Discover more from Dirtbags Through the Ages
the nun also rises
Or, just how many people Julie d'Aubigny can stab on her speed run through life.
Happy New Year, friends! Dirtbag Nation is back and better than ever!
That’s a lie. Dirtbag Nation is back and exactly the same. But I’m still happy to be here, and we’re kicking off 2023 with a real barnstormer of a dirtbag. This person tops many lists of Weird and Shitty People from History, and her story makes the rounds on social media every so often, so it’s possible some of you may have heard of her before. But this newsletter wouldn’t be complete without giving her a chance to shine, so I hope you’ll all enjoy the whirlwind tour that is…
Julie d’Aubigny, the Bisexual Stabby Opera Dirtbag!
Caveat before we get into it: we’re looking at a real Helena Blavatsky situation with Julie, in that at least 80% of what we know about her is wild and probably-not-true rumors. However, we all know how I feel about wild rumors. Don’t make me tap the sign.
With that said, let us proceed.
Julie was born in 1673 to the most tangentially noble family in France: her father was the secretary of the Comte d’Armagnac, the guy who took care of the king’s horses. This meant she was near enough to the French court to receive things like a decent education, but unimportant enough that nobody gave two shits what she did. Julie and her father took advantage of this indifference to pursue Julie’s secret passion for fencing, a fact that will become important later.
When Julie was 14, she became romantically involved with the Comte d’Armagnac, the guy who took care of the king’s horses. Yes, the guy we mentioned exactly one paragraph above as being her dad’s 44-year-old boss. So when I say “romantically involved,” please imagine me saying it with the biggest non-consensual scare quotes you’ve ever seen.
d’Armagnac arranged for Julie to marry a nobody named Sieur Jean du Maupin, perhaps to draw attention away from the fact that he was sexually harassing a tween. Jean du Maupin is profoundly unimportant to this story. So unimportant that immediately after the wedding, d’Armagnac sent him out of town so he could continue sexually harassing Julie in peace.
The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Fencing
This story isn’t all depressing, though! Because Julie, instead of settling in to a life as the mistress of her dad’s middle-aged boss, decided to take matters into her own hands.
A phrase which here means “run away with Séranne, the court’s hot* fencing master, after he killed a man in a duel, with the Paris Chief of Police in hot pursuit.”
*I have no idea whether Séranne the fencing master was hot, but in my version of events he looks like Orlando Bloom in the first Pirates of the Caribbean film.
It’s important to me that you all know the Chief of Police responsible for pursuing Séranne and Julie was none other than my boy Nicolas-Gabriel de la Raynie, whom we last saw prosecuting 442 individual Parisians for poison crimes during the Affair of the Poisons. This man must have been so tired.
Julie seemed to enjoy life on the road with Séranne for a while, and they went from town to town showing off how great they were at fencing. Julie did all this while wearing pants, for what I assume are mostly practical reasons, although I have to believe she also looked incredible in pants.
Julie was never trying to pretend to be a man, although her audiences weren’t always convinced of her sex. One asshole loudly proclaimed that a woman could never be as good as Julie was at fencing, and so she must actually be a boy. Julie responded by taking off her shirt and showing the guy her tits. Which is one way to win an argument, I suppose.
After a year or two, Julie decided to jazz up the fencing act by adding musical numbers. Séranne was by all reports an OK singer, but Julie was better, and she started getting professional singing gigs at local operas between fencing performances. The relationship with Séranne didn’t last, but I choose to assume she remembered him fondly while singing and stabbing her way across the country.
Nun Ya Business
Now, Julie wasn’t just a sword-fighting opera singer. She was also a messy gay dirtbag. Which becomes relevant in 1690ish, when Julie was about 17 and fell in love with a girl in Marseilles. History doesn’t record the girl’s name, which I find deeply irritating. Because it’s 17th-century France, I’ll call her Marie for the purposes of this story, and I’m about 85% certain I’m correct.
Julie and Marie fell for each other hard, but Marie’s family wasn’t on board with the relationship. This could be because Julie was:
a) a lady
b) an actress, which was 17th-century shorthand for “prostitute”
c) a swordfighting lunatic on the run from the Chief of Police
d) known for taking her top off to settle an argument
e) all of the above
Whatever the reason(s), Marie’s family packed her off to a convent in Avignon to throw Julie off the scent. Which did not work. Because nothing on God’s earth is powerful enough to stop a horny bisexual woman with a sword.
First, Julie did what many of us would do: she went to the convent and pretended to be a postulate so she could get taken inside to see her girlfriend. Then, she did what most of us would not do: she waited until one of the old nuns died, then hid the body of the dead nun in her girlfriend’s bed, lit the room on fire, and lived in the woods with Marie having sexy adventures.
Presumably the plan was to fake their own deaths and live happily ever after, but the authorities soon realized that the body of one charred old lady does not account for the whereabouts of two gay teenagers, and Julie was charged with kidnapping, body-snatching, and arson. She was sentenced to death by—ironically—burning at the stake. This did not happen, as Julie was too smart to get caught, but alas, her relationship with Marie was short-lived anyway. Burning at the stake can really put a damper on the romantic vibes.
Julie nursed her heartbreak by taking a few months of singing lessons and then heading back to Paris, to make a name for herself at the Paris Opera.
She’s Here, The Dirtbag of the Opera
Opera was a fairly new art form in France at the time, so there wasn’t a huge range of performers to choose from. (Aside: the “Father of French Opera,” Jean-Baptiste Lully, had just died from hitting himself on the foot with a big stick, so that’s the level of sophistication we’re talking about.) The Paris Opera House took one look at Julie, fresh out of singing lessons, probably still smelling of smoke from the burned convent, and said “yeah, I guess.”
There was, of course, the little problem that Julie was currently wanted by the law for burning down a convent. She dealt with this by calling up her dad’s creepy old boss d’Armagnac to smooth things over. At least that asshole was good for something.
Julie was a sensation on the stage, with a medium-OK voice and more charisma than you could shake a stick at. She was often called “La Maupin” in contemporary reports of her performances, which is the only reason I mentioned her wet-blanket husband Jean du Maupin in this story at all.
Only one thing got in the way of eternal fame and fortune for La Maupin as an opera singer: her own horny dumbassery.
In about 1694, when Julie was 21, she came to a fancy ball wearing pants. Scandalous enough, but then she proceeded to hit on the hottest woman at the ball. Three separate noblemen spotted her making out with this lady and challenged her to duels. She accepted—obviously—and beat them all, one after another—also obviously.
Little snag: duels were very much still illegal in Paris. Chief of Police de la Reynie was like “Oh, for fuck’s sake, this lady again!” and made to arrest her. Julie ran away, pursued by the law, now for the third time.
She did a classic Lola Montez-style tour of Europe while on the run, singing in Belgium and Spain before negotiating yet another royal pardon and coming back to Paris to rejoin the opera in 1698.
Listen, Don’t Ask About the Radishes
During Julie’s second stint at the Paris Opera, she became more famous than ever, taking on bigger and bigger roles. Accordingly, the dumb shit she did offstage got even wilder. An incomplete list of shenanigans attributed to her during this time:
Threatened to shoot the Duke of Luxembourg in the head
Kicked the ass of creepy old men who sexually harassed chorus girls
Literally stabbed herself onstage during what was supposed to be a pretend death scene
Stuck a bunch of radishes in a countess’s hair for shits and giggles
Drop-kicked her landlord
Bit her co-star-slash-lover’s ear off during a performance, in front of an audience
I would also like to present this perfect sentence from the Los Angeles Public Library’s article on Julie d’Aubigny: “In 1701, La Maupin’s husband—M. Maupin—returned to life, though this hindered her extramarital affairs not at all.”
In Which History Buries Its Gays and I’m Mad
In 1703, Julie, now aged 30, met the great love of her life: Madame la Marquise de Florensac. Once again, irritatingly, none of my sources include her first name, but several noted that she was reported to be the most beautiful woman in France. She was also wildly promiscuous, well-connected, rich as fuck, and here to have a good time.
It seems that Julie and the Marquise were a match made in heaven, and they lived happily together for two years. Given that Julie’s previous record for a relationship was something like twenty-three days and involved lighting a nun on fire, two years is a big deal. It probably would have gone on for much longer, but the Marquise unfortunately contracted an ambiguous historical illness and passed away in 1705. Devastated, Julie retreated from public life, possibly to a nunnery that this time she did not burn down.
Julie d’Aubigny died in 1707 at the age of 33 of a broken heart, which is bullshit. As a person who researched Kit Marlowe for six years I hereby command that God or whatever stops this nonsense and lets my favorite historical gays be old. Dirtbag Nation, if you know of a queer historical weirdo who lived at least until age 65, please alert me in the comments.
That’s all for this time, my friends. I’ll be back in two weeks with another hand-crafted dirtbag for your enjoyment. Until then, be well, and if you find out how to hide radishes in someone else’s hair drop me a line because I have logistical questions,
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