Princess of the Opera
At the top of the list of history’s greatest rascals is undoubtedly “La Maupin,” Julie d’Aubigny: sword-slinger, opera singer, and larger-than-life bisexual celebrity of 17th-century France. Her life was a whirlwind of duels, seduction, grave robbing, and convent-burning so intense that she had to be pardoned by the king of France twice.
La Maupin (her married/professional name, which I’ll use, since nobody’s 100% sure her given name was Julie) had a real piece of work for a dad. As the man in charge of training Louis XIV’s pages, her father would fence nonstop during the day, and hit up gambling dens, bars, and brothels in the evenings. Given the seedy circles in which he ran, it should be little surprise that his main ideas for daddy-daughter bonding time were a) teaching her how to use deadly weapons, and b) using said weapons to drive off any potential suitors.
This paternal embargo on genital contact backfired when our heroine found a loophole: shtupping her dad’s boss, the one guy he couldn’t challenge to a duel.
When said boss became frustrated with La Maupin’s increasingly wild ways, he arranged her marriage to a mild-mannered clerk, thinking that might settle her down. She responded in the only sensible manner, by taking an itinerant swordsman as a new lover and leaving home to wander aimlessly through France.
When a drunken onlooker proclaimed loudly that she was actually a man, she tore off her shirt, providing him ample evidence to the contrary. The heckler had no comeback.
If La Maupin had one overriding flaw, it was an allergy to boredom. In fact, she soon dumped the wandering swordsman, pronounced herself tired of men in general, and seduced a local merchant’s daughter. The merchant, desperate to separate the two, sent his daughter to a convent — but again, our heroine found a loophole. La Maupin joined the convent herself, and started hooking up with her intended in the house of God. Shortly into their convent stay, an elderly nun died (from unrelated causes, it would seem), and La Maupin reacted the same way anyone might: by disinterring the body, putting it in her lover’s room, and setting the whole convent on fire. You know, same old story.
The two ran off in the confusion, and enjoyed a long elopement. After three months, La Maupin got bored, dumped her back at her parents’ house, and ran off into the night.
For this bout of shenaniganery, La Maupin was sentenced to death. In response, she approached her first paramour (her dad’s boss), and through his influence, convinced Louis XIV to revoke her sentence. The king did so, and she took advantage of her new lease on life by running off to Paris and joining the opera.
And this was all before she was 20! Makes you feel like an underachiever.
Her behavior amped up even more when she became an opera singer — basically the rock stars of the day. In true theater major fashion, she alternately fucked and fought her way through her stage contemporaries, and audiences loved her for it. Three stories of her time in Paris:
- Another opera singer named Dumenil started talking shit about a number of women, including La Maupin. She responded by ambushing him, pushing a sword in his face, and demanding a duel. When he refused (on the grounds that he was a wimp), she beat him with a cane, stealing his snuffbox and watch. The next day, she caught him complaining that he had been assaulted by a gang of thieves. She called him a liar and a coward, threw his watch and snuffbox at him, and declared that she, alone, had architected his ass-beating.
“I, alone, have architected your ass-beating!”
- One night, while out carousing on the town, a particularly ardent man named d’Albert began crudely hitting on her. She’d just finished singing for the crowd, and he let loose with the one-liner “I’ve listened to your chirping, but now tell me of your plumage” — a come-on which I take to be the 17th-century version of “does the carpet match the drapes?” She was, shall we say, unimpressed. In short order, she got into a fight with him and two of his buddies, won, and ran her sword clean through his shoulder. She felt a bit bad about that, so she visited her impaled victim in the hospital and hooked up with him anyway. Although the relationship only lasted a short while, they were apparently lifelong friends.
- She attended a royal ball (thrown either by Louis XIV or his brother) dressed as a man. She spent most of the evening courting a young woman, which earned the ire of three of the woman’s suitors. When La Maupin pushed things too far and kissed the young lady in full view of everyone, the three challenged her to a duel. She fought all of them — outside of the royal palace, mind you — and won. According to some accounts, she actually killed them. This entertained Louis XIV so much that he pardoned her from any punishment.
Actually, with the last one, she didn’t get off completely scot-free. The anti-dueling laws of the time were becoming increasingly severe, and even though the king had basically pardoned her (musing that the law governed men, but didn’t say anything about women), she still ran off to Brussels until the heat died down. While in Brussels, she (surprise) took another lover, this time the Elector of Bavaria. The two grew apart in short order. Apparently the Elector was a bit nonplussed when she stabbed herself onstage with an actual dagger. When he tried to get her to leave by bribing her with 40,000 francs, she threw the coinpurse at his emissary and started swearing at him. In some versions, she also kicked him down the stairs.
After that, she returned to Paris and died five or six years later of unknown causes. She was, as best anyone could tell, 37. Her life story was thereafter reported in a number of articles, usually in the pearl-clutching, vapor-having tone a high-society woman might use to describe the bride of Satan. Several of these stories claimed that she had a massive change of heart late in life, became religious, and (re-)joined a convent. Given that these articles seemingly only exist to use her life as a morality tale, I’m not sure how literally to take them. It is generally agreed, however, that she spent the final years of her life reunited with her husband and lived fairly peacefully.
She was technically married throughout all of that. Don’t worry if you forgot about it, sounds like she did too.
One last note, which I find personally amusing. Her dad’s name was Gaston, verifying what we’ve known all along: nobody breeds like Gaston.
Now, to the people who correctly guessed La Maupin from last week’s hint of “get thee to a nunnery — and burn it down.” A lot of people got La Maupin from that, which is awesome! I was a little terrified, however, from all the other guesses, at just how many women had been involved in convent arson. The mind reels.
- I wanted to evoke the sense of her running madly through France, leaving a trail of chaos in her wake. The lights coming from the house are meant to evoke a sense of spotlights and the authorities looking for her.
- Her design is consistent with what is known about her looks: that she had blue eyes, light skin, dark curly hair, an aquiline nose, an athletic build, and, apparently, perfect breasts (of which, fans of the Princess Bride know, there is always a shortage).
- The burning convent is modeled off of an Irish one from the 17th century, which was the closest I could find to the period. It was actually pretty fun to draw. The red/orange is meant to contrast with her blue tones.
- As was French fashion at the time, she has a beauty mark on her face, as it was French fashion around the time to do so. Depending on where you placed the mole, it would communicate something different. La Maupin’s means “passionate,” which seemed appropriate.
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