corpse as the young woman. 

Authorities uncovered the ruse and the Parliament of Aix-en-Provence tried and sentenced La Maupin under the male title “Sieur” and in absentia. The sentence was death by fire.

Three months later, the young woman returned to her family.

Singing Lessons

Julie went back to Paris, where she made her living by singing. She took professional singing lessons from Maréchal, a middle-aged musician-actor with a fondness for drink. Impressed by her talent, Maréchal encouraged Julie to apply to the greatest opera stage in France, the Paris Opéra. 

According to some sources, when Maréchal’s drinking interfered with his ability to teach, she left for Paris. Other sources say Julie met the singer Gabriel-Vincent Thévenard, took him as a lover, and the two of them went to Paris together.

Paris Opéra

Julie not only returned to Paris, she returned to her first lover, Count d’Armagnac. The Count persuaded the King to issue Julie a pardon for the Avignon affair. That removed her last obstacle to a professional opera career. 

Thévenard agreed to perform at the Paris Opéra on the condition that the opera also hire Julie, a soprano. Seventeen-year-old Julie made her debut in the Paris Opéra as Pallas in a December 1690 revival of Lully’s first opera, Cadmus et Hermione. The main attraction, star soprano Marie Le Rochois (c. 1658–1728), who earned her reputation because of her artistic skill, performed the lead. Julie’s performance caused a sensation, in part because of the notoriety of her off-stage exploits.

It was at the Paris Opera that Julie sang contralto (the lowest voice for female singers). That made her one of the first contralto singers for the opera. She performed regularly at the Opera from 1690 to 1694. 


Black and white illustration of a woman in a French Medieval man's outfit with many ruffles and a large brimmed hat with an ostrich plume. She has a fencing sword strapped to her hip.

The accounts of Julie’s life are colorful and few agree when each of her exploits occurred. All agree that documents say she defended the honor of the women in the opera by fighting duels against men who made unwanted passes at the singers. She injured many and killed some. 

According to some, Julie once attended a ball at Louis XIV’s palace dressed as a man and danced with the women. During one dance, Julie kissed her dance partner. This drew the ire of three different noblemen who courted that woman. They each challenged Julie to a duel. She fought and won against all three, leaving each of them with multiple wounds. After the fights, she returned to the ball as if nothing had happened. Unfortunately, dueling was now illegal in France. They sentenced her to death. And again, she had to escape the law. She was twenty-one.

Later Life

In perhaps the most reliable account, she escaped to Brussels after dueling with the three noblemen. There she appeared in the Opera du Quai au Join between late 1697 and mid-1698. When she received a pardon for the duels, she returned to Paris and resumed her operatic career. 

About 1701, Julie’s husband returned to her life, though she continued to have extra-marital relationships. 

In 1703, she met and began an affair with one of the great beauties in France, the famous and wealthy Madam la Marquise de Florensac. The two lived quietly together for the next two years. It was the longest continuous romantic relation in La Maupin’s life. 

In 1705, de Florensac became ill and died. Despite having just debuted a new role at the Opera, La Maupin retired. 

According to some, she lived quietly with her husband for the rest of her life. Other accounts say she retired to a monastery. 

She died in 1707. She was thirty-seven.


History has erased or amended much of Julie d’Aubigny’s life to the point she may seem to be a caricature rather than a living person. Yet, there are documents of her birth, her operatic career, some of her exploits, and her legal challenges. Remember, she lived in France during a time when homosexuality was illegal and society considered cross-dressing immoral. Her legendary, some would say outrageous, exploits most likely led to some exaggerations and distortions and have resulted in contradictions between various documents. Nonetheless, La Maupin was a bisexual sword-wielding opera star despite the accepted gender norms of her day. A strong woman, a bold woman, she lived life on her terms. 

If you had lived in France in the 1600s would you have chosen to live a bold life?

  1. GENi
  2. Los Angeles Public 
  3. Historic Mysteries 
  4. Wikipedia 
Image Credits:

Top photo: Public Domain: Mademoiselle Maupin de l’Opéra ». French duellist and opera singer Julie d’Aubigny (1670–1707). Anonymous print. Collection Michel Hennin : Estampes relatives à l’Histoire de France. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Second photo: Aubrey Beardsley, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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