Most anyone with a perfunctory knowledge of world history knows about the French Revolution. The ten-year upheaval in France started in 1789 and was inspired by the American Revolution. It heralded egalitarianism, liberty, and brotherhood for all. But the average person may not be familiar with Charlotte Corday and the role she played in the French Revolution.
Who is Charlotte Corday? History has labeled her the "Angel of Assasination" and she is known to most casual students of history as the aristocrat who murdered French Revolution leader, Jean-Paul Marat, in his bathtub. Marat's death is most famously depicted in Jacques Louis David's painting "The Death of Marat."
Casual historians would label Corday's act as a tragic setback for the revolutionary cause in France at the time. But diving deeper into the story of this educated, young noblewoman reveals a fascinating and complex character in what is usually seen as black and white historical event. Here's everything your history teacher skimmed over in class about the cunning revolution assassin, Charlotte Corday.
Corday's Corpse Underwent A Virginity Test
As if Charlotte Corday's corpse had not already suffered enough indignities, her body was forced to undergo a "virginity test." Rumors had spread around Paris that she had at least one lover in the city, and she was suspected of more.
It was believed a woman thusly educated and violent must also be loose in her sexual morals. It would have provided further reason to villify her. The test concluded Corday did indeed die a virgin.
Corday's Infamy Provides Historical Perspective On The Role of Women In The RevolutionPhoto: Public Domain/Jean-Joseph Weerts / Wikimedia Commons
Corday may have realized the significance of her actions but she couldn't have known the longer implications they would have in history. Especially in how women of the revolution would be viewed and the due they deserved.
While longer term successes in the women's movement in France would take much longer to enact, Corday's example of what an educated woman could accomplish and the passion she could exhibit for a cause would prove pivotal in the longer term.
For example, no one had considered that a woman would be clever enough to plot and enact the brutal murder of a high-ranking and highly respected government official. It was not just that the act itself was so bold, it was the revelation that a woman could be the one to carry it out.