Maupin, d'Aubigny (c. 1670–1707)

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Maupin, d'Aubigny (c. 1670–1707)

Flamboyant French singer, renowned bisexual, and sword duelist, who was the first mezzo-soprano in French opera to play leading roles . Name variations: Julie d'Aubigny Maupin; Julie, Chévalier de Maupin; Mlle de Maupin; Mlle d'Aubigny; Aubigny Maupin. Pronunciation: JHU-lee DOH-BEEN-YEE mo-PEH. Born Julie d'Aubigny in Paris around 1670 (some sources cite 1673); died in November 1707, probably in a suburb of Paris, perhaps in Provence; burial place unknown; daughter of Gaston, Sieur d'Aubigny; mother's name unknown; educated by private tutors; married Jean Maupin, around 1687; no children.

Was mistress of the Comte d'Armagnac (c. 1685–87); moved to Marseille, where she sang at the Academy of Music (c. 1687–89); condemned by the Parlement of Aix for taking a lover from a convent (c.1689); made her way to Paris, fighting and singing (c. 1689–90); debuted at the Paris Opera (1690); fled to Brussels, where she became the mistress of the elector of Bavaria (1696–98); was possibly in Spain (c. 1698); starred at the Paris Opera (1698–1705); husband returned (c. 1701); had liaison with the Marquise de Florensac (1703–05); left the stage and took up religious pursuits (1705–07).

Debuts at the Paris Opera:

Pallas in Cadmus et Hermione (composer Lully, librettist Quinault, 1690); A (female) Magician in Didon (Desmarets, Mme. de Xaintonge, 1693); Cérès in Les Saisons (Collasse, ballet by Abbé Pic, 1695); Minerve in Thésée (Lully, Quinault, 1698); Cidippe in Thétys et Pelée (Collasse, Fontenelle, 1699); Cérès in Proserpine (Lully, Quinault, 1699); The High Priestess of the Sun in Marthésie, Reine des Amazones (Destouches, La Motte, 1699); Venus and Campaspe in Triomphe des Arts (La Barre, ballet by La Motte, 1700); A Singing Shepherdess and The (female) Musician in Le Carnaval (Lully, a masquerade revival, 1700); The Dawn and Nérine, confidante of Circé, in Canente (Collasse, La Motte, 1700); The Priestess of the Sun and A Priestess of Flora in Hésione (Campra, Danchet, 1700); The Nymph of the Seine and Thétys in Aréthuse (Campra, ballet by Danchet, 1701); France, Ismène, A (female) Magician, and Thétys, Scylla (Gatti, Duché, 1701); Clymène, mother of Phaéton, in Phaéton (Lully, Quinault, 1702); A Grace and Céphise in Omphale (Destouches, La Motte, 1702); Scylla in Arcis et Galathée (Lully, Campistron, 1702); Médée in Médus, Roi de Mèdes (Bouvard, Lagrange-Chancel, 1702); Polymnie, Iris, and Valfrina in Fragments de Lully (Campra, ballet by Danchet, 1702); Clorinde, lover of Tancrède, in Tancrède (Campra, Danchet, 1702); Pénélope in Ulysse et Pénélope (Rebel, Guichard, 1703); Cassiope, Queen of Ethiopia, in Persée (Lully, Quinault, 1703); title role in Armide (Lully, Quinault, 1703); Venus and a Distressed Woman in Psyché (Lully, Corneille de l'Isle, 1703); Madness in Le Carnival et la Folie (Destouches, ballet by La Motte, 1704); Junon in Isis (Lully, Quinault, 1704); Diane in Iphigénie et Tauride (Desmarets, Duché, 1704); Felicity, Thétys, and A Nymph of Calypso in Télémaque (Campra, Danchet, 1704); Mélanie, Princess of Iceland, in Alcine (Campra, Danchet, 1705); Isabelle, lover of Octave, in La Vénitienne (La Barre, ballet by La Motte, 1705).

D'Aubigny Maupin experienced enough adventure to fill a life far longer than the 37 years allotted her. In her day, she was notable for her powerful, warm mezzo-soprano voice and notorious for her duels and her male and female lovers. Yet little documentary evidence about her exists apart from notices of Paris Opera productions and a handful of letters and judicial documents. Even her first name is unknown save for a single letter addressing her as "Julie." Dates and places of her birth and death are disputed, and her mother's name is lost. Numerous anecdotes and passing mention in memoirs and diaries of her contemporaries comprise the bulk of what has survived. Nevertheless, a reasonably accurate account of her turbulent life can be pieced together.

Maupin was probably born in 1670 in, or near, Paris. Her father, Gaston, Sieur d'Aubigny, was secretary to Louis de Lorraine, Comte d'Armagnac, a prominent figure at the court of Louis XIV (r. 1643–1715). Armagnac was governor of Artois (mostly a title, not a job) and as grand equerry of France (responsible for the king's horses and stables) a holder of one of "the seven offices" of the Crown. Gaston himself was of the petty nobility at best and not related to the lords of Aubigny (Berry). He was a dashing sort, a swordsman and womanizer. Nothing is known about Maupin's mother; she may well have died soon after her birth.

Julie (assuming that was her name) was raised by her father in a male environment. He had her educated by the tutors of the king's pages, who taught her grammar, literature, writing, drawing, dancing, and such, leaving her better educated than most women of her time and class. He also insisted she learn to fence, probably to protect herself in a turbulent society where personal violence and dueling (albeit illegal) was endemic. (It is estimated that the wealthy quarters of Paris housed well over 10,000 professional duelists.) Fencing was not a common skill among women but was far from unknown, especially in Latin countries in the 16th and 17th centuries. Julie had favorable physical attributes: a lithe, agile body, strong limbs, wrists of steel, and swift reflexes. She probably started to fence at about age 12 and possibly was taught by masters Jean and François Rousseau and André Vernesson de Liancourt. Most uncommon about her as a duelist, however, was that apparently she fought only men, and on an equal footing.

At about age 15, she became Armagnac's mistress. An agreeable, handsome man, he had watched her grow up and became her guardian when her father died. Gaston may have died after the start of the affair, which he possibly promoted but in any case was powerless to prevent, as Armagnac well knew. Julie was exceptionally attractive. She had large blue eyes, an aquiline nose, a pretty mouth, excellent white teeth, very white skin, and a luxuriant crown of chestnut hair with shades of blonde. Of "medium" height (by modern standards probably not over 5'3"), she was slender, small-breasted, and lithe. No less striking was her personality, which has been described as brave, fiery, generous, ardent, impetuous, and seductive. The affair lasted maybe two years, after which Armagnac found her a husband, either because he was tiring under her pace or because they wanted a respectable cover. A mild young man from Saint-Germain-en-Laye filled the bill, one Jean Maupin.

I am made for perils, as well as for tenderness.

—d'Aubigny Maupin, in a letter, 1703

Estimates of how long this ill-matched pair stayed together range from a day to a year. Whatever the case, Armagnac or Julie (or both) wangled him a post in the tax service (Cour des Aides) in Toulouse. Julie stayed behind in Paris; whether with Armagnac's approval is in dispute.

His lax supervision and her independent spirit left her largely on her own. While haunting the stables and fencing halls, Maupin fell passionately in love with an aspiring master-swordsman, Henri (?) de Séranne (variant spellings abound). After a time, they took the road to Marseille, where he claimed to have property. One version of the story says Armagnac persuaded M. de La Reynie, the Paris chief of police, to pressure Séranne to leave, then became furious when Julie went too. Others say Séranne had fallen afoul of La Reynie because he had killed a man in a duel behind the church of the Carmelites or because he and some other gallants had had a run-in with a patrol.

This journey to Marseille, and her experiences once there, proved to be the turning point in Maupin's life. In Marseille, she discovered her future vocation and her bisexuality. Whether she had cross-dressed before is uncertain, but on the journey she did so. For the rest of her life, she cross-dressed frequently, having no trouble passing as a boyish cavalier due to her figure and her ease in a masculine environment. It should be noted, however, that female cross-dressing has a long history in the West; it made traveling much easier and opened otherwise forbidden pathways through a male-dominated society.

Once in Marseille (if not on the way), Séranne confessed he had no property there. Maupin forgave him. To survive, they gave fencing exhibitions in taverns, advertising her as a woman despite her attire. According to a famous anecdote, when a heckler called out that she really was a man, she settled the question by tearing open her shirt. To keep going, they added singing to their show since both had fine voices.

Maupin's singing success inspired her to dream of a career in opera. The Marseille Academy of Music, with theaters in Marseille and Montpellier, had been founded in 1685 by Pierre Gaultier, a friend of Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632–1687), the premier opera composer in France. Maupin auditioned for Gaultier and passed. Like the large majority of singers of her time, she could not read music; her prodigious memory helped her overcome this impediment, while her untutored but beautiful mezzo-soprano voice (then called bas-dessus—see below) was well received. She also revealed a gift for acting. Admission to the Academy was not overly difficult—Séranne was hired, too—but this step up was momentous.

Performing as "Mlle d'Aubigny," she won quick success in a variety of roles—only to throw it all away in a truly incredible escapade. Because of her cross-dressing, Maupin had drawn the attentions of young women who initially thought she was a man, and she became infatuated with a beautiful young girl, Cécilia Bortigali (?). She besieged Bortigali (or possibly the reverse) to the point that the girl's parents, fearing a scandal, packed her off to a convent in Avignon. Maupin straightaway abandoned Séranne and the Opera. Posing as a young woman seeking to become a nun, she located Bortigali's convent in Avignon and was soon admitted as a novice. The two, reunited, then plotted an escape. Maupin surreptitiously disinterred the body of a young nun who had recently died, hauled it to Bortigali's cell, laid it on the cot, and then set it afire, thus hoping to lead the nuns to think Cécilia had perished. During the ensuing confusion, the two fled over the walls of the convent and rode out of town.

The truth quickly emerged. The Parlement (high court) of Aix condemned "the sieur d'Aubigny" (in absentia) to the stake for sacrilege and an armload of other grave offenses. Why was Maupin portrayed as a male in the sentence? It seems implausible that the court did not know her true sex. More likely, the male identity was a tactful device to spare Bortigali's family the further embarrassment of revealing it was a lesbian affair.

Within three months, Maupin cooled on Bortigali, who crept back home after Maupin had a fling with a musketeer. Making her way north by degrees, probably intending to go to Paris when it appeared safe, Maupin again sang in taverns. While at the Écu-Neuf in Villeperdue, near Tours, she became embroiled with a drunken young cavalier whom she challenged and fought along with his two companions. (Probably she fought them in succession, although some versions say she took them on as a group.) Maupin ran the cavalier clear through the shoulder, pinning him and thus ending the duel. Within a day, he learned to his astonishment that his adversary was a woman, while she learned he was a grandee, Louis-Joseph d'Albert de Luynes (b. 1670), son of the Duc de Luynes and his wife Anne de Rohan-Montbazon . Versions differ as to which one sought a meeting during Albert's recovery at the inn. She ended by nursing him back to health, and they became lovers. Once recovered, he received orders to join the army in Germany. They bade a tearful farewell, vowing to meet again. Both were to go on to many other lovers, but theirs was a special relationship, passionately renewed now and then until her death.

Again on the move, at Poitiers Maupin met a 50ish actor-musician named Maréchal, who recognized her talent and insisted that she make the Paris Opera her goal. A stern, competent teacher, he gave her much-needed acting and singing lessons until she left because of his alcoholism. Eventually, at Róuen, she met a young bass-baritone, Gabriel-Vincent Thévenard (1669–1741), a baker's son from Orléans who was also touring the provinces on the way to the Opera. The two became lovers and finally reached Paris. Still concerned about the warrant against her, Maupin boldly approached her old lover Armagnac. He readily succumbed to her familiar charms and put the case to Louis XIV, pleading that she was remorseful and had worked hard to become a singer at the Opera. The king, apparently amused by her gall and daring, annulled the warrant.

Thévenard won a place in the chorus immediately, but Maupin needed help and used Thévenard, Armagnac, and possibly Albert to secure an audition, for which she needed to contact Jean-Nicolas de Francine (1662–1735), successor (from 1688) to his late father-in-law, Lully, as Superintendent of the King's Music. Through Thévenard, she learned that a boy soprano (later a composer), François Bouvard (c. 1683–1760), was close to Francine, so she auditioned for Bouvard. He then mentioned her to Francine, who needed a female warrior to play Pallas Athena in a revival of Lully and Quinault's Cadmus et Hermione (1673). This opera, writes Peter Pierson, was the first of Lully's series of tragédies lyriques, "brilliantly orchestrated and precisely sung operas that set the main direction of French operatic style for the following two hundred years." Lully welded the music to the texts; hence, acting assumed real importance—which aided Maupin's career. The plots, based on Roman myths and chivalric romances, emphasized themes of love and glory, again suiting Maupin well. Also, Lully's arias, note Ellen Clayton , are "simple, smooth, and easily learned," which helped since Maupin depended on her memory.

D'Aubigny Maupin won the role and admission to the Académie Royale de Musique, known as the "Paris Opera," which performed on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays at the theater in the Palais-Royal, the residence of the king's brother Philip (1640–1701), duke of Orléans (known as "Monsieur"). Singing there was a challenge. Audiences behaved in ways later times would think outrageous: conversing, moving about, heckling, and even loudly singing along with the artists. She made her debut in December 1690 under the name "Mlle Maupin" and won immediate acclaim. Before she left the Opera temporarily in 1695, she also sang in two other roles that are known by name, originating both. Probably there were additional roles, the records of which have disappeared. Maupin could play both comic and serious roles and also dance. Often her parts were transposed to suit her lower register, sometimes (it has been said) an octave below the original soprano line.

Maupin early won respect in the company when she stood up against one Dumesnil/Dumény (d. 1702). He was a highly popular, golden-voiced tenor but a coarse, cowardly lout who made himself odious as an intimidating seducer who took souvenir ribbons from his conquests. During a rehearsal for Cadmus et Hermione, he tried his wiles on Maupin. She indignantly rebuffed him, and he called her a foul name. Bystanders prevented a duel then and there, but that evening she waited for him, dressed as a man, at the Place des Victoires. Accosting him, she demanded satisfaction for his behavior. Thinking she was a man, he begged for mercy, but she thrashed him soundly with a cane and took his watch and snuffbox. The next day, he regaled the company with a tale about being beaten and robbed by three men despite his valiant defense. When Maupin stepped forward, called him a liar, and produced the watch and snuffbox, he slunk off, trailed by mocking laughter. Thereafter, he treated her with fawning deference, while she basked in the gratitude of her colleagues.

Maupin led a tempestuous offstage existence. After Lully's death, Louis XIV, answering complaints, issued a code of conduct for the company. It had little effect. The grande seigneurs continued to raid the Opera and the Comédie for mistresses, and Maupin was accommodating. Albert also turned up once more; the couple passed several blissful months in 1695 before he was recalled for the siege of Namur. Maupin sought female lovers as well; some, like the beautiful Fanchon Moreau (1668–after 1743), were members of the company. (A questionable story claims that Maupin tried to commit suicide after Moreau repulsed her.) Following Albert's departure, she seems to have become especially willful, and in February 1696 she crossed the line too openly.

Dressed as a man, she crashed the duke of Orléans' annual pre-Lenten ball at the Palais-Royal and made persistent, obviously unwanted advances to a lovely young marquise. Three men, the marquise's suitors, warned Maupin to back off. She challenged them, and the four retired to a park on the Seine near the Louvre. Aided only by moonlight, she fought each in turn, seriously wounding all three. (Some accounts assert she killed them.) Returning to the ball, she told the duke that three men needed assistance and disclosed her identity. She also archly informed the distraught marquise of the fate of her champions. The court buzzed for a week. Louis disliked violations of the dueling law, but he again seems to have found Maupin amusing and evaded the issue by informing her that the law was silent on female duelers. Relieved, but concerned lest he change his mind, she left for Brussels to let the dust settle.

The Spanish Netherlands (as Belgium was called) was currently governed by the duke-elector of Bavaria, Maximilian II Emmanuel (1662–1726), a music lover, legendary Lothario, and widower of Maria Antonia who had died in 1692. His Théâtre de la Cour housed a distinguished company, most of it French, for he was a devotée of Lully's operas. In 1694, Louis XIV, in a diplomatic offensive, had lent him musicians and dancers. Hence, Maupin joined the Théâtre, won acclaim, and soon became Maximilian's latest trophy.

The affair lasted for many months, much longer than was usual for either of them, before Maximilian, probably tiring of Maupin's brand of non-stop ardeurs, turned to Mlle Merville , a ballet dancer. Desperate, Maupin, while playing Dido 's suicide in Johan Wolfgang Franck's Énée (Aeneas), actually stabbed herself. This sensational display embarrassed the elector, who continued with Merville. But when Merville deceived him with the Comte de Dohna, Maximilian returned to Maupin. In time, he wandered again, neglecting her in favor of a beautiful blonde Fleming, Mlle Popuel , a quiet, gentle sort. To reward Popuel for bearing him a son, he married her off to the Comte d'Arco and continued with her in a ménage à trois. Deciding at last to end his relations with Maupin, he sent Arco around with a dismissal sweetened by 40,000 livres; she threw the money at him (some say at his groin). After lingering a while hoping for a reconciliation, she accepted a 2,000-livre pension from the ever-generous elector and left the country.

Most accounts say she went off to Spain, where the Affair of the Radishes occurred. After trying in vain to land a singing position, it is said, and needing money to return to Paris, she became a maid to a demanding harridan, Countess Marino , wife of a royal minister. Having saved enough, Maupin took her revenge. When she dressed Marino's hair for a ball, she pinned some small, fresh radishes to the back of her head. At the ball, Marino wondered why people were snickering. A kind soul finally told her the truth, and Marino flew home in a towering rage, but Maupin had long since taken the road north. No evidence supports this oft-repeated tale, which contains gross improbabilities. If she did go to Spain—again, nothing concrete supports this assertion—it may have been, as another version has it, with a woman lover after the elector had ditched her. All that is certain is that in November 1698 she was back at the Paris Opera, playing Minerve in Lully's Thésée. The following seven years marked the peak of her fame as a singer.

During this time, Maupin appeared in 20 operas, 4 opera-ballets and 2 gala concerts. She played 41 roles, originating 25 of them. She also sang at parties, spectacles, and entertainments for the king and high nobility, often at Versailles or Fontainebleau, appearing, for example, in Destouche's Omphale at the Grand Trianon on February 23, 1702. In his famous journal, the Marquis de Dangeau noted that they had "heard la Maupin, who has the most beautiful voice in the world." She also sang chamber music that year accompanied by François Couperin (1668–1733).

After the retirement of Marthe Rochois (c. 1658–1728) in 1698, Maupin inherited her position as a diva. Her specialty was heroic, armed females in helmet and cuirasse. She was now at the top, a celebrity invited to the king's hunts. Fellow singers admired her self-possession and stage presence, her ability, for example, to dispense with such props as sticks, fans or handkerchiefs to occupy nervous hands. Her decisive bearing, cavalier manner, and unusually strong voice, however, made her less suitable in soprano roles, which as a rule emphasized the qualities of an ingénue—artlessness, simplicity, gentleness, naïveté. Among her most acclaimed performances were as Cérès in Lully's Proserpine (1699), Venus in La Barre's ballet Triomphe des Arts (1700), The Priestess of the Sun and A Priestess of Flora in Campra's Hésione (1700), Armide in Lully's Armide (1703) and Junon in his Isis (1704), Diana in Desmarets' Iphigénie en Tauride (1704), Isabelle in La Barre's ballet La Véntienne (1705, her last role), and above all as Médée in Bouvard's Médus (1702) and Clorinde in Campra's Tancrède (1702). In Médus, she stepped in for Mlle Desmatins (d. 1708?), something Rochois admitted she never would have done given the demands of the role. As for Clorinde, André Campra (1660–1744) and Antoine Danchet (1671–1748), who admired Maupin greatly, wrote this role containing great dramatic range specifically for her. Tancrède, it is believed, was the first French opera in which the principal female was not a soprano.

How to categorize Maupin's voice has posed problems, because terminology has changed over time. Clorinde is often described as a contralto role. Yet the "contralto" voice was virtually unknown in France before 1800. Maupin's voice was called a bas-dessus (low treble), a term used in France from the 17th to the early 19th century; its closest modern equivalent would be mezzo-soprano. Because pitch was about a tone lower than now, however, that range would significantly overlap with a modern contralto. In Clorinde's case, the part has more of a mezzo range than that of a true contralto. Writes James R. Anthony in New Grove Dictionary of Opera: "This suggests that voice quality, not vocal range, must have been at issue, and Maupin in fact later wanted to sing the role a tone lower." Hence the catch-all term "soprano" in cast lists at that time does not of itself indicate the precise kind of voice thought suitable for a particular role. In France, to give the leading female role to a bas-dessus voice was unheard-of before Campra's Tancrède. Maupin, thus, mostly sang secondary leads or supporting roles during her career.

Given her prominence, she drew criticism, too, notably in the form of chansons popular with the public. Her private life fed her notoriety—inordinately so, as it always had. Contrary to all expectations, at some point, most likely by 1701, her husband returned, and they lived together (amicably, it was said) until his death a few years later. Everything suggests his return was conditioned upon his ignoring her sexual escapades. From her perspective, possibly, having a husband around only proved the adage that "stolen fruit tastes sweeter."

One affair was with Frédéric-Jules de La Tour, Chevalier de Bouillon, younger brother of the Prince de Turenne. Like her a bisexual, he had been keeping company with Maupin's colleague and former lover Thévenard. The result—assuming the events are connected—was a confrontation in which Thévenard publicly insulted her one day. He immediately realized his mistake, being no duelist, so he lived in his dressing room for three weeks while she waited every night outside the theater. On stage, they continued to play opposite each other, even as lovers. When Francine and the company finally persuaded him to apologize, Thévenard wrote a graceful letter touched with humor—the one addressed to "Julie." She relented on condition he apologize before the company, which he did.

On another occasion, she fought the Baron de Servan, a pretentious fool from Périgord who was forever bragging about his swordsmanship and female conquests. Boasting to a group of men in the Opera foyer, he sullied the name of a young dancer, Mlle Pérignon , whose sterling reputation caused them to protest the calumny. Maupin, sitting nearby, dressed as a man and identifying herself to Servan as the "Chevalier de Raincy," was the only one present to call him out. They met the next day, and Maupin ran him through the arm. Servan, humiliated when he learned her identity, stole back to his hometown of Périgord, while Maupin basked in the bravos of the company.

An incident on September 6, 1700, illustrates how dangerous it could be to cross Maupin. Arriving famished about 9 pm at her magnificent apartment on the rue Traversière-Saint-Honoré after a performance, she descended to the kitchen and demanded a meal. Her landlord, the Sieur de Langlois, refused, saying meals were not part of her lease. She thereupon pulled a hunk of mutton off a spit taken from the oven and flung it at him, hitting the door through which he was beating a retreat. The cook, a woman, brandished the spit, so Maupin struck her with a huge door key and, with her "sister" (doubtless a current partner) and three lackeys, floored her with kicks and punches. A justice of the peace (commissaire) presently arrived and ended the brawl. Witnesses gave depositions the next day, but for some reason the case was filed away.

Maupin's belligerency erupted again in connection with Albert and the duchess of Luxemburg. He had continued his relations with Maupin whenever he was on leave, but he became Luxemburg's lover, too. Albert was imprisoned for two years for a duel with Luxemburg's former lovers, but after his release (December 29, 1702) he resumed his double affair. In a fit of cold rage one day, Maupin stole up beside Luxemburg while she was at prayer at Saint-Roch and murmured that if she did not break off with Albert she would blow her brains out with her pistol. The incident caused a stir for several days.

Maupin cooled off, but Albert continued to see Luxemburg. After he returned to the army, Maupin sent him a touching poem (probably ghost-written by Danchet), and he replied in kind. But when he arrived again on leave, he took up with the Prince de Condé's mistress, Mme de Mussy . Maupin now turned to what proved to be her last love.

Saint-Simon's memoirs describe Marie-Thérèse-Louise de Sanneterre de Lestrange , Marquise de Florensac (1671–1705), as "perhaps the most beautiful woman in France … the gentlest, the most simple in her beauty." She also was rich and promiscuous. Louis XIV exiled her to a convent for a time because of an affair with the dauphin. After her return in 1701, she continued her affairs, including one with the duke of Orléans. In 1703, she began a liaison with Maupin. Since Florensac had not been known as bisexual, her attraction to Maupin seems puzzling. The liaison remained astonishingly discreet; no mention appears in surviving chansons, which retailed every tidbit du jour.

On July 2, 1705, Florensac died after only a two-day illness, reportedly puerperal fever. Maupin, who had opened on May 26 in La Barre's La Vénitienne, was devastated. She immediately forsook the stage, never to return.

In her agony, religion became her stay. She contemplated entering an order, but the decision proved exceedingly difficult. She turned to Albert, the only person still linking her to the world. In his return letter, he chose to assume she indeed was leaving society, and only insisted on how much it pained him. If in her heart of hearts she wanted him to dissuade her, he disappointed her. What became of her is largely a mystery. It appears she continued in prayer and repentance, but probably was still bracing herself to become a nun when she died, reportedly in November 1707. That she founded a chapel and hospice or moved to Provence, as some versions assert, seems unlikely. Her principal biographer speculates that she lived in a quiet Paris suburb. Where and how she died and was buried are unknown. In December, a long chanson about all the Opera stars and their doings omitted any mention of her.

Maupin did not disappear altogether from the public's consciousness. Théophile Gautier entitled his first novel Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835); and Balzac, in Béatrix (1839), has a female author disguise her name as "Camille Maupin." Gautier's cross-dressing heroine bears little resemblance to the historical figure; he uses a few attributes and names—Maupin in disguise is "Théodore de Sérannes"—but that is all. He and other Romantics used androgyny to challenge traditional social codes, especially in regard to sexual roles, so allusions to the historical Maupin served them well.

Cameron Rogers calls Maupin "one of the most baffling figures in history." Would even a Dumas or Maupassant have invented a sword-wielding, bisexual, transvestite opera star? Contemporaries shook their heads in amazement, admiring her talent and verve while making no pretense of understanding this woman who mocked all conventional norms.

For an all-too-brief time she was one of the most celebrated of opera singers, the first mezzo-soprano in French operas to play leading roles. At the same time, she was a crack swords-woman, the most famous female duelist on record. And not least of all, she was a renowned bisexual and transvestite with seemingly boundless sexual appetites yet, even so, capable of serious, sincere love. Like all people, but more sharply than most, she reflected her times, in her case the latter years of Louis XIV's reign, when courtly society, defying Mme de Maintenon and the king's strictures, "cultivated vice with a refined dilettantism." Beautiful and brave, with a devil-may-care swagger absent affectation, d'Aubigny Maupin strode down the perilous streets of 17th-century Paris—in all her virtues and vices, truly one of a kind.


Beaumont, Édouard de. The Sword and Womankind: Being an Informative History of Indiscreet Revelations. Adapted from the French version, L'Épée et les femmes (1882). NY: Panurge Press, 1929.

Clayton, Ellen Creathorne. Queens of Song. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1972. Repr. of 1865 ed.

Companion to Baroque Music. Julie Sadie, ed. NY: Schirmer Books, 1990.

Cook, Ellen Piel. Psychological Androgyny. NY: Pergamon Press, 1985.

Dautheville, Anne-France. Julie, Chévalier de Maupin. Paris: Jean-Claude Lattès, 1995. Informed but romanticized.

Donington, Robert. The Rise of Opera. NY: Scribner, 1981.

Gilbert, Oscar Paul. Women in Men's Guise. Trans. by J. Lewis May. London: John Lane, 1932.

Letainturier-Fradin, G.-J.-A.-P. La Maupin: sa vie, ses duels, ses aventures. Paris: Ernest Flammarion, 1904 (the most reliable single work).

Music and Society: The Late Baroque Era, from the 1680s to 1740. George J. Buelow, ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1993.

New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Stanley Sadie, ed. NY: Macmillan, 1980.

New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Stanley Sadie, ed. NY: Macmillan, 1992.

Pierson, Peter. "Music in the Reign of Louis XIV," in The Reign of Louis XIV: Essays in Celebration of Andrew Lossky. Paul Sonnino, ed. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International, 1990.

Rogers, Cameron. Gallant Ladies. NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1928.

Smith, Albert B. Ideal and Reality in the Fictional Narratives of Théophile Gautier. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1969.

suggested reading:

Barker, Nancy Nichols. Brother to the Sun King: Philippe, Duke of Orleans. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1989.

Campardon, Émile. L'Académie Royale de Musique au 18e siècle. Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1884.

Fétis, François-Joseph. Biographie universelle des musiciennes. 2nd ed. 8 vols. Brussels: Culture et Civilisation, 1972. Orig. pub. 1873–75.

Lajarte, Théodore de, ed. Bibliothèque musicale du Théâtre de l'Opéra. Paris: Librairie des Bibliophiles, 1876.

Lewis, W.H. The Sunset of the Splendid Century: The Life and Times of Louis Auguste de Bourbon, Duc de Maine, 1670–1736. NY: William Sloane Associates, 1955.

Wolf, John B. Louis XIV. NY: W.W. Norton, 1968.

Ziegler, Gilette. At the Court of Versailles: Eye-Witness Reports from the Reign of Louis XIV. Translated by Simon Watson Taylor. NY: E.P. Dutton, 1966.

David S. Newhall , Pottinger Distinguished Professor of History Emeritus, Centre College, Danville, Kentucky

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Maupin, d'Aubigny (c. 1670–1707)

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