Picture a French dueler who kisses women at royal balls and kidnaps lovers from convents—no, it’s not The Three Musketeers, it’s Julie d’Aubigny, the coolest woman in history. Julie d’Aubigny, also known as Mademoiselle de Maupin, or Le Maupin for short, became famous for fighting duels and singing opera. She also dressed like a man, and her skills with the sword were so legendary that one time she had to rip off her shirt to prove she was a woman.
La Maupin was one of many women who disguised themselves as men, and her fencing skills shocked France, just like women war heroes broke the mold. And Julie was not the only cross-dressing seventeenth-century lesbian—but like Catalina de Erauso, La Maupin also found herself in hot water after kissing too many women.
In her brief career on stage, La Maupin stunned audiences with her singing, but the real scandals happened off-stage, like when La Maupin burned down a convent or stabbed a nobleman and then became his lover. How did La Maupin get away with dueling and kissing her way across Europe? Hint: it might have to do with radishes.
Julie d’Aubigny, also known as La Maupin, was a sword-fighting, cross-dressing sensation in Louis XIV’s France. She was raised in a stable at the Palace of Versailles, where she learned to dress like a boy and fight like a man. She fought duels, took lovers (both men and women), and even won the favor of France’s Sun King. La Maupin was so intense that one lover tried to bribe her just to leave him alone.
Julie also became one of the first opera stars, performing at opera houses across Europe. The famous diarist Philippe de Courcillon declared that she had “the most beautiful voice in the world.” La Maupin was not just famous for her real-life scandals—on stage, she once stabbed herself in the middle of a performance and another time she bit her lover’s ear.
In spite of breaking numerous laws and even burning down a convent, Julie always came out on top.
Julie d’Aubigny grew up at the Grand Stables at Versailles, Europe’s flashiest palace. Her father Gaston worked for the Comte d'Armagnac, and his main skills were fencing and drinking. He taught young Julie everything he knew, raising her with the court pages he was in charge of training. Julie dressed like a boy and spent her time riding horses and sword fighting. She was so good that she could beat any of the pages in a fencing match.
Then, at the age of 14, Julie started having an affair with her father’s boss, the Comte d'Armagnac. The Comte arranged a sham marriage for Julie as a cover, but Julie promptly got bored and took a new lover. Then she ran away from Paris after her new lover killed a man in a duel.
As a teenager, Julie seduced a merchant’s daughter and began her first lesbian affair. The girl’s family hid their daughter away in a convent to separate the lovers. That didn't stop Julie––she simply joined the convent so that she could continue the affair. When La Maupin decided the convent was boring, she hid the dead body of a nun in her girlfriend’s room and set the convent on fire, running off with her lover.
The plot failed to trick the authorities, who sentenced La Maupin to death for kidnapping, body snatching, and arson. The judges were baffled by La Maupin’s gutsy actions. They refused to believe a woman had kidnapped a nun and burned down a convent, so they gave her the male title “Sieur.”
Julie had fled Paris as a teenager with her lover Séranne, a fencing master. Julie, dressed as a man, would give fencing demonstrations with Séranne. During her performances, Julie would sing and challenge the audience to duel against her. After humiliating one man in a duel, he claimed she wasn’t a woman at all, because no woman could possibly fence so well. Julie ripped open her blouse and told the audience to “judge for themselves.” That stopped the complaining.
Even though Julie had no formal training in signing, the Opera de Marseilles hired her, which began her career as an opera star.