A Woman to Know: Julie d'Aubigny

Beautiful, valiant, generous and superbly unchaste, she represents a perfect if markedly individual example of the Dame Galante. — author Cameron Rogers

(image via Wikimedia Commons)


My favorite thing about Julie is that her Wikipedia page includes an entire section titled: "Youth and wild reputation."

That's because as a teenager, Julie didn't join French women in ballroom dancing, courting and society gathering. Instead, Julie's dad taught his young daughter everything she knew about fencing, gambling, sword-fighting and dressing like a man. After his death in the early 17th century, she truly did go wild: singing in bar houses, brawling in public and openly dating women.

According to one legend, Julie carried on an affair with a young lady in a convent. She orchestrated an elaborate scheme: the two lovers absconded in the dead of night, digging up a nun's dead body to hide it in the girl's bed as a decoy -- and then they set the convent on fire. The French court tried Julie with arson, kidnapping and body snatching -- and, so the legend goes, the lawyers even tried her as a man.

In 1690, she joined the French Opera, where she channeled her talents to more "prestigious" ends. After she starred in several renowned performances, one critic called hers "the most beautiful voice in the world." But Julie's life at the opera was far from without drama -- she continued to kiss women publicly and challenge men to duels. At 33, she entertained a tumultuous affair with Madame la Marquise de Florensac, at the time the most beautiful woman in all of Europe. When the Madame died in 1705, Julie retired from the opera. She died alone a few years later, buried in an unmarked grave.

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