Charlotte Corday

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Charlotte Marie-Anne Corday
Signature Charlotte Corday.PNG
Charlotte Marie-Anne Corday , painting by Paul Jacques Aimé Baudry, 1858

Marie Anne Charlotte Corday d'Armont , usually shortened to Charlotte Corday (born July 27, 1768 in the former village of Les Ligneries (now Les Champeaux ), Normandy , France ; † July 17, 1793 in Paris ), was a French noblewoman and great-granddaughter by the playwright Pierre Corneille . She gained fame during the French Revolution for the murder of the radical journalist, politician and scientist Jean Paul Marat . She was guillotined four days after her attack .

Descent and youth

Marie Anne Charlotte Corday d'Armont is usually referred to as Charlotte Corday for short , although she herself always signed her correspondence with Marie Corday or only with Corday . Coming from an impoverished family of the old Norman aristocracy, she was the second daughter of Jacques-François de Corday d'Armont (1737-1798) and his cousin and wife Charlotte-Jacqueline-Marie de Gautier of the Authieux de Mesnival. She was born in the former hamlet of Les Ligneries, in the hamlet of Ronceray , and was baptized in the church of Saint-Saturnin . She had two brothers, Jacques-François-Alexis (born January 15, 1765, † February 15, 1809) and Charles-Jacques-François (1774–1795), and two sisters, Marie-Charlotte-Jacqueline (1766–1774), who died as a child, and Jacqueline-Jeanne-Éléonore (1770–1806). In the 1770s she and her parents moved to the next larger city, Caen . Her father, the sixth child of Jacques-Adrien de Corday and Marie de Belleau, had served as a lieutenant in the army of the French king and retired from military service around 1763. He was a victim of the birthright laws , because of which he had to live in a very modest financial situation for his class. In a writing L'égalité des partages, fille de la justice , he turned against the birthright in 1790.

Charlotte Corday's mother died on April 8, 1782 in childbed . After the father in vain for a place for his daughters in the prestigious Maison de Saint-Cyr had tried, he could then 13-year-old Charlotte and her younger sister in Caen at the Abbey Sainte-Trinité (usually Abbaye-aux-Dames called ) where one of Charlotte Corday's aunts, Madame de Louvagny, lived as a nun. However, the abbey was not an educational institution, and only the king had the right to have five girls belonging to the poor Norman nobility lodged here. The favor of taking in his daughters was granted to Jacques-François de Corday thanks to the mediation of Madame de Pontécoulant, the deputy of the abbess Madame de Belsunce.

Charlotte Corday befriended two classmates, Mademoiselle de Faudois and Mademoiselle de Forbin. According to a letter from Madame de Pontécoulant, she did not show any sign of sickness. She enjoyed a relatively large amount of freedom and developed a proud, energetic and independent character. Royalist-minded authors wrote that she had a love affair with the young de Belsunce, the abbess's nephew. She became familiar with the ideas of the Enlightenment early on . In the monastery library she read a. a. the Bible and works by Guillaume Thomas François Raynal , Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire . It is possible that she was inspired by the character of the Old Testament Judith in her later assassination attempt on Marat . Republican-minded heroes of antiquity, described in Plutarch's Viten , are also exemplary for them .

The abbey was dissolved on March 1, 1791 during the French Revolution and the now 22-year-old Charlotte Corday returned to her father. He was a moderate royalist, while his daughter initially welcomed the French Revolution that broke out in 1789. In June 1791 she moved to Caen to live with a wealthy, lonely and widowed aunt, Madame Le Coustellier de Bretteville-Gouville, of whom she became a partner. Charlotte Cordays two brothers were avid royalists and emigrated at the end of 1791. At the farewell dinner for her older brother, who was leaving for Koblenz , she refused to look to the health of Louis XVI. to drink because he is a weak king.

Marat's assassination

Possible motives

In the early stages of the French Revolution, the moderate republicans, the Girondins , had the political preponderance. This party, with which Charlotte Corday sympathized, lost its influence more and more to the radical Jacobin Mountain Party (Montagnards). In Caen, Charlotte Corday experienced the political struggles from the perspective of the province, which tended towards the Girondins and was averse to the extreme Montagnards. She read moderate journals like the Courrier français and the Journal of Charles Frédéric Perlet . In the course of the increasingly violent riots, she saw her educational ideals betrayed. At the end of May / beginning of June 1793, the National Convention was surrounded by armed sans-culottes and this show of force overthrew the Girondins. 18 of their outlawed representatives fled to Caen, where they were initially safe. There they held political meetings and planned to put up armed resistance against the Jacobins. They included important deputies such as Buzot , Salle , Pétion , Barbaroux and Louvet .

Charlotte Corday, who is described as an attractive, brown-haired woman, attended some meetings of the Girondists gathered in Caen and was apparently deeply moved by the turmoil that shook her homeland. She made up her mind to try to end the Jacobin blood regime on her own. She viewed a leader of the Jacobins, Jean Paul Marat , as the main culprit who, through his proximity to the people, manipulated them and incited them to uncivilized atrocities and murders, for example in his popular magazine L'Ami du Peuple . Now she wanted to kill Marat, who in her eyes was the driving force behind the September murders and the annihilation of the Girondins, and thus the main person responsible for the reign of terror . Apparently she believed that the sole elimination of the already very sick Marat, whose influence she greatly overestimated, would be enough to initiate a counterrevolution and thus save France. She did not consider her murder, which had been planned for some time, to be a criminal but rather - as she emphasized in her subsequent trial - a patriotic act in order to contribute to the restoration of peace in her fatherland. For that she was ready to sacrifice her life. In a letter written in prison, she accused her fellow citizens of a lack of moral courage.

Course of the assassination

To get the most attention and to serve as an example to other patriots, Charlotte Corday planned to stab Marat in public on July 14 , the anniversary of the storm on the Bastille . On July 7, 1793, she turned to the Girondin Charles Barbaroux, who was in Caen, and received a letter of recommendation from him for his friend, the deputy Claude Romain Lauze de Perret, who was still in the convent . Through this she hoped to gain admission to the convent, in which she intended to murder Marat in the midst of its comrades. She pretended to Barbaroux that she wanted to stand up for her childhood friend Mademoiselle de Forbin, who, as a former canon, did not receive her pension. She did not go to her unsuspecting father, who now lives in the Rue du Beigle in Argentan , personally to bid him farewell, but instead wrote to him that she was emigrating to England, as she had not felt calm and happy in France for a long time . As the reason for this hoax, she gave in later interrogations that she believed that after the public murder of Marat she had planned to be torn to pieces by his supporters without her name ever being known; so she could have kept her family out.

Charlotte Corday had already obtained a passport for Paris in April 1793. On July 9th of the same year she drove from Caen, where she had lived with her aunt, to Paris in a stagecoach. According to her account, a young man is said to have made her a marriage proposal during the trip, which she refused. After arriving in Paris at noon on July 11th, she moved into the Hôtel de la Providence at 17 rue des Vieux-Augustins . With Barbaroux's letter of recommendation, she went to Lauze de Perret the next day, who informed her that Marat always stayed at home because of his skin condition and did not appear at the convent. So she had to give up her original murder plan and instead try to get to Marat's apartment and stab him there.

On the morning of July 13, 1793, Charlotte Corday bought a kitchen knife with a 20 centimeter blade and sheath under the arcades of the Palais Royal for 40 sous . In her hotel room she wrote the address aux Français amis des lois et de la paix ( To France's Friends of Law and Peace ), in which she accused Marat of all the evils then prevailing in France and explained her planned act. On the pretext that she wanted to denounce some Girondins from her hometown Caen, a stronghold of the counter-revolution, she went to Marat at noon on July 13th in his domicile at 20 rue des Cordeliers . However, Simone Évrard , Marat's partner, was suspicious and twice refused entry. Corday drove back to her hotel, wrote to Marat to speak to him and drove back to Marat's apartment that evening without receiving an answer.

So Charlotte Corday, wearing a white dress and a black bonnet, arrived back on July 13 about half an hour after 7 p.m. in the Rue des Cordeliers . She had hidden the knife under the robe. She also had a prepared note with her expressing her hope that Marat would receive her, as she had important things to reveal to him. The porter wanted to turn away the stranger, but she was able to push past the clerk into the house. Simone Évrard opened the door to the noise, but tried again to prevent Charlotte Corday from entering. Marat was sitting in a tub in the bathroom because the water containing medicinal herbs soothed the itching caused by his skin disease. He heard the loud exchange at the entrance and ordered the visitor to be led to him. Thereupon Simone Evrard let her before Marat and left the two alone.

The revolutionary leader had wrapped a damp towel around his unkempt hair and covered his upper body with a cloth; only his shoulders, his face and his right arm were visible. He and his visitor had a conversation lasting about fifteen minutes, the course of which is only known from the statements made by the assassin before the revolutionary tribunal. Accordingly, she reported to the President of the Jacobins of a planned uprising in Caen. Sitting in the tub, he wrote down on a writing board the names of the Girondists who fled to Caen, which they gave him. When Marat promised the alleged informer to have all of them executed on the guillotine within a few days, Charlotte Corday pulled the knife out of her cleavage and stabbed him in the chest so hard that the lungs, left ventricle and aorta were torn. Only the wooden handle of the murder weapon protruded from his chest. Marat called for help from his girlfriend, who rushed over. Charlotte Corday was able to escape from the bathroom first. A scramble broke out between her and some of the servants. An Ami du Peuple journalist , Laurent Bas, knocked her down with an armchair, whereupon she was soon arrested. Marat was still alive when he was pulled out of the tub but died shortly afterwards.

In the murdered man's apartment, the police and members of the Public Security Committee subjected the assassin to an initial interrogation. When she was searched, her letter to the French people was found in her corset. She remained calm and testified that she carried out the act of her own accord and on her own. At the same time she denied having had accomplices among the Girondins. On the night of July 14, 1793, she was transferred to the Prison de l'Abbaye , where she had to be protected by the police from being immediately lynched by outraged, abusive citizens.

Trial and Execution

On the day Charlotte Corday was transferred to Abbaye Prison, the Convention ordered that her murder should be brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal. Constitutional Bishop Claude Fauchet and MP Lauze de Perret were also charged as their alleged accomplices . Fauchet was accused of supporting the Girondist insurgency in Caen; he also gave Marat's murderer access to the convent. For this purpose she is said to have turned to the bishop as soon as she arrived in Paris, since she did not know anyone there. The latter vigorously denied the allegations based on a very dubious testimony. The main defendant also stuck to her allegation that she had no helpers. In a letter she stated that she hardly knew Fauchet and did not appreciate it. Fauchet and Lauze de Perret were initially released, but later arrested again for their political activities as Girondins and executed on October 31, 1793.

In a letter to the Public Security Committee, Charlotte Corday complained about the overly strict surveillance that left her with no privacy. On the morning of July 16, 1793, she was transferred to another prison, the Conciergerie . On the evening of the same day she wrote a letter to Deputy Barbaroux, in which she justified the murder of the Ami du Peuple ; this letter was of course not forwarded to the addressee, but attached to the trial files. Also on July 16, she wrote to her father asking for his forgiveness for disposing of her life without his permission; he should be happy about her lot, the cause of which is so beautiful, and not forget the following verse by Corneille: "Crime is disgrace and not the judgment of blood."

On the morning of July 17, 1793, the defendant appeared before the Revolutionary Tribunal to hear her case. She had wanted the Girondin Louis-Gustave Doulcet de Pontécoulant to be her defense counsel , but the letter addressed to him arrived too late. In his place, the President of the Tribunal, Jacques Bernard Marie Montané , appointed the Jacobin Claude François Chauveau-Lagarde as their defense lawyer, who would later also represent Marie Antoinette . Antoine Quentin Fouquier-Tinville appeared as public prosecutor . Marat's partner Simone Évrard was the first to be questioned. During the trial, Charlotte Corday showed great calm and serenity. She glorified Marat's assassination as a patriotic act, and her brief, intrepid responses to the judges' questions aroused amazement and admiration among the audience. Probably in reference to a statement by Robespierre before the execution of King Louis XVI. she said, "I killed a man to save a hundred thousand." When a bailiff handed her the blood-stained murder weapon, she reacted with alarm, pushed the knife back and confirmed in an uncertain voice that she recognized it.

To cover up any semblance of patriotic idealism, the prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville, wanted Chauveau-Lagarde to plead insanity on his client's behalf. The defense attorney, who was very understanding for the act, refused. Around 1 p.m. the verdict was announced, according to which the death penalty was imposed on Charlotte Corday. The convict was very satisfied with her lawyer and thanked him for his efforts.

During the trial, the painter Johann Jakob Hauer had begun a portrait of her at Charlotte Corday's request, which he completed during her final hours in her prison cell in the conciergerie. In this picture she appears completely calm. She then asked the artist to make a small copy for her family to keep.

Until the very end, Charlotte Corday remained extremely composed and imperturbable. She politely declined to confess before a priest sent to her, as she did not consider Marat's murder to be a sin. The executioner Sanson appeared in their cell with his assistants. Her long hair was cut to the nape of the neck and she was forced to wear a red shirt like all convicted murderers. On the evening of July 17, 1793, four days after her assassination attempt, she and her executioner set off in an open cart from the Conciergerie to their place of execution, the Place de la Révolution (today's Place de la Concorde ). On the way she was abused by numerous onlookers; she tolerated the abuse indifferently. During the journey to the scaffold, a thunderstorm came down, but before we reached the site of the beheading, the clouds gave way to the sun again. At around 7 p.m., Corday was finally guillotined after she had put her head under the ax herself. After the execution of the delinquent, who was only 24 years old, a hangman named Legros lifted her severed head from the basket, showed it to the crowd and dealt him a blow. Eyewitnesses reported that the dead 's cheeks were flushed with indignation. The blow was viewed as an unacceptable violation of etiquette, even in executions, and Legros was sentenced to three months in prison.

Charlotte Corday's body was found in a mass grave near Louis XVI. buried; it is unclear whether her head was also buried with her or retained as a curiosity. The skull is said to have been in the possession of the Bonaparte family and their descendants until the 20th century, who acquired it from M. George Duruy, who in turn got it through his aunt.

Political aftermath

By assassinating Marat, Charlotte Corday in no way achieved her goal of restoring peace to France and bringing the Girondins back to power. On the contrary, the Jacobins under Robespierre's leadership intensified their ruthless action against political opponents during their reign of terror in 1793/94, and thousands of executions took place. Marat was made even more of a hero and martyr of the revolution whose work must continue. His busts and statues replaced the crucifixes and images of saints, which were no longer wanted under the new regime. However, this posthumous Marat cult ended as early as 1795. Charlotte Corday later achieved counterrevolutionary martyrdom for her part because of her political murder . Some writers compared her to Joan of Arc and Alphonse de Lamartine dedicated a book to her in his Histoire des Girondins (1847), in which he dubbed her l'ange de l'assassinat ( Mordengel ).

Adaptations in literature, art and music

Charlotte Corday von Hauer; Lambinet Museum, Versailles

Literary adaptations

Immediately after the murder of Marat and the execution of his assassin, this topic began to be dealt with extensively in literature and the visual arts. In France, under the Jacobin regime (1793/94), there were almost exclusively Marat praises. The assassination attempt on the "friend of the people", including his glorification, was the subject of numerous performances in Parisian theaters (e.g. Jean-François Barrau , La mort de Marat , 1794). From the French era at the time, only two works that took the side of Charlotte Corday have survived, a poem by André Chénier, guillotined as a victim of Robespierre, and a drama by Girondin Jean-Baptiste Salle, composed in 1794 but not published at the time, who was also executed not long afterwards. This tragedy only describes the interrogation and death of the assassin, not the history and the murder of Marat. As early as July 1793, the Mainz deputy Adam Lux , who had witnessed Corday's last walk to her execution and approved her act, had published a brochure under the title Charlotte Corday and ended up on the scaffold himself. But German authors, who welcomed the French Revolution, initially expressed themselves extremely disapprovingly of Corday's act, while she condemned Wieland less sharply in the German Merkur . In poetic depictions by Klopstock and Gleim , Charlotte Corday appears as a heroine; she is compared here with Caesar's murderer Brutus and preferred to him. The English playwright Edmund John Eyre created the tragedy The Maid of Normandy in 1794 , which shows the failure of Corday's political hopes linked to her assassination attempt.

After the abolition of Robespierre's arbitrary rule, literary adaptations of Corday's deed emerged in France, in which it was portrayed more positively than before, sometimes even heroically. Jean Antoine Brun , known as Lebrun-Tossa, wrote a l'Apothéose de Charlotte Corday in 1796 . In the three-act drama Charlotte Corday, ou la Judith moderne , published in 1797 , the author of which is unknown, she appears like the heroin of the Old Testament as the savior of her nation. The rejection of the priest by the delinquent sitting in the dungeon was often discussed, for example in the tragedy Charlotte Corday written by Baron Renatus Karl von Senckenberg or the murder of Marat (1797; soon afterwards supplemented by the short epic Carolina Cordæa ). The German writer Jean Paul, who was enthusiastic at the beginning of the French Revolution but had been hostile to the Jacobin regime, portrayed Corday as a saint in his novella Der 17. Juli or Charlotte Corday (1801). The German playwright Engel Christine Westphalen , who looked after refugees from the French Revolution, wrote the work Charlotte Corday (1804) based on the ancient model and included the character of Adam Lux in the plot for the first time. Various authors embedded the Corday material in larger political contexts or created a lover for the heroine, such as one of the persecuted Girondins.

In the successful three-act prose tragedy Sept heures, ou Charlotte Corday (1829) by Victor Henri Joseph Brahain Ducange and Auguste Anicet-Bourgeois (German Ludwig Meyer, Charlotte Corday or Marat's death , 1833), the assassin has personal reasons for the murder, the moreover, is over-motivated by Marat's blackmailing love intrigue. In 1840 Henri-François-Alphonse Esquiros wrote the two-volume novel Charlotte Corday . Louise Colet added some new poetic motifs to the material in her drama Charlotte Corday et Madame Roland , published in 1842 . The French playwright François Ponsard wrote the play Charlotte Corday , which was premiered in 1850 at the Théâtre-Français , probably inspired by Lamartine's above-mentioned work on the history of the Girondists . At the end of this tragedy, Corday has to learn that her act could not end the terror regime, so that she dies as a dubious perpetrator of convictions.

The works published on the topic in the 20th century include u. a. the 1931 drama Charlotte Corday by the Austrian poet and narrator Erika Mitterer . The three-act play Charlotte Corday (1944) by Pierre Drieu la Rochelle , which was performed in southern France during the Second World War , shows the heroine as a zealous Republican who hopes that Marat's murder will save the revolution and prevent it from sliding into a tyranny . In Peter Weiss ' play The Persecution and Murder of Jean Paul Marat, portrayed by the acting group of the Charenton Hospice under the guidance of Mr de Sade (1964), Charlotte Corday appears as a comical, somnambulistic character. In 1988 Sibylle Knauss wrote the biographical novel Charlotte Corday .

Artistic and musical arrangements

In his painting The Death of Marat (1793), the French painter Jacques-Louis David , who was friends with Marat, portrayed the dead in an iconic pose in his bathtub . In his painting Charlotte Marie-Anne Corday from 1860 , Paul Baudry saw the deed from a completely different perspective, both in terms of title and interpretation: Corday, instead of Marat, became the acting heroine. The painter Johann Jakob Hauer was in charge of public safety and order in the Théâtre-Français section and was therefore able to visit the prominent prisoners. The aforementioned realistic portrait of Charlotte Corday is available from him.

Based on a libretto by Friedrich Baser, the composer Josef Schelb (1894–1977) made Charlotte Corday the heroine of his opera Charlotte Corday (1940–1943). Charlotte Corday is also the title of an opera in three acts by Lorenzo Ferrero based on a libretto by Giuseppe Di Leva, written on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution in 1989. The Scottish singer and composer Al Stewart released the song Charlotte Corday on his album Famous Last Words in 1993 , which is about Corday's spirit in search of forgiveness.


  • Charlotte de Corday d'Armont: Véritables lettres de Marie-Anne-Charlotte Corday, écrites à son père, à Barbaroux, et autres scélérats qui avoient connoissance de son crime, suivies de la conduite qu'elle a tenue jusqu'à l'échafaud . Lachave, Paris ( on Gallica ). (French)


Web links

Commons : Charlotte Corday  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. Corday in the Encyclopédie Larousse , with another picture
  2. ^ M. Prevost, in: Dictionnaire de Biographie française . Vol. 9 (1961), Col. 617f.
  3. ^ Yves Lecouturier: Célèbres de Normandie . Orep Editions, 2007, ISBN 978-2-915762-13-6 , pp. 39 . (French)
  4. ^ Christian Bolte and Klaus Dimmler: Black Widows and Iron Virgins . Reclam-Verlag Leipzig 1997, ISBN 3-379-00763-3 , pp. 120f.
  5. Gilles Rissignol: Le Guide du Calvados . 2nd Edition. Le Manufacture, Lyon 1994, ISBN 978-2-7377-0370-6 , pp. 67 . (French)
  6. Cf. Thomas W. Gaehtgens, Davids Marat (1793) or the dialectic of the victim . In: Alexander Demandt (Ed.): The assassination in history . Cologne 1999, ISBN 3-518-39436-3 , pp. 224f. and 246.
  7. Thomas W. Gaehtgens, Davids Marat (1793) or the dialectic of the victim . In: Alexander Demandt (Ed.): Das Assentat in der Geschichte , p. 223; Christian Bolte and Klaus Dimmler: Black Widows and Iron Virgins , pp. 116–120.
  8. ^ C. David Rice: Corday, Charlotte . In: Anne Commire (Ed.): Women in World History . Vol. 4 (2000), p. 118.
  9. ^ Baur: Corday d'Armans, Marie Anne Charlotte , in: Johann Samuelansch and Johann Gottfried Gruber (eds.): General Encyclopedia of Sciences and Arts , 1st section, 19th volume (1829), p. 277.
  10. Short portrait of Charlotte Corday on
  11. Christian Bolte and Klaus Dimmler: Black Widows and Iron Virgins , p. 126.