16th century badass Julie D’Aubigny, also known as Le Maupin

Legendary swordswoman, opera singer, bisexual icon — Julie D’Aubigny was all of these things, in 17th century France. She was born in 1673 to Gaston d’Aubigny, the secretary to Louis de Lorraine-Guise, the Comte d’Armagnac, the Master of the Horse for King Louis XIV. Because of her father’s position, she was taught to read, draw, and use a rapier. At the age of 14 she began an affair with her father’s employer Count d’Armagnac (or he began one with her) but in order to protect her reputation, she was married to Sieur de Maupin and thereafter was known as Le Maupin. She soon tired of the Count and ran off with one of her fencing teachers — they fled to Marseille, where they entertained crowds by fencing and singing. D’Aubigny performed while dressed as a man but was billed as a woman, and more than once when a heckler yelled that women couldn’t be that good with a sword, she tore open her blouse to shut him up.

After falling in love with a woman, the girl’s parents sent her off to a convent so that D’Aubigny couldn’t pursue her, but Le Maupin followed her to the convent in Avignon. She said she wanted to become a nun, and after taking her holy vows and being admitted to the nunnery, she found her lover and they two plotted their escape — when an elderly nun died, they took her body and put it in the girl’s bed and then set the convent on fire. D’Aubigny was sentenced to death in absentia, but after making her way to Paris, she approached the Count d’Armagnac and he agreed to ask King Louis XIV for a pardon, which was granted because the king was amused by her exploits.

D’Aubigny joined the Paris Opera, and took many lovers, both male and female. According to one story, she challenged a fellow actor to a duel after she rejected his advances and he called her a whore. Later that night she beat him senseless with a cane and took his watch and snuffbox — when he told the story about being mugged by thieves the next day, D’Aubigny produced the watch and snuffbox and he was humiliated. Later, she fell in love with the Marquise de Florensac, widely known as the most beautiful woman in France. They lived together for several years, until Florensac died from a fever. D’Aubigny was reportedly devastated — she retired from the opera, joined a convent and died at the age of 33.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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