Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

November Books 9) The Awful End of William the Silent

9) The Awful End of William the Silent: The First Assassination of a Head of State with a Handgun, by Lisa Jardine

Got a battered second-hand copy of this cheap off the internets after reading Veronica Wedgwood's biography of William (which is not cited even once by Jardine). I think this is much the better book; it's also about a third the length. Where Wedgwood breathlessly tells of the exploits of her hero, Jardine analyses how events were reported and used in the wider geopolitical context. She makes much of the use of the new pistol technology for William's assassination, though I'm not totally convinced by her stress on the novelty of the murder method: in fact it was the second such attempt on William's life in just over two years, and it was more than two decades since the Duc de Guise had been shot by a pistol-wielding assassin.

What surely is unusual is the economic aspect to the crime - the fact that Philip II of Spain had put a massive price on William's head, and indeed paid out to the family of the assassin (who was himself put to death in a gruesome public execution in Delft lasting several days). Even then, a policy of decapitation of unfriendly regimes by physical attack on their leaders was regarded as particularly controversial, and the murder clearly damaged Philip II's already poor reputation still further. (The more modern parallels are obvious.)

Jardine concentrates a lot more than Wedgwood on the English aspects of the killing, though she goes in circles a bit (especially about the death of Sir Philip Sidney) and pulls in contemporary references in a way that will make this book feel rather dated before many years have passed. On the whole, though, I found her presentation of the historical details more lucid and interesting than Wedgwood's.

Anyway, a good quick read about an interesting part of European history.
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Tags: bookblog 2007, world: netherlands
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