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Charlotte Corday: The Angel of Assassination

I’ve discovered lately that when I get bummed out or discouraged with the world, I like to think about my favorite badass ladies who have made history, or rather, my favorite badass ladies who didn’t make history, probably because the world was too damn scared of their raw power. Therefore, we’re going to give them a little limelight.

For starters, I want to open this up with my girl, Charlotte Corday, or l’ange de l’assassinat, the Angel of Assassination, as she was known after she single-handedly took down one of the biggest terror tyrants of the eighteenth century.

 

Some quick background on the French revolution (we’ll keep this real tight)

The world Charlotte lived in opened up in the late 1700s, when a large party of disgruntled French decided they were tired of their king and organized the Jacobin club, intending to depose him and form a republic. Between 1791-1792, they mostly got what they wanted: they passed a constitution, arrested the king and told the rest of Europe to step the hell off. They were postured to start a real French republic.

But then things got dicey. The Jacobins were split on how things ought to be done. The Girondins wanted a somewhat peaceful resolution, protecting the rights of the king and aristocrat class and segueing neatly into a compromise with the old order. But the Montagnards wanted something a bit more drastic.

The Dog

Cue Maximilien Robespierre, the Mad Dog of Paris, and his infamous Reign of Terror. Guillotines were erected in the city squares, and public executions were carried out daily; in 1793, King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were executed by the Montagnards.

Cue now Charlotte Corday.

L’ Ange

Charlotte had been educated in the countryside at a convent and later by her older cousin, and this series of women had often supplied her young mind with philosophic writings and treatises, as she grew up. Charlotte became a dedicated republican based on her classic training and hoped for a state of the people and not the king. However, she wanted to attain this through peaceful means.  

The public executions, however, flew in the face of what she saw as productive steps toward resolution, and, at age twenty-four, Charlotte resolved to fix things and personally murder the man in charge.

The Mastermind

Now Robsespierre, with his supervillain name, may get most of the credit as the bad guy of the French Revolution, but the truth is that he took his orders from someone higher in power. This famous, shouting, charismatic figure who stood hounding for blood in the streets grew quiet in the presence of one Jean-Paul Marat.

Marat, the most radical one of the party, suffered from a stinking skin condition that left him in medicinal baths for hours at a time, and he would often do his office work from the tub, surrounding his room with lists upon lists of people to be executed and families to be investigated.

This decaying old man was the true force behind the Reign of Terror, and Charlotte quickly identified him as her target.

The Assassination

Her original plan was to stab him to death in front of everyone at the National Assembly to make an example of him, but upon arriving in Paris and quickly procuring a six-inch kitchen knife, Charlotte found that he was too unwell for public appearances and she would have to commit the murder in his house.

Four days after coming to the city, Charlotte managed to get into Marat’s home, claiming she had information about a coming uprising. She stood alone in the bathroom with him, giving fake names and fake information, watching as he wrote it down, and when at last she was finished and he asked if there was anything more she wanted, she strode forward and plunged the knife directly into his heart.

The Fallout

In the following days, Charlotte was rushed through a series of trials. Most of them aimed to find out who her supposed lover was and see what man had put the idea of murder into her head. Throughout it all though, Charlotte remained true to form, saying that she had acted independently and out of her personal motivations. Eventually, they believed her.

She was executed four days later, wearing the red dress of a traitor.

Charlotte

Now, looking back, it definitely was not a happy ending for Charlotte, but she knew exactly what she was doing when she went to Paris, and she knew exactly what kind of fate awaited her should she succeed in her plans. She never backed down or apologized for her actions. In her own words, she said of Marat: “I knew that he was perverting France. I have killed one man to save a hundred thousand!”

Personally, I don’t know why there isn’t a movie about this yet. The image of a young woman stabbing an old dying guy in the chest with his blood and bathwater rocking onto the tiles is so deliciously powerful to me, and I wish her story was more well known. If you’ve stuck around this long though, pass her story around to the next person. Let’s see if we can’t make history remember one more female assassin who made a real difference.

Ellie Baker

Chapel Hill '21

Ellie Baker is a junior studying English and Film Production and minoring in Writing for the Screen and Stage. When not working on a writing project, she can often be found buried in a sketchbook, rifling through thrift shops, or working as a pirate guide down at Bald Head Island.
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