Jean-Paul Marat 1743-1793
Jean-Paul Marat 1743-1793

Leader of the Montagnards

Marat was a political extremist, a republican revolutionary, a radical democrat. He was friends with and champion of the sans-culottes.

Image Above

Portrait of the French politician Jean-Paul Marat

Oil on canvas by Joseph Boze, 1793

Musée Carnavalet

Marat was a Jacobin, a Montagnard, a Cordelier.


Who Were the Montagnards?

In a nutshell, the Montagnards were the Jacobin deputies in the National Convention.

The Montagnards, French literally Mountain Men, was a political group that formed during the French Revolution.

This group of radical revolutionaries was so named because they were sitting on one of the higher placed benches in the  National Convention. Other deputies that were placed on the floor were called the Plain, or La Plaine, and represented the political centrist majority.

The Montagnards' opposition in the National Convention were the Girondins, who were eventually purged.

See also Montagnards in the French Revolution Glossary.


Marat in a Nutshell

Jean-Paul Marat was born on May 24, 1743, at Boudry, in today's Switzerland.

Boudry is located between Besancon and Berne at the Lake Neuchatel.

Map Location of Boudry, Switzerland
Map Location of Boudry, Switzerland
Google Map

And back in the days, the map looked like this:

Extension of the French Frontiers 1601-1766
France 1601-1766 Frontiers
Click to enlarge


Marat's father was from Sardinia and his mother from Geneva. The family lived on a modest income.

Marat studied philosophy and medicine. He went to school in Neuchâtel and later Bordeaux.

In 1762, Marat moved to Paris where he became a physicist.

In 1765, he traveled to London where he wrote on medicine, politics, and law. His writings were translated from English into French.

Back in France in 1777, Marat became the trusted physician of the guards serving the Comte d'Artois, Louis XVI's youngest brother.

Although Marat continued his scientific research, the French Academy of Sciences at Paris (Académie des sciences) rejected his work. This might or might not have placed an enormous chip on Marat's shoulder.


Marat and Politics

In 1780, Marat quit being a doctor and focused on politics. He became a passionate political journalist.

In September 1789, Marat created his own newspaper, the People's Friend (L'Ami du Peuple).

At first in favor of the monarchy, Marat quickly shifted in his views all the way to the opposite side of the political scale. He joined the radical Jacobins. He wrote in favor of the sans-culottes and violently against the King of France, against French aristocracy, and against the rich in general.

Marat spoke out against Jacques Necker and, as a consequence, he had to flee to England in early 1790. After three months he came back, became a leader of the Cordeliers Club, attacked Lafayette, Mirabeau, Bailly, and the émigrés.

Marat was sentenced to a month in prison. He went again into hiding (again off to England), but he never gave up voicing his opinions.

Politically, Marat's big break came in September 1792 when he was elected to the
 National Convention as a Paris deputy. He took his place with the Montagnards. Now a hardened extremist, Marat renamed his newspaper to Journal de la République Française, or Journal of the French Republic.

Marat spoke out in support of the elimination of enemies of the Republic as a rule. His was one of the 380 votes, cast on January 19, 1793, that sealed the decision to execute King Louis XVI. With only 310 against the sentence, the King was executed two days later.

Marat Voting for the Death of Louis XVI
Marat Voting for the Death of Louis XVI
Oil on canvas by Jeanne Dabos
In this painting, Jeanne Dabos turns Marat's rostrum into a fountain of blood.
Outside it is not less creepy where lightning strikes over the guillotine.
© Versailles, Musée Lambinet



In April 1793, the Girondins dragged Marat before the Revolutionary Tribunal. He was acquitted on April 23, 1793, and came back with a vengeance. By June 2, 1793, the Girondins were ousted from the National Convention.


The Death of Jean-Paul Marat

Marie-Anne-Charlotte Corday d'Armont — her friends called her Marie — was a 24 year-old lady from Normandy. She was politically connected with the  Girondins and held Marat responsible for much of the Terror.

Charlotte Corday
Charlotte Corday
Bibliothèque Nationale Paris

Marat suffered from a skin disease and enjoyed long baths that soothed his condition. He made the best of it and turned his tub into his office. He wrote in the tub, he read in the tub, and he received visitors while in the tub.

To Stanford's late Ronald Hilton's question,

Was there ever a statesman who spent more time
in the bath than
Winston Churchill?

We reply: Perhaps. And as far as we know, Churchill didn't even have a skin condition.

Back to Marat.

Mademoiselle Corday pretended that she was in need of protection from rival revolutionaries. On July 13, 1793, she was allowed to speak with Marat, who was in his bathtub. The two talked for a while and then she stabbed him.

And somehow, this scene became very popular among painters.


Death of Marat / Marat Assassiné
Death of Marat / Marat Assassiné
Massive oil on canvas (165 x 128 cm / 65 x 50 in) by Jacques-Louis David,
himself a Jacobin, painted in 1793 shortly after Marat's assassination.
This painting is also referred to as the Pietà of the Revolution.
Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium

A pieta, by the way, is a representation, in painting or sculpture, of the Virgin Mary holding the dead body of Christ on her lap. From Italian pietà = piety.



Assassination of Marat by Charlotte Corday — painting by Paul Baudry

See also Assassination of Marat by Charlotte Corday — painting by Paul Baudry



Charlotte Corday
Charlotte Corday

The Legacy of Charlotte Corday

Charlotte Corday was arrested the same day, and guillotined on July 17, 1793. However, for her great courage, she became known as the Joan of Arc of Democracy.

In fact, the entire Corday / Marat assassination proved to be very inspiring for historians and artists alike. The lady was compared to Jael, Judith, or Esther (women who saved their people, see Old Testament).

All in all, it took a pair, she paid for it, and posterity was somewhat impressed.

Émilie Dequenne played Charlotte Corday in the 2008 movie of the same name. Bernard Blancan was Marat.

Charlotte Corday, 2008


The Legacy of Jean-Paul Marat

In his days, Marat was celebrated as a martyr for freedom. For his lifetime achievements, Marat's body was transferred to the Panthéon, Paris' crypt reserved for outstanding French citizens.

Pantheon, Paris
Pantheon, Paris
French Ministry of Foreign Affairs


But public opinion shifted, and after the Revolution of 9 Thermidor (July 27, 1794) his body was removed.

Today, Marat's name evokes the verbal and physical violence of the French Revolution and stands for the most radical republican views in France at the time.


Jean-Paul Marat
Jean-Paul Marat




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