How the murder with a handgun of a prince in the 16th century became the shot heard around the world.
Like the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln in 1865, Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1918 and John F. Kennedy in 1963, that of Prince William the Silent in 1584 created a sensation in its day. In her fast-paced account of the murder of the father of an independent Netherlands, historian Jardine (Renaissance Studies/Queen Mary Univ., London; The Curious Life of Robert Hooke, 2004, etc.) charts the religious/political struggle during the 16th century that pitted the Catholic Hapsburgs against Europe’s Protestants. Groomed early in life by the Hapsburgs to be a faithful servant, William later changed his allegiance in response to the Spanish persecution of Dutch Protestants. As his conflict with his Dutch subjects intensified, Spain’s King Philip II saw the uncooperative William as a traitor and placed a price on his head. Spurred by Philip’s appeals, a French Catholic finally silenced the prince with bullets discharged from the latest in deadly technology: a wheel-lock pistol. Jardine successfully illustrates how William’s murder unleashed paranoia in England as the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I and her advisers feared for her safety. Her occasional attempts to tie the heated religious disputes of the 16th century with present day troubles can sometimes distract from the narrative, but overall, she succeeds in recreating a snapshot of a long-forgotten event.
A slim volume packing plenty of information, and a useful reminder of how a single event—executed in seconds—can have significant historical implications.