Charlotte Corday

 

Charlotte Corday (1768 - 1793)

Charlotte Corday was born at Saint-Saturnin, France on July 27, 1768, and was educated in the Roman Catholic convent in Caen. She considered herself devoted to the "enlightened" ideals of her time, but was a supporter of the monarchy when the French Revolution began in 1789.

As the revolution progressed, factions arose within the national convention. Corday favored the more moderate Girondins rather then men such as Marat and Robespierre who wanted to destroy the monarchy. The Girondins were expelled >from the convention in May and June of 1793, after which they gathered at Caen hoping to organize against their opponents. Corday, devoted to their cause, went to Paris. She was convinced that their primary enemy was Marat, and devised a plan to gain access to him under the pretext of wanting to tell him of the events at Caen. On July 13, 1793 she stabbed him through the heart while he was in his bath.

Corday was immediately apprehended, and was sentenced to death. She was executed on July 17, 1793.

Simon Schama's "Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution" contains a fairly detailed account of Marat's murder, and the subsequent arrest, trial, and execution of Charlotte Corday. While awaiting execution, Charlotte wrote a letter to her father , asking forgivness for "having disposed of my existence without your permission." In another letter written on the eve of her execution, Corday complains that "there are so few patriots who know how to die for their country; everything is egoism; what a sorry people to found a Republic."

Corday refused the ministrations of a priest in the moments before death; her last request was that a National Guard officer named Hauer paint her portrait. As a token of thanks for his work, Corday presented Hauer with a lock of her hair, "a souvenir of a poor dying woman." Pierre Notelet, a witness to the execution, wrote of the condemned, "Her beautiful face was so calm, that one would have said she was a statue. Behind her, young girls held each other's hands as they danced. For eight days I was in love with Charlotte Corday." The "exceptionally beautiful" Corday, who died convinced that in her act of assasination she had "avenged many innocent victims and...prevented many other disasters," was twenty-five when guillotined.

During her trial, Corday took great pains to point out that she had concieved and carried out the assasination plot alone, proving "the value of the people of the Calvados," where "even the women of the country are capable of firmness." Court transcripts show that Corday testified that "It's only in Paris that people have eyes for Marat. In the other departments, he is regarded as a monster."