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Friday, 17 July 2009

The Assassin's Blade

If we want to get rid of an MP we're unhappy with, we usually have to wait for the next general election and cast our vote. But in the bloodthirsty days of the French Revolution, heads literally rolled under Mme Guillotine's glittering blade. Today is the anniversary of the execution of a young woman who loved her country and feared for her friends.
Charlotte Corday, born in 1768, was a supporter of the Girondin faction. The Girondins were under attack in the French Assembly by the implacable Robespierre and Marat. As the Revolution grew ever bloodier, the Girondins, alarmed by the monster they’d helped create, tried to halt its progress. But the Girondins quickly fell victim to the guillotine. Charlotte believed total civil war was imminent. She decided the only way to save France and stop the bloodshed was to assassinate the pitiless Marat; she tricked her way into his house, and slew him while he was bathing.
Charlotte was sentenced to death, but showed no fear: ‘I have killed one man to save a hundred thousand.’ She was guillotined on 17 July 1793. Despite her sacrifice, Marat’s death didn’t stop the deluge of victims; countless others were doomed.

Image: Charlotte Corday. Beeton’s Dictionary of Universal Biography, (Ward, Lock & Tyler, 1870.

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