Jean-Paul Marat Lauded Then Despised

Jean-Paul Marat, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Jean-Paul Marat, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Jean-Paul Marat was a well-known journalist and radical Jacobin during the French Revolution. He was admired by many revolutionaries and considered to be a “friend of the people,” having taken up the cause of the Third Estate. Marat also inspired numerous people to join in the Jacobin cause. However, he also inspired the ire of a 24-year-old woman name Charlotte Corday. She read enlightened works and became politically active, sympathizing largely with the less radical Girondins who wanted an end to the monarchy but also resisted the revolution.

Corday’s sympathy toward the Girondin’s cause resulted in her murdering Marat in his shoe-shaped bathtub in July of 1793. Although Corday may have wished to hurt the Jacobin’s cause and improve the position of the Girondins, just the opposite happened. When Marat’s murder came to light, the well-respected French painter, Jacques-Louis David, “delivered an emphatic panegyric of [Marat] … and declared that his art should reproduce the traits chéris du vertueux ami du peuple [and] he afterwards painted him at the moment of assassination, the blood streaming from the wound.”

Painting by Jacques-Louis David, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Painting by Jacques-Louis David, Courtesy of Wikipedia

There was more praise for Marat besides David’s painting, which was first displayed at the Louvre on an altar before being moved to a hall at the National Convention. Marat’s heart was embalmed and placed inside a costly urn, and Maximilien Robespierre, a member of the Estates-General, Constituent Assembly, and influential leader of the Jacobin Club, lauded over the urn providing a waxing oration at Marat’s funeral. Yet, the real triumph for the Jacobins may have been what came next.

An earthen tomb was erected in the garden of the Cordeliers between four linden trees. Marat’s tomb was surrounded with an iron railing. In the center was a small sacellum, where “his bust, his lamp, his bathing-tub, and his inkstand” were placed. To ensure the tomb was not disturbed, it was guarded day and night, and, every week, revolutionaries in their red caps of liberty, formed a procession, traversed to the tomb, and “took their stations.”

Tombeau de Jean-Paul Marat, Courtesy of British Museum

Tomb of Jean-Paul Marat, Courtesy of British Museum

On 25 November 1793, Marat’s body was moved to the Panthéon and he was declared “immortal.” A fine eulogy was presented by the Marquis de Sade, an ally of Marat’s and a delegate of the Section Piques. Marat was also made a quasi-saint when the Jacobins began their dechristian campaign, and he became so popular, his bust frequently replaced church crucifixes throughout Paris. Moreover, the famous port city of Le Havre-Le Havre-de-Grâce changed its name to Le Havre-de-Marat in his honor.

Unfortunately, Marat’s illustrious status in France did not last long. By 1795, Marat’s name had become tarnished. He was accused of being a “partisan of royalty, [but operating] under the veil of being a zealous advocate of the people for the purpose of advancing his own interests.”  In response, Le Havre-de-Marat was changed to Le Havre, a name that the city still goes by today. Marat’s coffin was also removed from the Panthéon to a nearby church, the Saint-Étienne-du-Mont, and all busts and sculptures of Marat were destroyed.


  • “Funeral of Marat,” in Newcastle Courant, 10 August 1793
    Galignani, A. and W., The History of Paris, from the Earliest Period to the Present Day, 1825
  • “London, Thursday, July 25,” in Hereford Journal, 31 July 1793
  • “National Convention,” in Derby Mercury, 21 November 1793
  • “National Convention – Nov. 27,” in Derby Mercury, 12 December 1793
  • “Sunday’s Post,” in Bury and Norwich Post, 11 December 1793

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  1. Annabella on August 23, 2016 at 7:25 pm

    The rise and fall of those in politics……not so different today 😉 thanks for the interesting article Geri.

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