One knows what became of Marat
by Gilbert Keith
But what of Charlotte Corday, I ask?
On 9 July 1793, Corday left her cousin, carrying a copy of Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, and went to Paris, where she took a room at the Hôtel de Providence. She bought a kitchen knife with a six-inch blade. She then wrote her Addresse aux Français amis des lois et de la paix ("Address to the French people, friends of Law and Peace") to explain her motives for assassinating Marat.
She went first to the National Convention to carry out her plan, but discovered that Marat no longer attended meetings. She went to Marat’s home before noon on 13 July, claiming to have knowledge of a planned Girondist uprising in Caen; she was turned away. On her return that evening, Marat admitted her. At the time, he conducted most of his affairs from a bathtub because of a debilitating skin condition. Marat wrote down the names of the Girondists that she gave to him, then she pulled out the knife and plunged it into his chest, piercing his lung, aorta and left ventricle. He called out, Aidez-moi, ma chère amie! ("Help me, my dear friend!") and died.
Trial and execution
At her trial, when Corday testified that she had carried out the assassination alone, saying "I killed one man to save 100,000," she was likely alluding to Maximilien Robespierre’s words before the execution of King Louis XVI. On 17 July 1793, four days after Marat was killed, Corday was executed under the guillotine and her corpse was disposed of in the Madeleine Cemetery.
After her decapitation, a man named Legros lifted her head from the basket and slapped it on the cheek. Charles-Henri Sanson, the executioner, indignantly rejected published reports that Legros was one of his assistants. However, Sanson stated in his diary that Legros was in fact a carpenter who had been hired to make repairs to the guillotine. Witnesses report an expression of "unequivocal indignation" on her face when her cheek was slapped. This slap was considered unacceptable and Legros was imprisoned for three months because of his outburst.
Jacobin leaders had her body autopsied immediately after her death to see if she was a virgin. They believed there was a man sharing her bed and the assassination plans. To their dismay, she was found to be virgo intacta (a virgin), a condition that focused more attention on women throughout France – laundresses, housewives, domestic servants – who were also rising up against authority after having been controlled by men for so long.
The assassination did not stop the Jacobins or the Terror: Marat became a martyr, and busts of him replaced crucifixes and religious statues that had been banished under the new regime.