The King’s Assassin: The Secret Plot to Murder King James I

Written by Benjamin Woolley
Review by Lucille Cormier

In 1603, when James VI of Scotland was crowned James I of England, it was customary for kings to have a “favorite” – a trusted confidant, entertaining companion, and oftentimes, paramour. The King’s Assassin is the biography of such a favorite: George Villiers, the handsome, charming, ambitious favorite of James I, a commoner who rose to become Duke of Buckingham, one of the most powerful men during the Stuart reign.

Was Villiers also his king’s assassin? He did, after all, administer an unnamed “medicine” to the ailing James, who died shortly thereafter. There is ample circumstantial evidence to support the charge. But, to date, no factual evidence has been uncovered. Whether Villiers killed James intentionally or unintentionally or at all remains an open question.

The king’s death is only one event in Villiers’ rollicking career in the Stuart court. His story reads like an English version of Game of Thrones, nothing like most history texts. Mr. Woolley has packed an enormous amount of detail into this highly readable and well documented biography. It gives an excellent picture of 17th-century court life through one of its larger than life characters. Well worth the read!