Assassination of French Revolutionist Jean Paul Marat Part 2

About the assassination of French revolutionist and reign of terror proponent Jean Paul Merat, about the assassin.


The Victim: JEAN PAUL MARAT, French revolutionist who urged a "Reign of Terror."

The Assassin: Marie Anne Charlotte Corday D'Armont (remembered by history as Charlotte Corday) was born in the town of St. Saturnin, Normandy, the daughter of an impoverished family of minor nobility. Sent off to a convent to become a nun, Charlotte absorbed a great deal of piety and a romantic knowledge of the classics. Evicted from her cloisters by anticlerical revolutionists who divested the Catholic Church of most of its holdings in 1790, she nevertheless became a lukewarm Republican strongly in favor of a constitutional monarchy.

She was badly shaken in June of 1791 by Louis XVI's aborted attempt to escape France and join his brother-in-law (the emperor of Austria) in an all-out assault on the revolution from abroad. And she was utterly appalled when thousands of royalists were murdered in Republican prisons the following September and Louis himself was trundled off to the guillotine on Jan. 21, 1793 (cheered on by Jean Paul Marat and his leftist friends, members of the Jacobin and Cordeliers clubs).

Charlotte, an aloof virgin with the manners of a retiring backcountry "gentlewoman" and a somewhat horsey but alluring face, strongly identified with the intensely bourgeois Girondists, who remained a numerical majority in the National Convention as late as Apr. 6, 1793. At that time a Committee of Twelve was handed nearly authoritarian power to deal with invading monarchical armies on the borders, civil war in the provinces, and economic chaos throughout the nation.

But the crisis intensified, and the world's first "dictatorship of the proletariat" was rapidly declared by populist Paris radicals, who dubbed themselves sans-culottes. (Culottes were the elegant breeches once worn by Louis's courtiers. Republicans did without them.)

A Committee of Public Safety was created, dominated by Jacobins with Marat at their head. Extreme measures were called for, and on May 30 most Girondist leaders were either arrested or forced to flee for their lives to such counter-revolutionary provinces as Normandy. There Charlotte Corday heard them proclaiming that the new Reign of Terror would claim at least 300,000 heads unless someone could exterminate Jean Paul Marat.

By July 8, Charlotte was on her way to Paris, carrying letters of introduction to Girondist sympathizers and determined to do in Marat. The ease with which she managed to enter his home five days later and fulfill her mission speaks volumes about the chaotic, immensely egalitarian state of affairs in France in those days. And she was just the first in a long line of "lone and unaided" assassins who just dropped out of the sky to accomplish the objectives of some powerful political bloc or group of leaders.

The Girondists panicked. They'd never heard of Charlotte Corday. But the very volume of their denial did little to help the Gironde. They'd had it. Revolutionary France was outraged by Marat's bathtub execution, and not only was the "Angel of the Assassination" guillotined on July 17, but her action stirred up a veritable hornet's nest of sans-culotte fury against royalists and moderates alike. Before it was all over (ended by the execution of Robespierre on July 27, 1794), the Terror had snuffed out thousands more than Marat himself would ever have sought to kill.

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