And now for something completely different…
My unexpected project this winter has been a new-from-the-ground-up Swordswomen Through the Ages combat and history presentation. The idea was to pair biographies of women we know got in sword fights with combat appropriate to their time, place, and social milieu. We chose Caterina Sforza (the Tigress of Forli), Catalina de Erauso (the Lieutenant Nun), and La Maupin (that hellion contralto), later adding the less-well-attested Walpurgis of the Walpurgis Fechtbuch after concluding that Nadezhda Durova (the Cavalry Maiden) was really exciting but we didn’t have time to develop mounted saber combat or hussar uniforms.
I researched and wrote some of the material, and I’m now pleased to bring to you: a short biography of La Maupin, whose real first name is unknown, which makes her hard to talk about casually.
I’ve referred to her as “Mademoiselle” here in place of a first name– it would be more appropriate to use her last name (except that she keeps changing it), and of course she shouldn’t be Mademoiselle once she’s married, but … this can be fixed in the next version. For now, have an exciting biography of an exciting woman.
La Maupin (based on Women in Men’s Guise by O. P. Gilbert)
Mademoiselle Maupin was born in 1670; no first name is known with confidence, and nothing is known of her mother. Her father, Monsieur d’Aubigny, was secretary to a Count, and so Mademoiselle had access to many fine tutors of masculine topics such as history, literature, and fencing. At age fourteen, the Mademoiselle was given a husband, Monsieur Maupin, to cover the affair she was having with the Count, but soon after Maupin was given a provincial assignment and Mademoiselle was out seeking good fights again.
This occupation brought her to Marseille, in men’s clothes and accompanied by a fencer named Serannes, with whom she gave fencing displays for tips. She also began theatrical training, using the name d’Aubigny so she wouldn’t be traced back to her husband.
One night during a performance a young woman in the audience caught her eye, and shortly the girl’s parents sent her away to a convent in Avignon. Mademoiselle, of course, was not easily discouraged, and gained entry in disguise before hatching a plan to escape with her beloved, which happened to also involve setting the convent on fire. The two hid from the law together for a time, but nothing is said of how they parted ways. Mademoiselle wended her way gradually back to Paris, meeting along the way a retired singer who gave her lessons; Louis d’Albert, a soldier on leave who caught her eye for some time; and another opera hopeful named Gabriel Thévenard.
Back in Paris (1691), Mademoiselle convinced her Count to have the convent fire charges dropped, and networked her way into good opera work like Thevenard had found. Her beauty, talent, and attitude gained her fame and jealousy on both sides of the curtain, under the name La Maupin, and she continued to wear men’s clothes and go out looking for fights. D’Albert came back for a time, but was sent away again after getting in several duels too many. Mademoiselle herself eventually (1698) got into similar trouble when she wounded three men with her dueling sword during a ball, and fled to Belgium for a time, and then Spain, where she found plenty of fighting but none to her taste, took up boring and feminine work as a chamber maid, and tendered her resignation by fastening radishes into her employer’s updo.
By 1699 Mademoiselle was back on the Paris stage, back with d’Albert, and cultivating a fun and friendly rivalry with Thevenard even though he staunchly refused to actually duel. But her star was fading, and not all of her adventures were romantic: her next run-in with the law was a domestic disturbance in which she assaulted her landlord and his household staff.
In 1701, Monsieur Maupin moved to Paris, although not to his loving wife– she, at this time, was beginning a deep involvement with a Madame de Florensac. Her steady distraction d’Albert was out of the picture in 1702, imprisoned for dueling, seeing another woman, and eventually off to Belgium. Mademoiselle continued her theater work, even though her critical receptions had been in steady decline, until retiring to a life of unhappy religious contemplation following Madame de Florensac’s death in 1705. Little is known about the Mademoiselle’s own death two years later.