Mary de Chaumont en Bassigni c. 1580 France
gouache on paper, 11 x 7 inches
In the collection of the Davis Museum at Wellesley College

While traveling across Europe in 1580, Michel de Montaigne, a French writer and philosopher, recorded in his journal the story of Mary de Chaumont en Bassigni. 

While staying at Vitry le Francois he heard about an execution that had occurred just a few days before in the nearby town of Montier en Der. According to his record, the story began several years before when seven or eight girls from Chaumont en Bassigni made the collective decision to dress and live as men. They went their separate ways, but one of them, “under the name Mary,” settled in Vitry. (The only name recorded is “Mary”; if they had an alternative chosen name it was lost to history.)

They earned their living as a weaver, and were described as a well-behaved, likable young man who made friends with everyone. They were engaged to a woman in Vitry, but because of a disagreement that arose, the engagement was called off, so they moved to Montier en Der. 

In Montier en Der they fell in love and married a young woman. The couple lived happily together for four or five months before someone from Chaumont recognized “Mary.” At that point, the matter was brought to the attention of authorities, and “the husband was condemned to be hanged; which she said she would rather endure than reassume her female attire and habits. And she was accordingly hanged, on the charge of having, by unlawful practices and inventions, supplied the defects of her sex.”


Borris, K., ed. Same-Sex Desire in the English Renaissance: a Sourcebook of Texts, 1470-1650. New York: Routledge, 2004. 

Montaigne, Michel Eyquem de. Journal du Voyage de Michel De Montaigne en Italie, Par la Suisse & l’Allemagne en 1580 & 1581. Vol. 1. Paris: Chez Le Jay, 1774.

Montaigne, Michel Eyquem de. Works of Michel de Montaigne: Comprising His Essays, Journey into Italy, and Letters. Ed. William Hazlitt. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1887.