Born in Saint-Saturnin-des-Ligneries, a Hamlet in the commune of Écorches (Orne), in Normady, Charlotte Corday was a member of a minor aristocratic family. She was fifth-generation matrilineal descendant of the dramatist Pierre Corneille. Her parents were cousins.
While Corday was a young girl, her older sister and their mother, Charlotte Marie Jacqueline Gaultier de Mesnival, died. Her father Jacques François de Corday, seigneur d'Armont (1737–1798), unable to cope with grief over their death, sent Corday and her younger sister to the Abbaye-aux-Dames convent in Caen, where she had access to the abbey's library a first encountered the writings of Plutarch, Rousseau and Voltaire. After 1791, she lived in Caen with her cousin, Madame Le Coustellier de Bretteville-Gouville. The two developed a close relationship, and Corday was the sole heir to her cousin estate.