Charlotte Corday

 
Charlotte Corday
Born in Saint-Saturnin-des-Ligneries, a hamlet in the commune of Écorches (Orne), in Normandy, Charlotte Corday was a member of a minor aristocratic family. She was a fifth-generation matrilineal descendant of the dramatist Pierre Corneille. Her parents were cousins. While Corday was a young girl, her older sister and their mother, Charlotte Marie Jacqueline Gaultier de Mesnival, died. Her father, Jacques François de Corday, Seigneur d'Armont (1737–1798), unable to cope with his grief over their death, sent Corday and her younger sister to the Abbaye aux Dames convent in Caen, where she had access to the abbey's library and first encountered the writings of Plutarch, Rousseau and Voltaire.:154–55 After 1791, she lived in Caen with her cousin, Madame Le Coustellier de Bretteville-Gouville. The two developed a close relationship, and Corday was the sole heir to her cousin's estate.:157 Corday's physical appearance is described on her passport as "five feet and one inch... hair and eyebrows auburn, eyes gray, forehead high, mouth medium size, chin dimpled, and an oval face."After the revolution radicalized further and headed towards terror, Charlotte Corday began to sympathize with the Girondins. She admired their speeches and grew fond of many of the Girondist groups whom she met while living in Caen. She respected the political principles of the Girondins and came to align herself with their thinking. She regarded them as a movement that would ultimately save France. The Girondins represented a more moderate approach to the revolution and they, like Corday, were skeptical about the direction the revolution was taking. They opposed the Montagnards, who advocated a more radical approach to the revolution, which included the extreme idea that the only way the revolution would survive invasion and civil war was through terrorizing and executing those opposed to it. The opposition to this radical thinking, coupled with the influence of the Girondins, ultimately led Corday to carry out her plan to murder the most radical of them all, Jean-Paul Marat. Corday's action aided in restructuring the private versus public role of the woman in society at the time. The idea of women as second class or "less than" was challenged, and Corday was considered a hero to those who were against the teachings of Marat. There have been suggestions that her act incited the banning of women's political clubs, and the executions of female activists such as the Girondin Madame Roland. The influence of Girondin ideas on Corday is evident in her words at her trial: "I knew that he Marat was perverting France. I have killed one man to save a hundred thousand." As the revolution progressed, the Girondins had become progressively more opposed to the radical, violent propositions of the Montagnards such as Marat and Robespierre. Corday's notion that she was saving a hundred thousand lives echoes this Girondin sentiment as they attempted to slow the revolution and reverse the violence that had escalated since the September Massacres of 1792.Jean-Paul Marat was a member of the radical Jacobin faction that had a leading role during the Reign of Terror. As a journalist, he exerted power and influence through his newspaper, L'Ami du peuple ("The Friend of the People"). Corday's decision to kill Marat was stimulated not only by her revulsion at the September Massacres, for which she held Marat responsible, but by her fear of an all-out civil war.:161 She believed that Marat was threatening the Republic, and that his death would end violence throughout the nation. She also believed that King Louis XVI should not have been executed.:160 Corday believed in a structure like that of Ancient Greece or Rome, the realization of which was made unlikely by the efforts of Marat. 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.[10] She bought a kitchen knife with a 6-inch (15 cm) blade. During the next few days, she 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.Corday initially planned to assassinate Marat in front of the entire National Convention. She intended to make an example of him, but upon arriving in Paris she discovered that Marat no longer attended meetings because his health was deteriorating due to a skin disorder (perhaps dermatitis herpetiformis). She was then forced to change her plan. 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 by Catherine Evrard, the sister of Marat's fiancée Simonne.[12] On her return that evening, Marat admitted her. At the time, he conducted most of his affairs from a bathtub because of his skin condition. Marat wrote down the names of the Girondins that she gave to him; she then pulled out the knife and plunged it into his chest. He called out: Aidez-moi, ma chère amie! ("Help me, my dear friend!"), and then died.[13] This is the moment memorialized by Jacques-Louis David's painting. The iconic pose of Marat dead in his bath is viewed from a different angle in Baudry's painting of 1860 (illustration, below). In response to Marat's dying shout, Simonne Evrard rushed into the room. She was joined by a distributor of Marat's newspaper, who seized Corday. Two neighbors, a military surgeon and a dentist, attempted to revive Marat. Republican officials arrived to interrogate Corday and to calm a hysterical crowd who appeared ready to lynch her.[14]Charlotte Corday sent the following farewell letter to her father which was intercepted and read during the trial, the letter helping to establish that Marat's murder was premeditated: Pardonnez-moi, mon cher papa, d’avoir disposé de mon existence sans votre permission. J’ai vengé bien d’innocentes victimes, j’ai prévenu bien d’autres désastres. Le peuple, un jour désabusé, se réjouira d’être délivré d’un tyran. Si j’ai cherché à vous persuader que je passais en Angleterre, c’est que j’espérais garder l’incognito, mais j’en ai reconnu l’impossibilité. J’espère que vous ne serez point tourmenté. En tout cas, je crois que vous auriez des défenseurs à Caen. J’ai pris pour défenseur Gustave Doulcet : un tel attentat ne permet nulle défense, c’est pour la forme. Adieu, mon cher papa, je vous prie de m’oublier, ou plutôt de vous réjouir de mon sort, la cause en est belle. J’embrasse ma sœur que j’aime de tout mon cœur, ainsi que tous mes parents. N’oubliez pas ce vers de Corneille: Le Crime fait la honte, et non pas l’échafaud ! C’est demain à huit heures, qu’on me juge. Ce 16 juillet Corday underwent three separate cross-examinations by senior revolutionary judicial officials, including the President of the Revolutionary Tribunal and the chief prosecutor. She stressed that she was a republican and had been so even before the Revolution, citing the values of ancient Rome as an ideal model.[15] The focus of the questioning was to establish whether she had been part of a wider Girondist conspiracy. Corday remained constant in insisting that "I alone conceived the plan and executed it." She referred to Marat as a "hoarder" and a "monster" who was respected only in Paris. She credited her fatal knifing of Marat with one blow not to practicing in advance but to luck.[16] Charlotte Corday asked for Gustave le Doulcet, an old acquaintance, to defend her, but he did not receive the letter she wrote to him in time, so Claude François Chauveau-Lagarde was appointed instead to assist her during the trial.[17][18] It is believed that Fouquier-Tinville voluntarily delayed the letter,[1] however, it is said that Corday thought that Le Doulcet refused to defend her and sent to him a last letter of reproach just before going to the scaffold.Following her sentencing Corday asked the court if her portrait could be painted, purportedly to record her true self.[21] She made her request pleading, "Since I still have a few moments to live, might I hope, citizens, that you will allow me to have myself painted."[9] Given permission, she selected as the artist a National Guard officer, Jean-Jacques Hauer, who had already begun sketching her from the gallery of the courtroom. Hauer's likeness (see above) was completed shortly before Corday was summoned to the tumbril, after she had viewed it and suggested a few changes.[22] On 17 July 1793, four days after Marat was killed, Corday was executed by the guillotine in the Place de Grève wearing the red overblouse denoting a condemned traitor who had assassinated a representative of the people. Standing alone in the tumbril amid a large and curious crowd she remained calm, although drenched by a sudden summer rainfall.[23] Her corpse was disposed of in the Madeleine Cemetery.[citation needed]
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