Charlotte Corday

Assassin of Marat

"Charlotte Corday after the murder of Marat," 1861, by Paul-Jacques-Aime Baudry
"Charlotte Corday after the murder of Marat," 1861, by Paul-Jacques-Aime Baudry. Fine Art Images / Heritage Images / Getty Images

Charlotte Corday killed the activist and intellectual Jean Paul Marat in his bath. Though she was herself from a noble family, she had come to be a supporter of the French Revolution opposed to the Reign of Terror.  She lived July 27, 1768 - July 17, 1793.

Childhood

Fourth child of a noble family, Charlotte Corday was the daughter of Jacques-Francois de Corday d'Armont, a noble with a family connection to playwright Pierre Corneille, and Charlotte-Marie Gautier des Authieux, who died April 8, 1782, when Charlotte was not quite 14 years old.

Charlotte Corday had been sent with her sister, Eleonore, to a convent in Caen, Normandy, called Abbaye-aux-Dames, after her mother's death in 1782. Corday learned about the French Enlightenment in the library of the convent.

French Revolution

Her learning led her to support representative democracy and a constitutional republic as the French Revolution broke out in 1789 when the Bastile was stormed.  Her two brothers, on the other hand, joined an army that tried to suppress the Revolution. 

In 1791, in the midst of the Revolution, the convent school closed. She and her sister went to live with an aunt in Caen. Charlotte Corday had, like her father, supported the monarchy, but as the Revolution unfolded, cast her lot with the Girondists. 

The moderate Girondists and the radical Jacobins were competing Republican parties. The Jacobins banned the Girondists from Paris and began executions of members of that party.

 Many Girondists fled to Caen in May, 1793.  Caen became a kind of haven for the Girondists escaping the radical Jacobins who had decided on a strategy of eliminating the more moderate dissenters. As they carried out executions, this phase of the Revolution became known as the Reign of Terror.

Assassination of Marat

Charlotte Corday was influenced by the Girondists and came to believe that the Jacobin publisher, Jean Paul Marat, who had been calling for the execution of Girondists, should be killed.

She left Caen for Paris on July 9, 1793, and while staying in Paris wrote an Address to the French Who Are Friends of Law and Peace to explain her planned actions.

On July 13, Charlotte Corday bought a wooden handled table knife and then went to Marat's home, claiming to have information for him. At first she was refused a meeting, but then she was admitted. Marat was in his bathtub, where he often sought relief from a skin condition.

Corday was immediately captured by Marat's associates. She was arrested and then quickly tried and convicted by the Revolutionary Tribunal. Charlotte Corday was guillotined on July 17, 1793, wearing her baptismal certificate pinned to her dress so that her name would be known.

Legacy

Corday's action and execution had little if any effect on the continued executions of Girondists, though it served as a symbolic outcry against the extremes to which the Reign of Terror had gone.  Her execution of Marat was commemorated in many works of art.

Places: Paris, France; Caen, Normandy, France

Religion: Roman Catholic

Also known as: Marie Anne Charlotte Corday D'Armont, Marie-Anne Charlotte de Corday d'Armont