10 Assassins and Their Victims in Europe and America

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The dictionary definition of an assassin is “the murderer of an important person in a surprise attack for political or religious reasons.” Throughout history the elimination of persons through murder has altered the political landscape and changed the sequence of events in the future in ways impossible to measure. American history would no doubt have evolved differently had John Wilkes Booth failed to kill Abraham Lincoln, but exactly how nobody knows. Lincoln’s murder was an act of vengeance for a defeated south, according to Booth’s diary and the reports of his co-conspirators; he hoped to decapitate the government by killing the Vice-President and Secretary of State that same night.

The word assassin itself is derived from the Nizari sect of Islam, a reference to fanatic killers who were dispatched on suicide missions. Popular belief links their fanaticism and their name to the use of hashish, but this link has been proven to be based on legend rather than fact. The Nizari assassins were killers for hire, but they were usually hired for protection. Most of history’s assassins were not hired killers, although there are exceptions. Nonetheless, Dante refers to assassins in The Infernoand in a fourteenth century commentary on the epic assassins are referred to as killers for money.

James Hamilton of Bothwellhaugh

James Stewart, Earl of Moray, was the son of Lady Margaret Erskine, a favored mistress of his father King James V of Scotland. His half-sister, born legitimately, was Mary, Queen of Scots. Stewart was both wealthy and influential, serving as a government functionary and soldier, becoming a staunch supporter of the Protestant Reformation. Despite religious differences with his half-sister Mary, it was she who granted him Earldom, making him Earl of Moray and Mar. In 1652 he led Mary’s troops against a rebellion by the followers of George Gordon. Gordon died in his custody after he was defeated in battle near Aberdeen.

In 1565 Stewart opposed the marriage of Mary to Lord Darnley, and he joined the rebellion against her known as the Chaseabout Raid, leading to his being declared an outlaw. He fled to England, returned to Scotland after he was pardoned by Queen Mary, and subsequently moved to France to stay clear of the political intrigue surrounding Mary and her court. In 1567 he returned to Scotland following Mary’s abdication of the throne, being appointed Regent for James VI, until he was of age to ascend to the throne of Scotland. It was Stewart who produced the casket letters, which incriminated Mary in the murder of her husband. The letters served to justify the opposition of the Protestant Scottish Lords against the Catholic queen.

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