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Lisa Jardine, The Awful End of Prince William the Silent: Language and Sources


The description of the murder itself, vivid though it is, nevertheless eschews the more descriptive language of the novelist. Indeed, there is almost a clinical aspect to the description of the trajectory of the bullets and the detail that the fatal bullet lodged ‘beneath his breast’. There is more descriptive language in the second paragraph – the scene is one of ‘pandemonium’; Balthasar answers ‘very obstinately’; William of Orange is a ‘vile heretic’ – but closer inspection shows that only the first of these is Jardine’s own; the second is in quotation marks and the third would also seem to be a quotation. The use of ‘solitary fanatic’, although the phrase has a modern ring to it, seems from the context to be her rendition in modern language of the version being put out by the Dutch authorities, rather than her own description of the assassin. Elsewhere, she avoids the temptation to give us all the gory details of Gérard’s interrogation and contents herself with her comment (surely justified) that he was probably roughly manhandled, followed by ‘Questioned again under duress’, and ‘subjected to extreme torture’, all of which convey that he was treated very brutally without going into details. In other words, a careful reading of the language of the passage reveals that, although at first reading it might seem that Jardine is writing inventively, in fact she is keeping her own voice back and allowing the sources she has used to convey the colour and tone of the episode.


This is an example of a new genre of history books written without footnotes to distract the general reader. This technique has undoubtedly helped the sales of history books, but it does make it difficult for historians wanting to follow up the writer’s sources. That Jardine has based this on original sources is clear from the detail of her account and is confirmed by the passages in quotation marks; however, we have to guess what these might be quotations from. ‘Beneath his breast’ presumably comes from an eye witness account though it might equally originate from a surgeon’s report; the description of Gérard’s obstinacy under questioning and the admission that nothing further could be got from him must have come from someone involved in his questioning, presumably reporting to the other Dutch princes. The footnote, however, takes us to the set of appendices at the end of the book, where Jardine has reproduced a selection of significant documents associated with the murder. Thus, even though her publishers are avoiding footnotes lest they deter non-academic readers, she has managed to provide enough evidence to indicate the sort of sources on which she has based her account.

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