East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

The French Swordmistress: Julie d’Aubigny


I am about two thousand words into a story that starts with a swordfight between a woman in a green silk dress and a nun, in the smoke-chocked corridor of a burning convent.
This will be my entry – should the editor deem it worthy – in the new collection of Italian sword & sorcery published by Acheron Books.
And the woman in green is, obviously, inspired by mademoiselle de Maupin. And really, I was sure I had posted about her in the past but I did not, so here we go.

Julie d’Aubigny was born in 1673, the daughter of a secretary of the Count d’Armagnac. She became the count’s lover at the age of fourteen, and thenmarried her off to a Monsieur de Maupin, from which she took the name of Madame de Maupin.

Still in her mid-teens she also started an affair with a sword master, and with him she fled to Marseille, where she started a successful career as a duelist. In other words the not-yet seventeen years old Julie would first provoke and then fight men for money. She also sang in taverns and later on joined a company of street performers and traveling actors.
And by 1690 she was in the Operà de Paris as an opera singer.
In the meantime, anyway, she found the time to fall in love with a young woman, and when the family had the girl sent to a convent in Avignon, la Maupin disguised herself as a nun, got into the convent, killed a nun, set fire to the premises and eloped with her paramour – only to send her back home after three months of passion.

For the facts of the Avignon convent, La Maupin was charged with kidnapping, body snatching, arson, and failing to appear before the tribunal. The sentence was death by fire.
Lucky her, nobody had realized she was a woman, and therefore the law kept looking for a man as the responsible of the fire and homicide.

She also had a number of male lovers, including a guy she had dueled against, and wounded.

She went on to become a popular opera singer, cross-dresser and all-around firebrand, having a number of affairs with both men and women throughout her brief life: according to the official records, Julie d’Aubigny, mademoiselle de Maupin, died in Provence at the age of 33, possibly by her own hand.

La Maupin was an icon in her time, and became the subject of novels (most notably, by Theophile Gautier, who preferred to write a romance than a biography), movies and even a musical.
And all of the above – plus the bits and pieces I left out, is one of the main reasons why I like writing historical fantasy.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

2 thoughts on “The French Swordmistress: Julie d’Aubigny

  1. Was this the chick that dueled men bare-breasted?


    • I am not sure.
      As far as I know, all women in the 19th century dueled bare-breasted because the dress would have hindered their movement.
      But all the images I found of la Maupin show her in male attire and with her boobs well covered.
      She DOES bare her breasts in a scene of the novel, to show some guy she’s not a bloke after all. But as for dueling, she apparently did it fully clothed.


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