Jean-Paul Marat


Charlotte Corday
Jean-Paul Marat was a leader of the Reign of Terror in France and the partner of another famous man of that period, Maximilian Robespierre. While also a political theorist and scientist, he was best known as a radical journalist whose writings displayed a strong bias against those he deemed enemies of the cause. An extreme voice behind the French Revolution, Marat was one of the most important men in France, alongside Robespierre and Georges Danton, until his death by assassination.

Jean-Paul Marat was born in modern-day Switzerland but left home at the age of sixteen to seek his fortune. After serving as a private tutor in Bordeaux, he came to England and established himself as a doctor. He began to mix with Italian artists and architects, and he attempted to prove himself an intellectual by publishing several philosophical and political essays between the years of 1774 and 1775. He moved to Newcastle upon Tyne, where he wrote his first prominent work, “Chains of Slavery,” inspired by English radical John Wilkes. A later doctoral work secured him an honorary degree from St. Andrew’s University, which helped to advance his reputation. After returning to England for a brief time, he moved to France, where he was appointed a job as physician to the bodyguard of the future King Charles X. His doctoring skills were widely sought after, and he set up a laboratory and published several more medical journals. He resigned from the court in 1786 to devote his full energies to science, but he put a halt to that endeavor on the eve of the French Revolution, when he began writing on behalf of the Third Estate.

Attacking the most powerful and influential Parisian organizations, Marat was forced to flee to Britain. He soon returned to France but was forced into hiding in the Paris sewers. He remained out of the spotlight until 1792, when he emerged publicly during the capture of Louis XVI. He was elected to the National Convention, although he declared himself free from party affiliation. After the king’s death, Marat began to fight with the Girondins, whom he believed to be enemies of the republic. The Girondins ordered that Marat be tried before the Revolutionary Tribunal, but he was acquitted and returned to the Convention more popular than ever. The resulting fall of the Girondins was Marat’s final great achievement. Forced to resign from the Convention due to a worsening skin disease, the revolutionary continued to work from home, where he spent much of his time in a medicinal bath. He was in his tub one day when he was approached by a woman claiming to have vital information concerning the whereabouts of escaped Girondists. After relaying news concerning several of Marat’s enemies, she rose from her chair, withdrew a knife from her corset, and plunged it into his chest, killing him instantly. The woman was later guillotined, and Marat’s death inspired the suspicion and fear that fueled the Reign of Terror.

Key events during the life of Jean-Paul Marat:

Left home in search of fame and fortune; worked as a private tutor to a wealthy family in Bordeaux
Moved to London and became an informal doctor
Published ''Chains of Slavery''
Received an honorary degree from St. Andrew's University
Moved to France
Became physician to the bodyguard of the future Charles X
Resigned from the court
Went into hiding
Assassination of Louis XVI
Fought bitterly with the Girondins
Assassinated in a bathtub

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Marie Antoinette Is Executed  in  The Story of France  by  Mary Macgregor
End of the Terror  in  Historical Tales: French  by  Charles Morris
Reign of Terror  in  The Struggle for Sea Power  by  M. B. Synge

Short Biography
Robespierre Key figure of the French Revolution. Leader of the Reign of Terror.
Georges Danton Key figure of the French Revolution who was eventually lost his head.
Louis XVI King during the French revolution. Beheaded by republicans who sought to overthrow the monarchy.
Charlotte Corday Girondist sympathizer during the French Revolution. Assassinated Marat and was later guillotined for the crime.