Historical murders

Antonia Fraser, in the golden age of author photos.

Sometimes when you’re reading you come across a line in a book that makes you lift your eyes from the page and go “Hm.”

This happened to me recently while reading Antonia Fraser’s biography Mary Queen of Scots. One chapter in this classic work is given over to an account of the murder of Mary’s husband Lord Darnley. It’s one of the more celebrated, and complicated, murder plots of all time, but Fraser goes a step further in calling it “the most debatable, as well as surely the most worked over murder in history.”

By “worked over” she means worked over by historians. And to be sure, there’s been a lot of study and analysis of the event surrounding Darnley’s death. But “surely the most worked over murder in history”? I will give Fraser a mulligan for the Kennedy assassination, as her book came out in 1969 and Kennedy might not have been “history” yet, and while there’d been the Warren Commission things hadn’t gone totally crazy. But for other murders having as good or better claims I would submit the assassination of Julius Caesar and the murder of Rasputin. I think historians have probably worked over both those events more than the killing of Lord Darnley, though in the case of Darnley there may be more mystery still attached. Moving away from politics I might add the kidnapping and murder of the Lindbergh baby. That probably still ranks as “the crime of the (twentieth) century” though it’s not as well remembered now.

Food for a moment’s thought anyway.

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