July 16, 2019 Something True is back, with the story of a celebrated opera singer who set fire to a convent and whipped the buttocks of Parisian lotharios. Luciano Pavarotti? No, Julie d'Aubigny, who in 17th century Paris delighted the upper classes from the stage and duelled them in the streets. Join us for the dramatic, passionate tale of a life lived fast and furious.
Read a full transcript of this episode on the Something True website.
Follow Something True on Twitter @atruepodcast. (Or just follow Duncan and Alex.)
Music on this week’s episode:
Kai Engel – Sunset*
Lee Maddeford – BAM*
Gillicuddy – Springish*
Podington Bear – Blue Highway*
Sunsearcher – Flamenco Rhythm*
Jelsonic – Saying Goodbye In The Rain (piano)
Francesco Paolo Tosti - Aprile (backing)
*modified for the podcast.
Julie was about sixteen when she had her first real girlfriend. They met at the theatre. The girlfriend was in awe of Julie, but her parents were not. ‘C'est la fin des haricots!’ they protested, which translates literally as ‘it’s the end of the beans,’ but they weren’t talking about beans at all. No, what they really meant was ‘we're not having it. It’s the 17th century, and statistically we are quite unlikely to approve our daughter’s lesbian relationship.’ They separated the young couple and locked their daughter up in a convent, in far-away Avignon.
Well, for Julie, that was the end of her beans. She rode to Avignon and presented herself at the convent. ‘Please,’ she said, ‘can I come and live with you at nun school?’ And, well, the nuns could hardly say non to that, and Julie was reunited with her teenage lover. But life in the convent was so boring, and so Jesus-centric that she was determined to get herself and her girlfriend out of there as soon as possible.
A few weeks after Julie's arrival, one of the sisters passed away, and was buried in the convent cemetery. That same night, Julie's girlfriend was woken up by a knock at her bedroom door. It was Julie, carrying the body of a dead and naked nun. ‘I've got good news!’ she said and unloaded the corpse into her girlfriend's bed.
‘I see what you're trying to do,’ said the girlfriend, ‘but won’t the sisters see that this woman is not me?’
‘Ah! Let me finish,’ said Julie, and she set the room on fire.
The teens escaped into the night as the convent went up in flames. The nuns were not happy. And pretty quickly they figured out what had happened, and that Julie was responsible. The police were unable to find her, so she was tried in absentia and sentenced to a punishment befitting of her crimes: Death by fire!
But they'd never catch her. At 16, Julie had bested the church, the authorities, and she was just getting started. Her next target would take her to the big city. The Paris Opera had no idea what was coming.
You’re listening to Something True – stories from the footnotes of history. Written by Duncan Fyfe and read by Alex Corbett Ashby. This week’s episode: Cœurs Brûlant.
Julie d'Aubigny was a woman of simple passions: Fighting, sex, arson, and opera. She was making a living singing in taverns, but had set her heart on a grander stage, the most esteemed opera company in all of France: The Paris Opera! She yearned to tread those hallowed boards and sing the really big loud songs! However, in those days, the Paris Opera wouldn’t hire a woman whom the police wanted to arrest and burn on sight.
So, Julie went to a man called Louis de Lorraine-Guise, who was the King's Master of the Horse. Julie's dad worked for him. And when Julie was 14, Louis had taken her as his mistress. Luckily for Louis, he did not live long enough for everyone to find that, and him, enormously gross. But who better to help with Julie’s legal problems than the man who had the ear of every famous horse in France?
‘Well, the law is the law,’ Louis mused. ‘But now that the law affects my beautiful, and quite young former girlfriend... it does seem a bit harsh, doesn't it? I’ll clear this up for you, or my name isn’t Master of the Horse!’ Louis put in a good word with the King, who agreed to pardon Julie for her crimes.
With that unpleasantness out of the way, Julie was free to seek a role with the Paris Opera. Her girlfriend from the convent, incidentally, was out of the picture now, having returned to her family a couple months after the fire. That was OK with Julie. She never stuck with anyone for very long. One boyfriend she’d met by stabbing him through the shoulder in a bar fight, only to kind of forget about him. Another boyfriend had killed a man in a duel of passion, and Julie dumped him... because she found him truly boring.
The director of the Paris Opera was one Jean-Nicolas de Francine, who had inherited the job from his wife's dad. When Julie came to him demanding an audition as a contralto, he bristled at her assertiveness. She was pretty good—for a tavern singer! But opera was for fancy lads. She would not be a good fit in the pre-eminent performing company in all of France. But when he learned of Julie’s powerful connections in the horse world, he realised he had no choice. She got the job.
Julie had no training in music. The only education her father gave her was in fencing. But she had a great, warm voice and was magnetic on the stage. In short order all of Paris took to this bright star, and it seemed she could be part of high society when she funnelled her passion towards the arts, and away from burning convents.
But that daring spirit was still very much part of her whole life and vibe, and the company of the Paris Opera would soon learn what kind of colleague they had in Julie d'Aubigny.
Take Monsieur Louis Gaulard Dumesny, a tenor, and a turd. The loud and boorish, but very talented, Dumesny sang alongside Julie in the company, and made a habit of hassling his female co-workers. ‘YEAH BABY!’ he would roar. ‘I'M HORNY IN LATE 17th CENTURY FRANCE, BABY, YEAH!’
All the women hated him. But when he tried it on with Julie, it was, as they say, the end of the beans. She followed him home that night, disguised as a man, and as Dumesny crossed the street, Julie leapt from the shadows and punched him in the head. ‘Duel me, boy!’ she commanded, drawing her sword.
‘Oh, please, no! I don't know how to fight! I'm just a horny coward, baby, yeah!’
‘Then I won't kill you. But I will cane you fifty times upon your bare bottom.’
She also took his watch.
The next day, Dumesny limped into work. He explained that he had been accosted by several armed men, who all stole his watch.
‘You mean, this watch?’ Julie cried. The company gasped, then laughed. Dumesny was mortified. ‘Yes, ‘twas I,’ Julie said, ‘and were you not also spanked like a baby, my boy? I demand that you show your welted buttocks!’, and Dumesny slunk out of the room. They never did see those buttocks.
Yes, Julie d'Aubigny was living her best life: that of a famous and sexually active opera singer who menaced cads with swords. But it wasn't to last.
In 1695, Julie crashed one of the regular royal balls thrown by Philippe, the Duke of Orleans, at the Palais Royal. She came solo and dressed in men’s clothing. A knowing and appropriate choice, given that her host, Philippe, the younger brother of the King, was openly gay and known for attending balls himself while dressed as a woman.
Julie was in her element, provoking curious stares as she sought out the most beautiful women on the ballroom floor. She danced with each, and when she found the most fetching of them, she kissed her straight on the mouth. The whole ball was shocked! And three men rushed to intervene. ‘LOOK MISS,’ they said, ‘WE DIDN'T COME TO THE QUEEREST BALL IN FRANCE TO SEE TWO GIRLS KISSING!’
‘If you don't like it, then duel me, boys!’ Julie said. ‘I'll take on all three of you; I care not!’
They agreed, and she met them out on the street, beneath a lamppost. Each of them came at her with his sword drawn. One of them lunged, but Julie parried his attacks swiftly and sent him to his knees. Then it was the second one's turn. ‘You dispatched my friend quite easily, but you’ll find I’m not so—you’ve killed me!’ And he was down. Then, just one duellist remained. He advanced! ‘Mon cherie, I'm afraid you’ve saved the best for—you’ve killed me also!’
Julie left them to bleed out on the street and returned to the party. She sought an audience with Philippe, so that he might arrange emergency medical care for his bleeding guests, who, despite their theatrics, were only wounded and not dead.
‘Julie d'Aubigny,’ said Phillipe, the Duke of Orleans, examining her through an ostentatious magnifying glass. ‘I've heard about you!’
Julie explained what had happened, but knew she was in trouble. When she duelled opera singers, that was OK. They were taught NEVER to snitch, or the Phantom of the Opera would gobble them up in their beds. But now she was dealing with the nobility. These were royal dudes.
‘Look, I don't want to make a big deal out of it’ said Philippe, ‘but you know, I am, like, a Duke, and the King's brother... I can't just do nothing! I'm sorry.’ If it had been up to him he might have let it slide. But when Louis, the King, heard about it, he said, ‘Fuck non; that’s the end of the beans!’ and the hunt for Julie was on. But thanks to Phillipe’s warning, Julie had already fled the city, and she had a considerable head-start on Johnny Law, the most dangerous cop in all of France.
So once more, and not for the last time, Julie d'Aubigny ran, leaving everyone she knew and everything she’d worked for in the dust.
In the following years, she cooled her heels in Brussels, where she had various jobs and various affairs with high society. Things eventually calmed down enough for her to return to Paris and rejoin the Opera. She had many more adventures, many more loves, and one great passion: Marie Louise Thérêse de Senneterre de Chateauneuf, the wife of the Marquis of Florensac. Or, as Julie called her, something shorter than that. She was very beautiful and very fancy—but not much else is known about her, except that she must have been a once-in-a-lifetime kind of person, because when she died, the irrepressible Julie d'Aubigny was utterly destroyed. 31 years old and lost in her grief, she announced that she would be immediately retiring from opera and moving far away from the big city.
‘Oh, please,’ people would have thought. ‘Julie lives for drama! She'll be back to kissing someone or cutting their face off within a week.’
But this time, she would not. Julie left Paris and checked herself into a convent.
‘Okay, hello,’ they asked, ‘have you ever stayed in a convent before?’
‘Oh cool, cool; and did you burn it down?’
‘Yes, but I don't do that anymore.’
And she did not. Julie stayed in the convent, and didn’t make any trouble, or even a sound. She lay quietly in her bed for two years until she died of a fever. Nobody ever came for her, there were no dramatic rescues, no one sent the convent up in flames. In the end, the most dramatic thing that the drama-loving Julie could do was to let love burn her to the ground.
Don't cry, bisexual fencer Opera heaven is wondrous and it exists Colleagues you remember will sing the big loud songs with their dear duellist
But heaven's also spooky A deadly phantom’s running loose and uncontrolled One question for you, Julie: Could you be the one the prophecy foretold?
You're the one! You're the one! Please light this guy on fire Torch him like you would a nun Let love's bright light ne'er expire
Cœurs Brûlant D'amour Goodbye, Jules
That was Something True, a podcast on the Idle Thumbs network, written by Duncan Fyfe and read by Alex Corbett Ashby. Music credits can be found in the description and on our website at somethingtrue.net where you’ll also find a full transcript of this story. Follow us on Twitter @atruepodcast, and join us again for the next episode: Baatar.
It’s good to be back.
Opera mask! Opera gloves! Won’t help you whatsoever When you die, but if you love? Then you will live forever!
As a ghost Phantom ghost Opera ghost