How Was Jean Paul Marat Assassinated?
Jean Paul Marat (1743-93) was assassinated by being stabbed to death in his bath. Marat was a political journalist whose writings were directed towards inflaming the French people to revolution. He was forced into hiding but, when the insurrection began on August 10, 1792, he joined the Paris Committee of Police and Surveillance and approved the September massacres.
He was elected as a deputy to the Convention and accepted the republic decreed on September 22. He voted for the execution of Louis XVI and helped to establish the Revolutionary Tribunal and the Committee of Public Safety which eventually brought about the Terror, as the mass-guillotining of the French revolution was called.
The Girondins, a political group opposed to Marat, accused him of preaching pillage and murder and attempting to destroy the sovereignty of the people. Marat was acquitted by the Tribunal and turned the tables by having the Girondin leaders arrested. Thirty one Girondins were given a so called trial and all of them were guillotined.
By this time, Marat was suffering from a disease of the skin and lungs, and found relief only in warm baths. On July 13, 1793, Charlottee Corday (1768-93), a young follower of the Girondins from Normandy, gained admittance to his house on the pretext of giving him information. Despite his wife Simonne’s protests, Marat asked for her to enter and gave her an audience by his bath, over which a board had been laid to serve as a writing desk. Their interview lasted around fifteen minutes.
He asked her what was happening in Caen and she explained, reciting a list of the offending deputies. After he had finished writing out the list, Corday claimed that he told her, “Their heads will fall within a fortnight”, a statement she later changed at her trial to, “Soon I shall have them all guillotined in Paris”. This was unlikely since Marat did not have the power to have anyone guillotined.
At that moment, Corday rose from her chair, drawing out from her corset a five-inch kitchen knife, which she had bought earlier that day, and brought it down hard into Marat’s chest, where it pierced just under his right clavicle, opening the carotid artery, close to the heart. The massive bleeding was fatal within seconds. Slumping backwards, Marat cried out his last words to Simonne, “Aidez-moi, ma chère amie!” (“Help me, my dear friend!”) and died.
Corday was a Girondin sympathiser who came from an impoverished royalist family – her brothers were émigrés who had left to join the exiled royal princes. From her own account, and those of witnesses, it is clear that she had been inspired by Girondin speeches to a hatred of the Montagnards and their excesses, symbolised most powerfully in the character of Marat.
The Book of Days claims the motive was to “avenge the death of her friend Barboroux”. Marat’s assassination contributed to the mounting suspicion which fed the Terror during which thousands of the Jacobins’ adversaries – both royalists and Girondins – were executed on supposed charges of treason. Charlotte Corday was guillotined on 17 July 1793 for the murder. During her four-day trial, she had testified that she had carried out the assassination alone, saying “I killed one man to save 100,000“.