Robespierre is the name most popular behind the French Revolution and Jean-Paul Marat is also well known, but for a different reason.
He was assassinated.
By a woman.
Jean-Paul Marat unknowingly set up his own death by the articles he published and by the speeches he gave at the Convention. Charlotte Corday, without ever having been introduced to the man, decided to kill him, “to save 100,000 lives”.
But let’s go back to Marat’s beginning. He was born in Boudry (formerly in Prussia, currently Switzerland), May 24th, 1743, from Jean-Baptiste Marat, a defrocked priest from the Order of Capucin and from Louise Cabrol, a French Huguenot. Jean-Baptiste, highly educated, converted to Calvinism. He gave his nine children a superb education.
At 16, Jean-Paul left home to work as a tutor for a rich family in Bordeaux. Two years later, he went to Paris and studied medicine, as an autodidact. He then decided to go to England, where he practiced medicine, both as a doctor and a veterinarian. While in England, he wrote a novel, The Adventures of Count Potowsky, and two essays: Essay On The Human Soul and A Philosophical Essay On Man.
His First Political Foray (still studied today)
His fourth work was titled, The Chains of Slavery. It is his first known political work, published in English in 1774. The first part was a call to the English electorate – Discourse To The Great Britain’s Voters, in an effort to keep the King’s friends to be elected. Already, Marat’s call for a republic, free of Kings, Princes and other aristocratic governing bodies, are marked with violent solutions.
This document was edited later in 1792 and re-published in French.
Not one to be idle, Marat obtained his doctor’s diploma from Andrew University in Scotland. He went back to France in 1775 and became the Count D’Artois bodyguards’ doctor. He also dabbled in experimental physics, fire, light and electricity. Thanks to his research, Marat met with Benjamin Franklin in 1779.
L’Ami du Peuple (The Friend of the People)
The 1780′s decade brought him sickness and financial setbacks. In September 1789, Marat started a publication, L’Ami du Peuple (The Friend of the People). From then on, he abandoned medicine and science to pick up his pen in favor of the Republic. From 1789 to 1792, he published more than a thousand issues of The Friend of the People. His aggressive pamphlets forced him to often hide from the authorities.
August 10th, 1792
This date is the second most important of the revolution, the first being July 14th, when the Bastille was taken by the people. But on August 10th, 1792, the populace (20,000 strong) walked on the Tuileries palace. King Louis XVI and his family were forced to take refuge at the Assembly. Triumphant, the populace demanded the abdication of the King, but the Assembly was not yet ready for that step. An ad-hoc committee was created and deputy Verniaud’s proposition was accepted unanimously: to summon the Convention, to revoke all ministers and to suspend the King.
King Louis was arrested and driven to the Temple, a medieval fortress.
The September Massacres
After August 10th, Marat published pamphlets requesting the elimination (death) of all imprisoned aristocrats. The country, Paris especially, was restless, feverish, ready for more action. The city’s priests, who had refused to swear allegiance to the Republic, were arrested. Servants and officers who had defended the royal family were arrested. Houses were searched and anyone who opposed the new regime were arrested. By August 30th, prisons were overflowed.
Marat was nominated assistant to the Surveillance Committee on August 31st. On September 3rd, Marat signed, and history assumed, wrote the pamphlet of that same day, distributed across the whole country, calling for generalized massacres. The populace invaded the prisons and 1,500 people were killed, priests included.
The incitation to violence from Marat contributed to blacken his image; later, historians were able to weigh his influence for the September massacres and it was concluded that though he certainly was part of the movement, he was not the only one accountable.
But in April of the next year, after deliberating on whose responsibility the massacres fell onto, Marat was arrested and tried. With a jury friendly to his cause, he was acquitted on April 24th.
Marat’s sickness and death
In June 1793, Jean-Paul Marat stopped going to the Convention. He suffered from a skin condition that worsened and forced him to take curative baths. But even from his bathtub, he continued to write for L’Ami du Peuple.
On July 13th, a woman presented herself to Marat’s home but his wife, Simone Evrard, refused her entry. The woman came back later in the day, with no more success, but left a letter describing her knowledge about a conspiracy in Caen. On her third try, Marat asked his wife to let the woman in. Marat received his female visitor from his bathtub. Her name was Charlotte Corday and claimed she had knowledge of traitors to the Republic conspiring in her native city of Caen. After a fifteen minutes conversation, Charlotte pulled a knife from her dress and plunged it in Marat’s chest, slicing his right lung, his aorta and his heart.
Marat died in his bathtub. Charlotte Corday was arrested on the premices and tried by the revolutionary tribunal. She was executed on July 17th, four days after her visit to Marat.
After his death
Marat was treated like a martyr and his funeral was grandiose. He was buried at the Cordeliers but his remains were moved in September 1794 to the Pantheon, only to be removed in 1795, after the Terror.
Though opinions vary on Marat, he was bright and intelligent, schooled in the philosophies of Descartes and Montesquieu. With Robesbierre and Danton, those three men were called the triumvirate of the French Revolution, like Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus in 60 BC. Marat was the man people loved, rendered popular by his publication, The Friend of the People.
Do you wonder what caused an 18th century woman, single and well education, raised by nuns, to travel from Caen to Paris with the expressed purpose to assassinate Marat? If you are curious, stop by Romance & Beyond tomorrow, where I will make a study of Charlotte Corday.