Prince William bullet holes authentic—his dying words legend

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The famous bullet holes left in Delft’s Prinsenhof following the 1584 murder of Prince William of Orange by a Catholic Frenchman are authentic, recent forensic research suggests. An exhibition at Delft’s Prinsenhof on the reconstruction of the murder opens today.

William of Orange, also known as the “Father of the Fatherland”, was the main leader of the Dutch revolt against the Spanish that set off the Eighty Years' War and resulted in the formal independence of the Dutch Republic in 1648. He was assassinated on 10 July 1584 at his home in Delft, now known as the Prinsenhof, by the Catholic Frenchman Balthasar Gérard, a supporter of King Philip II of Spain.

A 3D-scan of the hall where the prince was killed shows that the wall and the bullet holes are the original ones, according to research carried out by DelftTech, which reconstructed the murder in detail. Using a weapon similar to the one that killed the prince, the investigators concluded that the bullets, fired at very close range, are indeed likely to have left William’s body and hit the wall in that spot. Over time the smallish bullet holes in the wall grew larger as generations of curious visitors poked their fingers in them.

The researchers also found that the prince cannot have pronounced the famous last words ascribed to him before drawing his last breath. The autopsy report drawn up at the time shows that one of the three bullets went straight through the prince’s heart, killing him instantly. The dying words tradition attributes to Prince William are: “My God, have pity on my soul; my God, have pity on this poor people.”

Disembowled alive
The French Catholic murderer was soon caught. He was tortured and sentenced three days later. The verdict, brutal even for the time, ordered that, before the beheading, Gérard's right hand be burned off, his flesh torn off in six places, his body quartered and disembowelled alive and his heart torn out and flung in his face.

The Dutch Revolt which culminated in independence from Spain in 1648 marked the beginning of Holland’s Golden Age, which saw Dutch trade, science and art flourish to unprecedented heights, not least because of its rich colonies in the East, the Caribbean and Brazil and the global trade in spices, arms and slaves.


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