The Awful End of Prince William the Silent by Lisa Jardine describes the events leading up to the assassination of William and the repercussions of his death within the Low Countries and across Europe. It brings together two of my favourite things – crime and history – and does so in a really accessible way.

You don’t need to know anything about the political situation on the continent at that time as the author gives one of the best synopses I have ever read. So you get an understanding of why the Low Countries were in revolt against Spain, why Philip II felt the need to put a price on William’s head, and why someone might want to take up that challenge even though they knew it meant a certain and deeply unpleasant death for them. You also learn the impact this crime had on the rulers of Europe, Particularly Elizabeth II, and the growing fear of handguns. For as Lisa Jardine says, this crime wouldn’t have been possible without the invention of a pistol that could be loaded and primed in advance, concealed about the person and produced at the right moment to deadly effect.

What I found particularly interesting about this book are the parallels that are drawn with the present day. The 16th century assassin is compared to 21st century suicide bombers, who are almost impossible to stop because they have no concern for their own survival. The repressive measures taken by the English government in particular, trying to stop the wrong type of person from entering the country because of the fear that the Queen might be killed, and the lengths the intelligence services at the time went to to keep tabs on people also have a resonance in today’s fight against terror. And of course the murder of a celebrity and what that can mean to their ongoing reputation is also touched upon.

I thought this was an excellent introduction to the subject, and had the bonus of some original documents in the appendices which really fleshed out the background. Highly recommended.

Updated – I was so intent on trying to articulate what I thought about this book that I forgot to mention it was my fifth and final read for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge.