The trained killer-for-hire is a fairly standard trope in all kinds of media about courtly intrigue. That way, the king's life can be in danger basically all the time. But did these people actually exist? Wikipedia has a list of assassinations, but all of them seem to have been carried out by secret police or regular people with a grudge like John Wilkes Booth or Gavrilo Princip.

I know about the hashashin, but they seem to be a militant religious order with their own agenda rather than a group of mercenaries that worked for the highest bidder.

I don't care if they were rare, I know that it's not exactly an occupation on the level of "blacksmith" or "hunter." I want to know if they existed at all prior to the modern age.

(I've tagged this middle-ages and renaissance because I wasn't sure what else to add, and these seem to fit the period when these sort of people could have appeared).

  • 4
    "seem to have been carried out" - Devil's advocate: If you were paying for a professional, wouldn't you want it to appear this way? Obviously, there still might exist some record, but it might be hard to uncover. Feb 28 '17 at 21:52
  • @called2voyage True, but I am interested in any sort of evidence at all, for any professional murder. A single careless letter from a nobleman saying something along the lines of "I hired Mr. Murder and he murdered the Count of Someplace" would be good enough to establish that there was a person engaged in this occupation.
    – SPavel
    Feb 28 '17 at 21:56
  • I agree, and I did upvote. It will be interesting to see if any such documents are reference in an answer. Feb 28 '17 at 21:57
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    How about poisoners? h2g2.com/edited_entry/A4197585
    – AllInOne
    Feb 28 '17 at 22:34
  • 6
    You have to consider that 1) there really weren't enough kings and such to support a cadre of trained hitmen; and 2) hitting a king is likely to be a high-risk assignment. Much easier for your Guild of Assassins to be a going enterprise if they mostly take care of business rivals, annoying spouses, great-aunt Matilda who refuses to die so you can collect your inheritance, &c. Basically the same reasons hitmen get hired today.
    – jamesqf
    Feb 28 '17 at 23:21

Many famous people in history died of allegedly natural causes and were suspected of being poisoned.

Thus there are many people in history who might have been assassinated by poison if poisoning is counted as an assassination method. In these cases there were often persons suspected of ordering the poisoning but the actual poisoners were usually unknown.

We may suspect that some of the alleged victims were actually poisoned and in some of those cases the poisoners worked for payment and were more or less poisoners for hire.

Guilia Tofana (executed 1659) was an Italian professional poisoner who allegedly sold poison to hundreds of women to murder their husbands.

Locusta (executed AD 69) was a famous alleged professional poisoner in ancient Rome.

In the Affair of the Poisons in 1677-1682 many people were arrested and tried on charges of witchcraft and murder by poison. Those convicted and executed included alleged professional poisoners such as Marie Bosse and La Voisin.

Some historic people died in possible accidents such as King William II of England, shot while hunting in 1100. Since nobody knows if his death was accidental or murder, nobody knows if someone paid someone else to kill him.

And other people were murdered and the identity of the murder is not known, for example King Wenceslaus III of Bohemia and Poland in 4 August 1306. If the identity of the killer is not known, nobody can know if he was paid by someone else to kill the victim.

  • Also, Napoleon Bonaparte!
    – Anaryl
    Mar 2 '17 at 23:01
  • @Anaryl: Except we actually do know who killed Boney. Nov 3 '17 at 21:48

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