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La Maupin

In this week’s episode of Bustles & Broadswords, we dig a favourite episode from the archive…it’s time for some bi opera drama with everyone’s favourite 17th century duelling and singing troublemaker…Julie d’Aubigny aka La Maupin!

Transcript 

Hello and welcome. To Bustles and Broadswords. This is a podcast about women with swords throughout history, fiction and the queer territory in between.
I’m your sword-wielding and storytelling host, Claire Mead. And today’s episode is one from the archives in the earlier version of this podcast, pre-reboot. In fact – one of the very first episodes, from way back in May 2020. It set a lot of the groundwork for the theme of this season around performance…with an opera singer who brings all the chaotic bisexual high drama you never knew you needed. So, without further ado – take it away, Spring 2020 Claire!

I’m an independent curator, an art historian and a fencer. Which I can tell you right now, as I record this in lockdown…is a challenge. There’s only so much you can do in your back garden without people to actually fence against. Much of what I’m actually doing is hitting a target attached to a tree in my garden much to my neighbours’ concern or entertainment. But we all need ways to cope and aside from solo fencing – sharing knowledge about something I am passionate about, for me, is one of them.
So here I am, ready to dive in with you about something that I find very soothing and fun…ladies with swords’ histories. And I’m starting with this story because…it’s awesome. Give me your most exciting story and I’ll give ou a tale of a charismatic and adventurous French bisexual 17th century opera singing woman in breeches including duelling, an escape from a convent and…arson.

Now bear in mind this story is out of control – not just in the content, but also in its sources. What we do know is that our heroine did exist – but some versions of her story and how much was embellished over time differs. How much is history and how much is fiction? That’s something we need to bear in mind in this larger than life story. What I’m about to tell you is a result of various historical sources patched together in my retelling of it. So…grab a sword and hold onto your breeches. This is…Julie d’Aubigny, or, as she was also known, La Maupin.

Julie is born around 1670 in Paris, the only daughter of Gaston d’Aubigny, who is the secretary to the Count of Armagnac. A little bit about this Count – he’s actually a big deal. His role is to look after King Louis XIV’s pages and his horses as the Great Stablemaster of France. D’Aubigny on the other hand, is a bit of a rascal who loves drinking, fighting and the ladies. No one drinks like Gaston, no one flirts like Gaston…no one raises his only child like Gaston.

She is raised in the shadows of Versailles and learns everything a proper lady should know at the time in 17th century France. You know: literature, drawing, dancing, horse-riding and…sword fighting! Taught by Gaston himself and allegedly a mix of pretty good fencing professors.

So yes, admittedly the swordfighting part is nor very traditional for a 17th century girl but Julie would have been raised alongside stable-boys and used to a different kind of life. But as she grows up, her dad is difficult and controlling of who she can date. Ultimately, she ends up with someone he can’t confront – the count of Armagnac itself. A heads up here that we are talking about an underage relationship (if you want to skip 30 seconds or so if you want to avoid hearing about that). We need to point out here, importantly that Julie would have been around 15. There’s an obvious power imbalance here in terms of not only quite obviously age and gender but also class and hierarchy and we can never use “oh, it was another time” to downplay it. That’s not the point. It cannot be used as a way to excuse this power imbalance and this relationship. It’s an uncomfortable truth part of so many girls’ and women’s histories – but one I didn’t want to erase or sugar-coat.

Julie is introduced by the count to the court of Versailles – this is an important step for this daughter of a servant to royalty who is probably well to do but not part of the courtly nobility. But to somehow disguise their ongoing relationship, the count says “you know what? Let’s give you a cover-up wedding”! Every girl’s dream. Enter Mr Maupin, from St-Germain en Laye, a town next to Paris. Coincidentally, I went to school there and it has a really neat archaeological castle-museum so it’s somehow interesting.

That much cannot be said about M.Maupin.

Maybe he had a rich, complex inner life but in this story, he is pretty much useless. The sham marriage happens, but then the Count ends things with Julie. At this point, Julie’s husband gets a job that sounds about as fascinating as him: an administrative taxes job in the South of France. I’m of course kidding – I’d never insult the South of France like that. So…it’s unclear how this happens. Versions vary. Some sources suggest Maupin’s friends got him the job…others that it was the Count’s idea to get Julie out of Paris…and others that it was maybe Julie’s influence. Which makes what happens next even funnier if that’s the case for either of those two last options because Julie decides “Ha, joke’s on you…not going to follow my husband, I’ll just stay in Paris.” So either her plan to get her husband out of her way works perfectly…or the count’s plan majorly backfires.

So let’s sum up: it’s been several years by now, Julie is officially married so under no obligation to do your basic young woman courtship and debutante balls to marry – but her husband’s away and doesn’t seem to care who she’s with or what she does outside their marriage and as a bonus, she’s no longer a mistress to a powerful count controlling what she does. So…she’s in a pretty exceptional position. She’s free! And she uses that freedom to do what we’d all do after a break-up: getting into sword fights with young nobles. Because Julie’s not just free – she’s looking for adventure and she’s got her father’s trouble-making streak alongside a love of the blade. While she’s visiting fencing clubs, she falls in love with a young man called Sérannes. Allegedly he’s her fencing teacher but she would have already been trained already by her father and other instructors so it’s pretty clear he wouldn’t actually have much to teach her – she reportedly could already hold her own in a fight. Sérannes and Julie share a love for the blade – and for getting in trouble. With none other than Paris’ chief of police! 17th century Parisian cop Nicolas-Gabriel de La Reynie would have policed many things and one of those things is anti-duelling laws.

Because here’s the thing: all of France and, to be honest, all of Europe alongside it at the time has a bit of a duelling addiction. Let’s recap on the basics of the duel. A duel isn’t just “hey, let’s start hitting each other with sharp metal sticks spontaneously”. It’s an arranged commitment between two people. Yes, exactly like marriage. But with swords. And later guns. So hopefully not exactly like marriage. There were predetermined rules (for example: stopping when first blood was drawn, or slightly more dramatically, until your opponent is dead at which point there’s not really much extra you can do – and usually you would need at least one witness on either side to make sure there was no cheating.

Duelling develops in early modern Europe (and by “modern” we actually mean from the late 15th century onwards). It’s adapted from knights’ jousting matches but also – the medieval judicial duel which is perhaps the most ridiculous way of settling a legal argument ever. Say you have a matter that challenged someone’s honour that could NOT be settled in court – well, you’d fight over it with your swords until one of them couldn’t fight back. And in some early cases, if you were defeated – you were then executed. Fun, right? Duelling continued though as an acceptable way to solve issues – sometimes pretty petty issues. And was mainly fought by the aristocracy who have the means and frankly, the time to fight each other over their “honour” when everyone else was trying to get by in the hell that is an oppressive feudal system rigged to benefit only 1% of the population. Thank God things have changed, right? Right…? Ahem! But even before Julie is born, duelling is starting to cause problems. Namely well…the aristocrats are all brutally maiming or murdering each other. Because never mind the reduced life expectancy and disease, you know what we also need? That’s right. A reverse Hunger Games for bored rich people. King Louis XIII, probably fed up with the high turnover of aristocrats lost to duelling, bans it in 1626. His son Louis XIV also fights to eliminate duelling. But between 1685 and 1716, 10,000 duels were fought with 400 deaths amongst French officers alone. So that’s not even the highest number. There were probably a lot more – and a lot more deaths. Close duel bracket – for now.

Long story short  if you were smart – which our story’s protagonists aren’t neccessarily – there was usually a lot of sneaking around when you actually want to duel – and law wise, that’s a big no-no. So back to our story. La Reynie accuses Sérannes of fighting a duel behind a church, leading to the death of a man – and Sérannes escapes from Paris with Julie, determined to start a new life in Marseilles, in the South of France. But it’s revealed that Sérannes, like many of us in life, doesn’t really know what he’s doing. And Julie is not the type to wait at home and assign him as the main breadwinner so she helps them both earn a living. They find a nice entertainment slot where they give flamboyant duelling demonstrations, sing and tell tales in the streets and taverns. During these fencing demos Julie would defeat Sérannes – probably causing a sensation amongst audiences not used to a dashing duelling woman.

There are some records describing Julie and let’s be fair – they paint a pretty flattering picture. She’s described as a strikingly beautiful woman with dark curly hair, an aquiline nose, bright blue eyes and, apparently, perfect breasts. This last detail is how you know straight men are responsible for recording these important facts. Another thing we know about Julie is that she prefers men’s clothing – and that definitely feeds into the allure of her duelling demonstrations with Sérannes. Because while the practical aspect is one thing, another is what I like to call “the scandalous frisson of gender nonconformity.”

This is a good time to tell you that 17th century Europe is obsessed with the idea of a woman in men’s clothing. I’m going to perhaps make a lot of gender studies historians angry but oversimplifying but essentially I’ll just slip into the mind of a 17th century person watching our Julie in breeches for a second – watching what would have been a striking, slightly androgynous woman in tight trousers. “Damn, isn’t a woman dressed as a man transgressive and wrong…and doesn’t that make it kind of hot?” It’s a weird contrast for sure but for me it actually has so many comparisons with the way society treats gender non-conforming and queer women (which is handy here because our hero is a bisexual icon herself).

One one hand you have the idea of the “virago” – the masculine warrior woman, who is othered because of her masculine, aggressive traits and shunned for being outside of the feminine norm. On the other hand – there’s this fascination and often sexualisation of women disguised as men taking part in traditionally masculine acts such as fighting while retaining their own femininity or returning to it by the end of the story. With a constant undercurrent of ambiguity regarding another trait seen as “masculine” – courting women. This double standard kind of reminds me of the way society will still vilify masculine and gender non-confirming queer women, and either sexualise or erase femme-presenting queer women.

While later on in our story Julie would sometimes wear men’s clothes as a disguise at this stage they serve more as a theatrical prop for her performances. She was probably well aware of the fascination and scandal involved in seeing a woman in gasp…breeches! Would provoke! In fact there’s a great anecdote about that and whether or not it’s entirely true, it does capture Julie’s spirit. Allegedly, at some point during one performance a heckler shouts that she must be a man – presumably not believing a woman can fence like that. Julie decides to answer in her own special way by tearing her shirt open to flash everyone her boobs. What a power move.

But Julie isn’t just a talented fencer it turns out. It turns out she has a pretty good singing voice! She’s admitted to a music academy in Marseille run by an influential theatre director around 1685. She starts her singing career – and soon is working at the Marseilles Opera! By this point, we know Sérannes may also be working there but he fades away somewhat from her story. But we hear more about Julie’s interest for the ladies.

Because there, at the Marseilles Opera…she meets and falls in love with a young woman. We don’t have an official recorded name for her. Some obscure source believe her name may have been Cécilia Bortigali. I’ll use this name for narration’s sake, but let’s take it with a big pinch of salt. Cécilia is seduced by Julie…and completely falls for her. But her parents react along the lines of “it’s the 17th century and like many 21st century families even now we are homophobic as heck”. So what do they do? Well, perfectly reasonable…they place her in a convent. Allegedly the couvent des Visitandines in Avignon.

Because truly, nothing says “gotta get our daughter away from falling in love with girls” than putting her in an enclosed space full of women, some of which actually didn’t really want to be spiritually married to God. So, what does Julie do about this? Well…what anyone would do in that situation when your girlfriends’ parents won’t let her out to see you – you sneak in. Julie doesn’t have time for your homophobic crap. She’s gotta save her girlfriend from this life of non-sin. So Julie improvises and infiltrates the nunnery. Which makes it sound like a high stakes espionnage. Which…it kind of is. She gives up her men’s clothing for the habit. But her bad habits don’t stop there. So she finds Cécilia at the convent and you might be thinking. That’s really cute. Now we’re probably going to have a Princess-Bride style escape where they run away on white horses right? But if you know Julie you know that a slightly flamboyant more escape is coming. Emphasis on flames. It starts with an old nun dying. I think it’s important to note at this stage that Julie did not murder her, as far as we know. But what she did do was steal her corpse, put it in her lover’s room and…set the whole place on fire as a diversion as they made their escape. Yeah. She did that.

I’d love to tell you this was the violent and romantic if slightly disturbing beginning to a blossoming lifelong love story. But this is real life and Julie is a bit of a player. So they enjoy three months or so together and then Julie says…you know what? This was fun! Bye! She drops her girlfriend off at her parents to run off for new adventures. Wow. Julie is all of our bad exes. Now you’re maybe thinking…okay…well that was something else. That alone would give Julie a pretty good position in the hall of fame of women with swords with flamboyant, dramatic lives. But this is only the beginning. It also starts with the trial of a certain d’Aubigny by the Tribunal d’Aix condemned for kidnapping, arson and whatever the criminal term is for stealing a poor old nun’s body. Dead nun-napping? Except the person condemned to burn at the stake is a “Monsieur” d’Aubigny. Hm. So basically a way to cover up the fact two women had an affair and one infiltrated a convent to save her loved one. Which makes you think: how many other stories have been covered up this way in historical records through deliberate misgendering and erasure?

Maybe we’ll never know. But what we do know is that our living out loud disaster bisexual isn’t really going to wait for that condemnation to catch up with her – since she is also accused for the absence at her own trial. Or at the trial of “Monsieur” d’Aubigny She heads off Paris, but doesn’t get there straight-away – even hot-headed Julie knows you can’t just waltz into Paris after being condemned of kidnapping, arson and nun body snatching. So she kind of makes do along the way and sings in taverns for a living. She meets an old alcoholic actor called Maréchal who sees potential in her and teaches her some singing for a while. It honestly sounds like the plot to some heartfelt movie about a grumpy old man teaching a young troublemaker. And I love it. This confirms to Julie that she has actual singing talent and could have some kind of opera career in Paris. After they part ways, she continues north. Now she’s in the town of Villeperdue.

She’s wearing her men’s clothing and in the process of leaving the stables at the tavern she’s staying at for a few nights when three men block her way and start heckling her about whether or not she’s a girl – which pisses her off and, because this is Julie, she ends up challenging one of them to a duel.

They spar and she drives her blade through her inexperienced opponent’s shoulder – at which point, a fair player and having proved her point about not messing with her, she pulls it out and goes to her room. But she feels kind of bad about it so the next day she asks the village doctor who attended to his wounds if her opponent is going to be okay. She also finds out his name is Louis-Joseph d’Albert de Luynes and he’s the son of a duke. That night one of his lackeys visits and tells her Louis-Joseph is sorry for having offended her. There’s nothing like a woman spearing you after you catcall her for an apology for being terrible to suddenly emerge. And she doesn’t respond by simply relaying “it’s all good” back to the lackey. She goes to her wounded opponent’s room – in her women’s clothes. Which soon hit the floor. Julie stays on to help him heal and they fall in love. But they can’t stay there forever – Louis-Joseph has to join the king’s regiment. Julie would like to join him in Paris but she can’t yet – she’s still condemned and it’s too risky. So she kind of wanders around. And despite Louis-Joseph and Julie loving each other very much – she’s still on a roll lovers wise.

She bands up with another singer, Gabriel-Vincent Thévenard and as they make their way to Paris, he falls desperately in love with her. But Julie still has this condemnation issue. So she goes to the residence of her old acquaintance – the Count of Armagnac! He promises to petition the King – who accepts! So finally Julie is free, she’s pardoned, it’s 1690 and Paris is her playground. When Julie gets back there her beautiful contralto voice guarantees her a better and longer career at the Paris Opera than as a nun. Perhaps because she didn’t try to set the Opera on fire. There, she takes on the name Maupin since, in spite of everything, she needs a break from the D’Aubigny name associated with her condemnation. And her first role in the opera “Cadmus and Hermione”, by composer Jean-Baptiste Lully is that of Athena – the Greek goddess of wisdom and war. Which seems pretty accurate for her. Well, at least the war part. Now there’s some speculation that Julie’s love of masculine clothing translated to the scene. It was pretty common for the time for some masculine roles on stage to be played by women. But we don’t have any evidence for this and most of the recorded roles she played seem to have been goddesses, queens and…even a warrior woman!

So after all this some may be thinking that at this point in her twenties this is the “I’m going to settle down and just have a flamboyant career on stage with no duelling and no drama” part of her story. But if you’ve followed me so far you’ll join me in saying: as if! Julie’s living for the drama and she decides it’s a great idea for her moonlight as a duellist. And she still enjoys dressing as a man in doing so. And as you can imagine, Julie’s messy drama doesn’t stop at the doors of the theatre and she seems great at just either falling for people or challenging them to duels, both within the Opera and beyond its walls. She has a crush on leading lady soprano Marthe Le Rochois, playing the role of Hermione – and later the soprano Fanchon Moreau taking over as the lead soprano after Le Rochois retires.

But let’s get to the duelling part, shall we? So, Julie intensely dislikes his one singer at the Opéra, Duménil. In our story at least he’s a rude guy who keeps chasing the women of the Opéra and apparently steals stuff from them. Julie hates him in particular because he’s been rude and insulted her two crushes, Fanchon Moreau and Marthe Le Rochois. And then he tries to flirt with her and she’s like “dream on, loser.” Like many men who are rejected after being sleazy, he does what so many men still do today when creepy messages have failed: he insults her. And Julie threatens him – that he’d better watch it. Later on, Duménil is crossing Place des Victoires in the evening when a figure in the shadows challenges him to a duel. He refuses though – saying he doesn’t want to duel with a stranger. This stranger promptly beats him up with a cane – and steals his snuffbox (a fancy tobacco box). The next day, Duménil shows up at the Opéra, with the visible signs of having been beaten up. He loudly proclaims he was mugged by three men and put up a fair fight but they managed to subdue him and…stole his watch and snuffbox. At which point…Julie speaks up. She says, how interesting you say it was three men…because as I recall I beat you up myself after you refused to duel me. Oh, you all want proof? And she reveals his watch and snuffbox. If mics existed in 17th century France, you would have heard one drop.

Julie isn’t afraid to stand up for herself – or to stand out, as this next anecdote shows. Let’s set the scene. A royal ball at the Palais-Royal. Now we are not quite sure who arranged it – but many sources suggest it was Monsieur – the brother of King Louis XIV. Julie makes her entrance. And as always, she’s going to be unapologetically herself. Her bisexual, gender non-conforming badass self. Picture this: a striking woman entering the ballroom in dashing men’s clothing, turning heads and provoking as much admiration as confusion in her glorious ambiguity. She’s confident. She’s got swagger. And a beautiful woman catches her eye. She flirts with her for a whil – and after proposing they find someplace more intimate, she does something exceptional. She kisses her, right there on the dancefloor, in front of everyone. At this moment, three shadows appear to surround them – three men, three angry suitors who also had their eye on the object Julie’s affections. And they aren’t happy about Julie’s forward manners. And she says something like this: “Oh, you want to duel? Let’s take this outside.”

They go to the gardens and Julie being Julie challenges all three of them to fight her at once. And probably underestimating her, they accept. We’re not quite sure if she only injures them or finishes them off – but she emerges victorious and returns alone to the party. But when she discreetly tries to slip back into the ballroom (well, as discreetly as Julie can manage, being Julie), she comes face to face, in some versions at least with none other than Monsieur the brother of the king, who would already have been introduced to her. Who reminds her that duelling is forbidden and she’s facing severe consequences.

But something about Julie’s story and who she is prompts Monsieur to forgiveness. I’d like to imagine one reason why, although it may just be wishful thinking. Most of the court would have heard or told rumours about this secret hidden in plain sight – Monsieur loves men. He’s married, certainly, but he has his male lovers in secret – a secret he could never live out loud in the eyes of the court or of his brother. And although this is just speculation on my part and we have no evidence about this – I’d like to think that Julie’s brazen kiss provoked unspoken solidarity on his part. No, we’ll never know. But regardless, this is a moment in which a queer man and a queer woman locked eyes in a restrictive, heteronormative court and perhaps recognised something in each other’s experienced that no-one else around them could understand. And I wanted to acknowledge that.

Whatever the truth, he is sympathetic about Julie’s story or simply takes a liking to her, and promises to do his best to defend her. But he advises her to lay low in the meantime.

Ultimately, a little while later, the King will decide that his law only applies to male duellists. Once again – Julie is pardoned. But by the time she gets the memo – she’s already escaped to Brussels in Belgium. While she’s there she casually becomes the mistress of, oh, the governor of the Spanish Netherlands, Maximilian Emmanuel. When he grows bored of her he rudely sends her 40 000 francs via the husband of his new lover which she rejects, leaving Brussels. She then ends up in Madrid, at the service of the snooty Countess Marino. It doesn’t go great. In fact, Julie’s parting gift to her before she sneaks off back to Paris is to prepare an elaborate hairstyle for her for a great ball, with a spicy little twist all but the Countess could see – a dozen or so radishes garnishing the back of her hair! Our prankster is now back in Paris and continues to thrive as part of the Opera. While continuing her pretty remarkable career – she even gets an opera “Tancrède” with a main role written specifically for her contralto voice – pretty rare at the time if you weren’t a soprano.

But love finds her again, in the form of the Marquise de Florensac. Saint-Simon, a politician whose delightfully snarky commentary in his memoirs gives us insight into 17th and 18th century court life, described her as the “most beautiful woman in France”. They fall in love and live together for a few years – but tragically, their relationship ends with the Marquise de Florensac’s death from illness. We are now in 1705 and, whether due to heartbreak from her lover’s death or a general weariness, she retires from the Opera. Some sources suggest she suddenly remembers she has a husband and he returns from Provence for them to live together until his death. The end of her life, merely a few years after the death of her Marquise and her exit from the Opera stage, is a sad one. And her death seems so at odds with the glittering, flamboyant splendour that accompanied her life. Not going down in a duel on the streets, but quietly in, perhaps in the most ironic twist of all – a convent.

I have told you a delicious story with dashes of duelling, splashes of singing drama and a big helping of bisexual bravado. Now it’s time to add, as I have mentioned, a big pinch of salt. Did Julie d’Aubigny actually exist? Yes. We actually have a record of her in the Dictionnaire Des Théâtres De Paris, Volume 3 from 1757. But there’s much in her story which feels like when you slightly embellish a story to make it more palatable for social media but transposed to 17th century France and a bunch of different people telling their own legends and very very romanticised biographies till no-one is quite sure what is fact and what is fiction. Even her name, for some, is up for debate. Perhaps the best representation of this is Théophile Gautier’s book Mademoiselle de Maupin, in 1835. Initially asked to write an account of her life, Gautier instead writes a novel loosely based around her life in which Julie cross-dresses as Sérannes and is an androgynous figure making both men and women fall for her. The book was banned in many places notably by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, for being too naughty about its depictions of love regardless of gender. It was also accompanied in a later edition by an illustration of La Maupin herself by English illustrator and author Aubrey Beardsley – known for his erotic, camp and decidedly queer depictions. And this black and white engraving from 1898 doesn’t disappoint. It shows D’Aubigny in men’s clothing, a picture of androgyny and ambiguity. A sword at her side, she looks like she’s in the process of either fitting on her glove or removing it. The latter would have been a hallmark of duelling culture where “throwing down your gauntlet” would have been an insulting gesture and would have required a duel to respond to – slapping with a glove would also have been customary as a gesture that needed to be responded to, to defend your honour. And yet, throwing down your glove as a woman would have been a seductive gesture – prompting a man to pick it ip. So it is a nice little touch which I’d like to interpret as a sign of her ambiguous gender non-conforming nature. Is she dropping her glove to seduce – or throwing it down to fight? A reproduction is currently kept at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and you can admire it for yourself on their website under the name “Mademoiselle de Maupin.”

Julie’s story would prompt a lot of fictional adaptations in the wake of Gautier’s – including plays, films and even a musical! But my favourite is the novel Goddess by Kelly Gardiner. Thanks to years of research, she weaves a passionate and powerful retelling of d’Aubigny story. Rather than a biography it is a brilliantly written fictional re-interpretation rooted in what we know of Julie’s story with some wonderful twists in the narrative that will give you a few surprises I won’t spoiler here! From it emerges a complex and many-layered, bisexual and gender non-conforming heroine in a story I, full disclosure, started and finished in the space of a day because I was so taken in. I’m really grateful for this story. Because to me it also shows how powerful Julie d’Aubigny remains as an icon, as a hot-headed, adventurous, breech-wearing and sword-wielding bisexual who didn’t let anything or anyone get in her way. Yes, let’s acknowledge that it’s a story that wavers between history and legend. But let’s continue adding new versions to the legend. Let’s never get tired of it. Because it means something to us – and it shows us a heroine who didn’t fight for her country, her father or for any sense of moral duty but because she could – to live her own life on her own terms. To be herself – and to be free. And for that – we’ll always remember her and we’ll keep on telling her story.

Time for sources and recommended reading! Firstly, as I have mentioned, big mention to Kelly Gardiner and a big recommendation from me to read her novel “Goddess” which was rooted in years’ worth of research and whose listing of sources allowed me to collate together some remaining information I was missing on. She also wrote a great article on her website called The real life of Julie d’Aubigny. Also big mention Rejected Princesses, Jason Porath’s ongoing project, which includes a brilliant illustration and piece on d’Aubigny. Rejected Princesses is an amazing project to compile and illustrate the stories of women too politically incorrect or brutal to be your typical “Disney Princess”, and each illustration or comic has that Disney Princess cute style contrasting hilariously with the outrageous, heroic or downright bloody things those women got up to. Amateur historian Jim Burrows’ summary of D’Aubigny’s life was also a great dramatic, beautifully written interpretation of her story. The sources they use and that I have used as well are the Dictionnaire Des Théâtres De Paris, Volume 3 from 1757 for the historic record of d’Aubigny, Oscar Gilbert’s Women In Men’s Guise from 1926, Cameron Rogers’ Gallant Ladies from 1928 and an earlier French account called Gabriel Letainturier-Fradin, La Maupin, sa vie, ses duels, ses aventures. Richard Cohen in his history of fencing “By the Sword” touches upon her story and it’s also where I was able to collect a bit more information on the logistics of duelling in 17th century France. 

If after that you want to plunge back into a more fictionalised account as a palate cleanser, and you’ve already finished Goddess, a book banned for its scandalousness is always fun and so is Gautier’s 1835 novel if you like 19th century swashbuckling romance. 

Thank you very much for listening. I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode – researched, narrated and produced by me, Claire Mead. My co-producer Theo the household cat accidentally made it into the first recording of this episode and I didn’t have the heart to cut him out so listen to the end for a cat cameo. 

Awkward transition back from archival Claire to present podcast Claire. That works!

Don’t worry – you’re still getting the cat cameo from Theo at the end. I’m not a monster. I should add that Theo has since then moved away. He’s very happy in his new home. But there won’t be any extra cat cameos from Theo so enjoy that one. But I’m adding that for any Qs or your own sword lady story…write in at bustlesandbroadswords@gmail.com. I’m stil figuring out how a sword lesbian Q&A corner would work but we’ll figure it out together. Look at me exploiting the parasocial relationship [gremlin laughing]. In the meantime you can follow the podcast at @bustleswordpod on social media. And you can find me on most social media platforms trying to procrastinate from writing, narrating and producing this podcast at @carmineclaire.

Stay safe sword lady lovers and see you in a future episode!

Next time on Bustles and Broadswords…

This is a woman who refused to play a game she didn’t have a chance of winning. A wrestler in control of her destiny. And the inspiration for an Opera that ended up taking more than a few liberties with her legacy. Yet which, in many ways, crossed paths with that of a few other iconic women – on screen and on the ring. 

En garde and see you then!

[podcast recording interrupted much cat meowing and purring]

Show Notes 

 

  • Sources and Recommended Reading:
    Alfred Cohen, By the Sword
    Kelly Gardiner, The real life of Julie d’Aubigny
    Julie’s entry in Jason Porath’s Rejected Princesses 
  • Images:
    Aubrey Beardsley, Mlle de Maupin, V&A website 

By Claire Mead

Independant curator and art historian. I did my BA Art History at Oxford University and my MA in Curating at the Courtauld. Now based in Paris, I write about art, undertake independant research and curate contemporary art exhibitions and projects.

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