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Charlotte Corday
Or: Not A Good Person To Shower With

Or with whom to shower, if that's the sort of person you are. She was the sort or person who went about stabbing Jean-Paul Marat to death in his bathtub, though she only did it the one time, so it could hardly be called habitual.

Marat was a talented doctor, scientist, and author before he became one of the best-known figures of the French Revolution in 1789--right up there with Danton and Robespierre. After enjoying favored positions at court and saving the life of many a noble, Marat turned on the aristocracy and devoted what was going to be the rest of his abbreviated life to supporting the revolutionaries.

He also suffered from a superlatively nasty case of eczema, so much so that in order to keep himself even remotely comfortable he was forced to spend much of his time in a cool-water bath. Jacques Louis-David did a rather famous painting of Marat's death, which shows the fallen writer slumped in the tub, his hand draped over the edge by a quill pen, paper, and inkpot. Note the dramatic absence of rubber ducky.

Now What About This Charlotte Character

Marie Anne Charlotte Corday d'Armont was born in 1768 in the tiny village of Les Champeaux, near Saint-Saturnin de Lignerits, France, which at the time wasn't particulary known for turning out vicious murderers. However, she took her education from the Roman Catholic Church, which, sad to say, at the time, was. The convent in Caen taught her very well, and very Royal. But the nuns more likely than not had little to do with the murder.

Charlotte thought of herself as a supporter of the Enlightenment, but the French Revolution wasn't simply a question of two sides. The revolutionaries themselves were split into many factions, all of which agreed not only to disagree, but also to kill each other wherever possible. She and Marat were on opposing sides.

Who's Who in the French Revolution

Well, there's the King, Louis XVI, and of course Marie Antoinette, of Let-Them-Eat-Cake fame. These two represent the Monarchy, which very few people in possession of less than two chateaux thought well of.

Set strongly against them were men such as Robespierre, who brought you the Reign of Terror and made Guillotine a household name. He was quite pally with Marat, who very outspokenly--or rather, outwrittenly--believed that the King's head and body ought never to be seen together.

A third group, among many, were the more moderate Girondins, who were in favor of maintaining the Crown while simultaneously and significantly reducing his powers. Charlotte Corday was one of these.

Ok. There are WAY Too Many Guns in Here.

Quite understandably, each group saw the other as a tremendous threat to its success. The Revolution was already nearly five years old in 1793, and the National Convention was still full of hot debate and amusing expletives. But as is often the case in these situations, the more violent faction ultimately won out. The Girondins were expelled from the Convention in June and stripped of their rights to shout 'Vive la France' in public places.

This, or something like it, was too much for Charlotte Corday.

Liberty, Equality, and a Fatal Knife Wound

Charlotte, having read a great deal of Marat's material over the years, settled on him the bulk of her outrage, and subsequently determined to kill him.

Under the pretense of assisting him with an essay on Caen, Charlotte sought access to his rooms. She came at his invitation on July 13, 1793, having concocted a story about a potential uprising in the city about which he should like to hear. When she concluded the narrative, Marat had hardly the time to squeak out a 'mon dieu' before she tickled his heart with a Parisian butcher knife.

Charlotte was apprehended immediately.

Le Fin

Tyrranical justice has, if nothing else, a reputation for being on the speedy side. Of course, a full confession does tend to move things along, and she didn't hold back. She would have preferred, the record shows, to have stabbed him in full view of the entire National Council.

During her trial, she maintained that the plot and its execution were entirely her own doing. No second stabbers, no knifeman on the grassy knoll. Corday acted alone, but on behalf of all of France.

France thanked her very much and sent her to the scaffold four days later.

On the big day, she refused the minstrations of a priest, and spent her last breathing moments in statuesque calm, requesting that a portrait of her be made by a member of the National Guard, to whom she gave a lock of her hair as a token. Ca, c'est tout.

For You Music Fans

Oddly enough, Tori Amos and Al Stewart cowrote a little ditty about Charlotte, which I came across in my research. Here's a verse:

The air is like a murmur on the window sill
All at once there's someone there that only you can see
Seeking the forgiveness that will set her free
The wind has taken away
The words she wanted to say
The sky is now turning gray
The dawn is turning away
The ghost of Charlotte Corday.

As with much of her work, I have no idea how it applies, or what it means, but I'm sure I'd like it if I heard it.


Merci beaucoup to:
rylibweb.man.ac.uk/data1/sy/jch/alwords/als124.htm
www.camembert-country.com/ccorday.htm
www.things.org/music/al_stewart/history/charlotte_corday.html
www.alstewart.com/history/corday.htm