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Charlotte Corday: Angel of Assassination

“She kills us, but she teaches us how to die.” — Pierre Victurnien Vergniaud

Jean-Paul Marat, one of the influential figures of the 18th century was a revolutionary leader and a radical voice during the period. He was a vocal and aggressive opponent of the counter-revolution, a defendant of people’s right and a nationalist who hated ‘the enemies of the fatherland’. He was an eloquent writer and started his own newspaper L’Ami du Peuple in which he unmasked the traitors whom he believed to be enemies of the republic. He was an extremist asking for people to be killed, suggesting

“five or six hundred heads cut off would have assured your repose, freedom, and happiness.”

His writings helped to enrage the mass which eventually ended up in September Massacres — some 1200 to 1400 prisoners were executed and no one went through justice for this carnage.

The Terror. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Some were supportive of this prominent representative of the reign of terror but there were critics too who believed that this instigator of the bloodshed must be halted at once.

Charlotte Corday, daughter of a minor aristocrat and a sympathizer of Girondins was one such opponent. She took to herself this necessary task of assassinating Marat which she undertook to safeguard her country from violence and bloody civil war.

Thus begins her plot of assassination. Initially, she planned to kill him at the Bastille Day in front of the National Convention but soon found out that his target won’t be able to attend those festivities due to his poor health. She reached his house and arranged to meet him on the context of revealing the list of Girondist traitors who were planning an uprising in Caen. She was admitted to his medicinal bathtub and furnished him the list. Then, she pulled a 6-inch kitchen knife and plunged it in his chest.

The Death of Marat, By Jacques-Louis David (1793)

Immediately arrested, Corday was brought to trial. The prosecutor asked him what she intended with this murder. She replied, ‘ Peace! Now that he is dead, peace will return to my country.’

“ Who has inspired you with so much
hatred against Marat.” they asked of her.
“I had no need of the hate of others,” she replied, “I had enough of my own; besides, persons execute badly that which they do not conceive themselves.”

Eventually, she was condemned by the revolutionary tribunal and ordered to be executed by guillotine only after four days from the murder. As her last wish she requested a portrait of her to be painted, “Since I still have a few moments to live, might I hope, citizens, that you will allow me to have myself painted.”

Portrait painted at her request by Jean-Jacques Hauer, a few hours before her execution.

She went to the scaffold wearing red chemise which symbolized a traitor- a person who assassinated a people’s representative.

She resembled the celestial vengeance, satisfied and transfigured. She
appeared, at some moments, to seek in the thousands of visages, a look of intelligence on which her eve might repose.
Charlotte Corday, Her Biography (translated from Lamartine)

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