La Maupin – feminist icon and total badass

la maupin

Feminist icon and badass: La Maupin was a bisexual swordsmaster and opera singer who used her skills to fight for any woman’s honour.

Dear La Maupin,

Look, you’re amazing and you know it. You adored cross-dressing and pulled off a glittering career as a bisexual swordfighter, duellist, sexually confident bedhopping minx, part-time nun and singing star in the most famous Paris opera of all time.

We can’t believe that so few people have heard of your exploits. With your tenacity you should have been the first musketeer, never mind the fourth one. We presume that few people have written about you because they couldn’t come to terms with the fact you weren’t a man. Even though you dressed like one most of the time.

In honesty, though, what we love about you’ve is that you used rather than abused the privileges you were born to. You had a deeply ingrained sense of honour, and would duel to defend any woman whose honour had been slighted by a rude gesture or coarse remark.

And what’s best of all is that after a deliriously adventurous lifetime of bucking the system and acting like a larger-than-life hero you actually got away with it! It makes a change from all those poor heroines that get given such a hard time in Thomas Hardy novels.

We like that you got away with murder. Because so few women do.

Love, Mookychick xxx

Best La Maupin Quotes:

“Dumenil, you liar and base coward! It was I alone who defeated you. You were afraid to fight and so I gave you a sound thrashing. As proof, I return to you your miserable watch and snuff-box.”

(After a guy who La Maupin beat singlehandedly in a duel – while dressed as a man – who claimed to everyone that he had been attacked by three robbers)

La Maupin Best Known For:

Being sexually confident, terribly famous at the time and having extremely good swordfighting skills

La Maupin Links:

La Maupin (We used this as a resource – with thanks)

La Maupin’s Background:

Born Julie D’Aubigny, La Maupin was a 17th century French swordswoman, adventuress and opera star and a swashbuckling hero. Privileged from birth, she was spoiled and confident – and knew how to manipulate influential friends and contacts – but she had a strong spirit and temperament, and relied on no-one but herself.

As an opera star it’s unsurprising that La Maupin preferred to be the centre of attention. When people talked of her she was as happy as a cat in cream, and it didn’t matter if the news spreading was the fame of her skill in the opera house or the infamy of her love trysts and duels, which were fought in earnest with the aim to draw blood.

Her father, the secretary of the Comte d’Armagnac, raised his daughter in much the way that royal pages were trained in the Comte’s household. She was instructed in writing, dancing, grammar, and drawing, and her own father trained her in the art of the sword. He seems to have thought that training with rapier and foil was the only way that one could be safe upon the streets of Paris, and determined to see his child safe, regardless of her gender. She repaid her father’s boss the Comte for her education by seducing him at the age of fourteen, thus gaining her entrance to the french Court.

Tall, dark, athletic, handsome, La Maupin would have made a great musketeer in any film. She was certainly one of the finest swordswomen of her day, and tested her swordfighting skills in exhibitions as well as in barely-legal duels.

La Maupin is thought to be bisexual as she sought the company of women as well as men. She also dressed like a man as often as she could. Her love life was never easy. After her affair with the Comte he married her off to keep their affair a secret, and – when he tired of her, or perhaps grew fearful of her strong will – he arranged for her husband to work in the south of France, assuming that La Maupin would follow him. However, La Maupin stayed put in Paris. Marriage to a man overseas freed her from the usual constraints placed on a wife and she had an affair with a fencing master who was at the time being chased by France’s first real policeman for killing a man in a duel – possibly one of the things she liked about him most.

Eventually (after slipping in a glittering career as an opera star in the renowned Paris Opera, one of the greatest theatres of its day) La Maupin tired of her fencing master and sought women instead, especially blondes who would show off her own dark colouring. One girlfriend was sent to a convent to keep the two separate. La Maupin promptly joined the convent to continue being with her, and when a nun there died, she dug up the body, put it in her girlfriend’s bed and set fire to the place so they could escape in the resulting confusion.

At this point we Mookychicks are exhausted from recounting tales of La Maupin because there are simply too many, but:

1) A tribunal of the Aix Parliament tried La Maupin and condemned her to death by fire for her crimes, which seem to have included kidnapping the novice, body snatching, setting fire to the convent, and failing to appear before the tribunal. She ran away.

2) She bested a nobleman in a duel and had a life-long affair with him

3) If people dared claim she was a man on account of her swordfighting skills being so good (and her habit of wearing men’s clothing) she would rip off her bodice and show them she was all woman, after all

4) La Maupin challenged three male attackers at once and defeated them in a duel after they took offence to her snogging a woman they themselves were trying to court at a ball

5) She got pardoned for her crimes, reconciled herself with her husband, got away with everything bad she’d ever done and died famous, married and happy. Huzzah!

Mooky Factor:

Like the nature of monkey, La Maupin’s mooky factor is irrepressible. We are so tired of hearing about women who bucked the system for awhile and then ‘paid for it’ by dying destitute and unloved and virtually unknown. La Maupin lived as she wanted to and got her just desserts at the end – and they tasted pretty good, too.

Image credit: The fictional Mademoiselle de Maupin, from Six Drawings Illustrating Theophile Gautier’s Romance Mademoiselle de Maupin by Aubrey Beardsley, 1898