History's Most Fascinating Female Assassins

We tend to think of assassins as being men, but there were plenty of historical assassins who were women. Women throughout history have held lower statuses than men, but that often gave them an edge in espionage or assassin work – few people suspected that women were capable of such things when they were looked upon as being inferior. But societal expectations didn't stop any of these women assassins, with many of them changing the course of history through a well-placed poisoning or strategic stabbing. Though some of their assassination strategies may have been bizarre, all of these women were effective in their mission to take someone – or more than just one – out.

Of course, not all female assassins in history were fighting for causes one could truly call noble. Some were downright nasty, and the people they killed were those who could have had a great positive influence on the world. Still, any person who resorts to killing others for political influence or social gain is a captivating figure, especially when so many deliberately used the fact that they were women to avoid suspicion or achieve their ends.

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  • Charlotte Corday's Assassination Of Marat Changed The Perception Of Women
    Photo: Paul-Jacques-Aimé Baudry / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Charlotte Corday, a French revolutionary, was known as the Angel of Assassination for killing her target, the Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat on July 13, 1793. Marat had been in power during the Reign of Terror, and specifically the September Massacres, in which some 1,300 people were executed as potential enemies of the state.

    Corday entered Marat's apartment by claiming she had information of an uprising elsewhere in France and stabbed him with a kitchen knife in revenge for the massacres, knowing she'd be put to death for it. She was executed just four days after the assassination, with her actions consolidating a new era in gender relations in France. 

    • Age: Dec. at 24 (1768-1793)
    • Birthplace: Écorches, France
  • Lucrezia Borgia's Machinations May All Be Fiction
    Photo: Attributed to Dosso Dossi / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Though it's possible that Lucrezia Borgia – a member of the inimitable 15th-century Borgia clan – never actually murdered anybody, she's long been painted as a homicidal woman known for poisoning her enemies and unwanted husbands alike. Her family's enemies spread stories that she had a hollow ring that she would use to poison people at dinner parties when she could not persuade them to her position through more peaceful means.

    There's no historical evidence for any of this other than rumors, but they paint a fascinating picture of a woman whose outward persona was one of piety and purity to conceal her power-hungry nature.

    • Age: Dec. at 39 (1480-1519)
    • Birthplace: Subiaco, Italy
  • Shi Jianqiao Assassinated Her Father's Killer In Public And Wasn't Punished
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Shi Jianqiao Assassinated Her Father's Killer In Public And Wasn't Punished

    Shi Jianqiao isn't famous for killing loads of people; rather, she's known for offing one specific person who had wronged her family. In 1925, Sun Chuanfang, a warlord in China, beheaded Shi Jianqiao's father for leading an opposition force against him and paraded the head in public. Shi Jianqiao tracked Sun Chuanfang for 10 years before shooting him three times.

    Instead of fleeing, she stuck around the scene to explain her actions by means of pamphlets, and, instead of being punished, she was freed because the act was determined to be an example of filial piety.

  • Idoia Lopez Riano's Reputation Earned Her A Fearsome Nickname

    Though Idoia Lopez Riano has since renounced violence, that doesn't erase the 23 people she's accused of assassinating in the 1980s in her quest for Basque independence from Spain. Lopez was given the nickname La Tigresa – the tigress – because of her rumored sexual prowess, as she was known to seduce policemen prior to attacks.

    Her numerous killings led to a 1,500-year prison sentence in 2003 (when she was finally apprehended in France and tried for her crimes). ETA, the organization to which Lopez belonged, has since disbanded.

  • Mistress Marcia Helped Murder A Roman Emperor

    Marcia was not solely responsible for the death of Emperor Commodus, an inept leader of ancient Rome, on New Years Day in 193 CE, but her actions as part of a murder plot proved important nonetheless. Commodus, believing himself to be the reincarnation of Hercules, planned to fight in the arena despite his advisors' urgings. He threatened to accuse them – including his mistress, Marcia – and add them to a list of people he wanted executed for subversion.

    Their response was to launch an orchestrated assassination attempt. Marcia slipped him poison in his wine, which failed to kill him as he vomited it up, but, in his weakened state, he was strangled by his fitness coach.

  • Fanny Kaplan Was A Revolutionary From A Young Age
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Fanny Kaplan Was A Revolutionary From A Young Age

    A member of the "Socialist Revolutionaries" in Russia, Fanny Kaplan was a political activist from a young age. She was arrested for her involvement with a bomb plot at just 16 years old. After serving time in a Serbian work camp, she lost most of her sight but not her desire to make change.

    Because of the conflict between the Socialist Revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks, she gained a great dislike for Vladimir Lenin. After a meeting at the Hammer and Sickle, Kaplan shot Lenin three times, with two of the bullets doing serious damage. He survived, and Kaplan refused to name any accomplices, leading to her execution in 1918.