Jean-Paul Marat Lauded Then Despised

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.

Marat, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Jean-Paul Marat. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Corday’s sympathy toward the Girondin’s cause resulted in her murdering Marat in his shoe-shaped bathtub in July of 1793. Just after his murder various people were called and the Ipswich Journal reported that besides the famous wax sculptress Madame Tussaud, the well-respected French painter, Jacques-Louis David, came to the scene:

“On the eve of the death of Marat, said David, the society of Jacobins sent to Maure and me the news. I found him in an attitude which struck me: he had a billet of wood near him, and on which were ink and paper, and in his hand, which had just come out of the bath, a pen, with which he wrote his last thoughts for the safety of the people. Yesterday the surgeon who embalmed his body, sent to ask, in what manner it should be exposed to the view of the people in the church of the Cordeliers. No part f his body can be uncovered; for he had a leprosy, and his blood was totally inflamed; but I thought it interesting to present him in the attitude with which I found him, writing for the happiness of the people.”[1]

Although Corday may have wished to hurt the Jacobin’s cause and improve the position of the Girondins by killing Mart, just the opposite happened. 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.”[2] Supposedly, David painted the scene not from real life but from Philippe Mathé Curtius and Madame Tussaud who had created a wax tableau depicting the moment.

- Marat Painting by Jacques-Louis David, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Painting by Jacques-Louis David of Marat’s murder. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Besides being praised in David’s painting, which was first displayed at the Louvre on an altar before being moved to a hall at the National Convention, Marat was lauded in other ways. His 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, provided a waxing oration over the urn at his 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 and he was buried under a weeping willow. In the center was a small sacellum, where “his bust, his lamp, his bathing-tub, and his inkstand [were placed].”[3] 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.

Another version of the funeral was provided by the Hereford Journal:

“The funeral of Marat was celebrated with the greatest pomp and solemnity. The National Convention attended the procession, which was also joined by the different Sections, some with their colours, but all of them with their standards. An immense crowd of people likewise attended it. Four women bore the bathing machine in which Marat was standing when he was assassinated; his shirt, stained with blood, was carried by another Amazon at the top of the pike. After this followed a wooden bedstead, on which the corpse of Marat was carried by citizens. His head was uncovered, and the gash made by the knife of the assassin could be easily distinguished. The procession parade through several streets, and was saluted on its march past ten o’clock at night the remains of Marat were deposited in a grave dug in the yard of the Club of the Cordeliers … At the base of his Bed of State the following words were inscribed:

The Friend of the People
Assassinated by the Enemies of the People.
Enemies of the Country, Moderate Your Joy;
He will find Avengers!”[4]

Marat would not rest there long. On  21 September 1794, nearly a year after the guillotining of Marie Antoinette, Marat’s body was moved to the Panthéon. It happened on the same day that Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Count of Mirabeau’s remains were to be removed because in 1792 his secret dealings with the king were uncovered. A report on the crimes against Mirabeau were forthcoming:

“After entering into a relation of his political career, and enumerating the services he had rendered his country, [Chenier] accused him of being a partisan of royalty, under the veil of being a zealous advocate for the people for the purpose of advancing his own interests, and moved that Gabriel Riquetti Mirabeau should be removed from the Pantheon and Marat placed in his stead.”[5]

Votes were then taken about placing Murat’s body in the Panthéon, which had been built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve to house the reliquary châsse containing her relics. However, the building was later converted to a secular mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens, such as the legendary drummer boy Joseph Bara or the famous enlightenment writer Voltaire. It was declared, “Out of 366 votes 232 were for his commitment, 82 against it, and 22 excused themselves from voting.”[6]

“La Mort de Bara” by Charles Moreau-Vauthier. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

In the Pantheon Marat 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 because by 1795 his name had become tarnished. 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. The National Convention also approved that “the honours of the Pantheon shall not be voted to any man, or his bust put up in the hall of the Convention, or any public place, till 10 years after his death.”[7]


  • [1] Friday’s Post, The Ipswich Journal, 27 July 1793, p. 2.
  • [2] Galignani, A. and W., The History of Paris, from the Earliest Period to the Present Day, 1825, p. 34.
  • [3] Ibid., p. 35.
  • [4] “London, Thursday, July 25,” in Hereford Journal, 31 July 1793, p. 1.
  • [5] [4] “Sunday’s Post,” in Bury and Norwich Post, 11 December 1793, p. 4.
  • [6] “National Convention,” in Bath Chronicle and Weekly Gazette, 2 May 1793, p. 1.
  • [7] “Friday’s Post,” in Ipswich Journal, 28 February 1795, p. 2.

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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.

  2. VICE on April 25, 2021 at 2:43 pm

    I don’t know if you will read this comment, it’s been 5 years since you wrote this, but… is anything else about Marquis de Sade and Jean Paul Marat? Did they meet? What did Marquis de sade write on his eulogy?

    • Geri Walton on November 29, 2021 at 10:06 am

      All I know about their relationship is what I put in this article, that the marquis gave a eulogy for Marat at his funeral.

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