Balthasar Gérard

Balthasar Gérard

Balthasar Gérard (in Dutch, Gerards or Gerardts) (1557–1584) was the assassin of the Dutch independence leader, William I of Orange, also known as William the Silent.

Gérard was born in Vuillafans (Franche-Comté) in modern France, at number 3 in the street now called Rue Gérard. He came from a Roman Catholic family with 11 children and was a great admirer of Philip II, the king of Spain and the Netherlands. He studied law at the University of Dole. Even before the reward Philip II offered, he told his fellow students that he would put a knife in William the Silent's heart.

Philip II offered a reward of 25,000 crowns to anyone who killed William the Silent, calling him a "pest on the whole of Christianity and the enemy of the human race".


After the ban was published he came to Luxembourg where he learned that John Jaureguy ( _es. Juan de Jáuregui) was attempting the assassination. Before long, it became known that that attempt had failed. In March 1584 he left Luxembourg and went to Trier. There he put his plan before the regent of the Jesuits but another Jesuit convinced him to change his original scheme and go to the prince of Parma.

In Tournai he held council with a celebrated Franciscan, Father Gery. There he wrote a letter, a copy of which was deposited with the guardian of the Franciscan convent. He presented the original personally to the Prince of Parma, to whom he said: "The vassal ought always to prefer justice and the will of the king to his own life."

He explained his scheme but did not specify the exact nature of his trap and bait. At first the prince thought him unfit but after consulting Haultepenne and others with the letter he was assigned to Christoffel d' Assonleville.Assonleville spoke with Balthasar and asked that he would write down his plan, which was done on April 11, 1584.

He requested absolution from the prince of Parma "as he was about to keep company for some time with heretics and atheists, and in some sort to conform himself to their customs."

For his first expenses he begged for 50 crowns which were refused. "I will provide myself out of my own purse," said he to Assonleville, "and within six weeks you will hear of me."--"Go forth, my son," said Assonleville, paternally, after this spirited reply, "and if you succeed in your enterprise, the King will fulfill all his promises, and you will gain an immortal name besides."

The first opportunity he had for his crime he was unprepared and had no plan of escape. At that time William lay unarmed and alone in bed. He awaited another chance.

On Sunday July 8 he loitered in the courtyard examining the premises. A halberdier asked him why he was waiting there. He excused himself by saying that in his shabby clothing and without new shoes he was unfit to join the congregation in the church opposite. The halberdier had no suspicion of Balthasar's real purpose and through pitying his poverty arranged a gift of 50 crowns for Balthasar.

The following morning Gérard purchased a pair of pistols from a soldier, haggling the price for a long time because the soldier couldn't supply the particular chopped bullets or slugs he wanted. After hearing about the events of the following day, this soldier is believed to have stabbed himself to death after hearing what the price for this sale had really been.

The shooting on Tuesday, July 10

As William the Silent climbed the stairs to the second floor, he was spoken to by the Welsh captain, Roger Williams, who knelt before him. William put his hand on the bowed head of the old captain, at which moment Balthasar Gérard jumped out of a dark corner. Gérard drew his weapon and fired threeFact|date=July 2008 shots at the stadtholder. William the Silent collapsed. His sister knelt besides him, but it was too late. 'Mon Dieu, ayez pitié de moi et de mon pauvre peuple.' ('My God, have mercy on me and on my poor people.') are reportedly his last words. According to historian Lisa Jardine, this may have been the first (recorded) assassination of a world political leader by means of a firearm.

In the meanwhile, Gérard had fled through the side door and ran across the narrow lane, pursued by Roger Williams. He had almost reached the ramparts, from which he intended to jump into the moat. On the other side a saddled horse stood ready. A pig's bladder around his waist was intended to help keep him afloat. However, he stumbled over a heap of rubbish. A servant and a halberdier of the prince who had raced after him caught him.

When called a traitor by his captors, he is said to have replied, "I am no traitor; I am a loyal servant of my lord." "Which lord?" they asked. "Of my lord and master, the king of Spain".

At the same time more pages and halberdiers of the prince appeared and dragged him back to the house under a rain of fists and beatings with the butt of a sword. From the talk he heard he thought that the prince was still alive. "Cursed be the hand that missed!" he yelled.

Trial, torture, and execution

At the house he immediately underwent a preliminary examination before the city magistrates. Upon being interrogated by the magistrates, he showed neither despair nor contrition, but rather a quiet exultation. He said that "Like David, he had slain Goliath of Gath."

The magistrates sentenced that the right hand of Gérard should be burned off with a red-hot iron, that his flesh should be torn from his bones with pincers in six different places, that he should be quartered and disemboweled alive, that his heart should be torn from his bosom and flung in his face, and that, finally, his head should be taken off. [cite book | last = Motley | first = John L. | title = The Rise of the Dutch Republic, Vol. 3 | url = | authorlink = John Lothrop Motley | year = 1856 ]

In the first night of his imprisonment Balthasar Gérard was hung on a pole and lashed with a whip. After that his wounds were smeared with honey and a goat was brought to lick the honey off Gérard's bruised skin with his sharp tongue. The goat however refused to touch the body of the sentenced. After this and other tortures he was left the night with his hands and feet bound together, as a ball, so he couldn't sleep. During the following three days, he was repeatedly mocked and hung on the pole with his hands tied behind his back. Then a weight of 300 pounds (136 kg) was attached to each of his big toes for half an hour.

After this half hour Gérard was fitted with shoes made of well-oiled, raw dog's leather; the shoes were two fingers shorter than his feet. In this state he was put before a fire. When the shoes warmed up, they contracted, crushing the feet inside them to stumps. When the shoes were removed, his half-broiled skin was torn off. After his feet were damaged, his armpits were branded. After that he was dressed in a shirt soaked in alcohol. Then burning bacon fat was poured over him and sharp nails were stuck between the flesh and the nails of his hands and feet. Gérard is said to have remained calm during his torture.

He was finally executed in accordance with his sentence. []


Philip II gave Balthasar's parents, instead of the reward of 25,000 crowns, three country estates in Lievremont, Hostal, and Dampmartin in the Franche Comté and the family was raised to the peerage. Later, Philip II offered to give those estates to the Prince of Orange, provided he would continue to pay a fixed proportion of the rents to the family of his father's murderer. This was rejected with scorn. The estates remained with the Gérard family.

A certain Sasbout Vosmeer tried to have Gérard canonized. He stole Gérard's head and showed it to church officials in Rome, but the Church rejected the idea.


*Lisa Jardine: "The Awful End of William the Silent: The First Assassination of A Head of State With A Handgun": London: HarperCollins: 2005: ISBN 0007192576


NAME=Gérard, Balthasar
ALTERNATIVE NAMES=Gerards, Balthasar;Gerards, Balthazar;Gerardts, Balthasar
SHORT DESCRIPTION=assassin of William the Silent
PLACE OF BIRTH=Vuillafans, Franche-Comté, France
DATE OF DEATH=July 24 1584
PLACE OF DEATH=Delft, Netherlands

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