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The Awful End of Prince William the Silent

by Lisa Jardin, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 2005, $21.95.

 Published as part of a series on historic events by Amanda Foreman and Lisa Jardin, The Awful End of Prince William the Silent describes the death of William of Nassau, Prince of Orange, stadtholder of the Low Countries and leader of the Netherlands’ war for independence from Spain. Prince William was killed at the hands of Balthasar Gérard, a French-born fundamentalist Catholic, carrying out the wishes of Spanish King Philip II, who had put a 25,000-ducat bounty on William’s head. The death of William on July 10, 1584, did little to arrest the progress of Dutch independence, but Gérard’s use of a wheel-lock pistol made it the first assassination by means of a handgun.

Jardin describes the war in the Low Countries and the development of the pistol in light cavalry use, and investigates the policy of the intelligence services during the conflict. In that context, William’s death spread terror among his English supporters, leading Queen Elizabeth I and her ministers to legislate against public firearm possession. Thus Jardin connects that period with the current fears of attack by fundamentalist terrorists. Ultimately, however, military victories are more often seen as historic turning points than assassinations. By the time Spain recognized Dutch independence when the Peace of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years’ War in 1648, the Netherlands was not only a nation but also a naval and colonial power.


Originally published in the June 2006 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.