17 July 1793 – Charlotte Corday

Charlotte Corday

Charlotte Corday

That a decapitated head could register surprise straight after being sliced off is little short of astounding. And yet that’s apparently what happened when Marie-Anne Charlotte Corday d’Armont lost her head on this day in 1793.

Known simply as Charlotte Corday, she was executed for assassinating one of the main men masterminding the mobilisation of the masses during the French Revolution.

Being of aristo blood anyway, she had immediately chalked up nil points, but when she honed in on darling of the revolution, Jean-Paul Marat and stabbed him while he was in the bath, she incurred the ire of the proletariat too. So why did she hate him so?

Murderous mayhem

As a radical journo, maybe it was that he had the power to really stoke people, but it was Marat’s hard-line Jacobin tendencies that were to cause the most concern. Indeed his colleagues were central to the Reign of Terror – where masses of ‘enemies of the Revolution’ were executed en masse.

This was one sticking point for Corday. This coupled with the September Massacre – where a mob over-ran Paris in 1792, which led to the deaths of thousands – infuriated Corday and offended her right-wing sensibilities so much so that she vowed to bump him off.

Corday was all for peace and love…except where Marat was concerned – her main gripe centred around the fact that he may start a civil war and throw her beloved France into turmoil.

Having a stab

The self-styled assassin tried on numerous occasions to engineer an opportunity to rid the world of her self-imposed nemesis and finally she succeeded on the evening of 9 July 1793, when the bloke lay defenceless in the bath.

She took a carving knife to him and skewered his chest, scoring a bull’s-eye when she pierced his heart in one fell stab.

Corday was apprehended before she’d even left the building and could do no more than calmly admitted her crime. For Corday saw it as her mission to save France from Marat’s clutches.

His was an anarchic influence and he favoured methods that pandered to revolution. Corday, on the other hand, preferred the new, and most definitely opposing, idea of Republicanism akin to that which was being touted across the pond in the US. And she certainly didn’t support the inordinate amount of blood that the Jacobins were happy to shed.

‘I killed one man to save 100,000’, she said simply, unafraid of the heat her actions would incur.

Sole to soul

The killer was taken to task pretty much instantly and the prosecution proceeded to get her to spill the haricots on her cohorts.

But there weren’t any others. She’d hatched the whole thing on her tod, much to her accusers’ dismay, for they were hell bent on taking down more than just Corday. They failed in that part of their mercenary mission, however she was successfully sentenced to death and Corday really did get it in the neck for her crime.

Corday faced Madame Guillotine alone, unless you count the assembled crowd baying for her blue-ish blood, just 10 days shy of her 25th birthday.

Just as her head fell away from her young body, so the executioner swiped it, held it aloft and slapped the cheek. So quickly had it been detached that it was apparently still able to register surprise at the slight.

Indeed, the executioner got an ear bashing for his impulsive actions and was slung in jail for three months for contempt.

As for Corday, they were still convinced she was in cahoots with someone, so they examined her internally only to find she was still a virgin, so they dumped her body in a grave not far from Louis Capet. It’s believed that animosity towards her fuelled the even harsher treatment of Marie Antoinette, but more of her later in the year…

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