Honestly, if she’s actually acting as a bodyguard in a setting where it’s acceptable for noblewomen to take up arms then she has no reason to bother with a dress. She’s just going to go in her fancy dress uniform/armor. If she’s a noble who needs to maintain their own position, then she might go in a dress. Either way, if your MC is royalty she should have a palace full of guards and a full retinue in uniform to guard her at any event. The point of a knight is not to be incognito, you put them front and center so you can say: “I have this, don’t attack me”. In full regalia and armed to the teeth, knights are intimidating. If a knight is out of their armor and at a party, they’re probably not working as carrying weapons could be considered rude to their host. The point of trying to assassinate someone at a party is that the guests will be unarmed. It’s an act of trust. Your character carrying hidden weapons is a breach of that trust.
Dresses are expensive and valuable. That dress is handmade, the product of months of fittings, pricked fingers, and energy on top of the materials. This isn’t a garment you pick up off the racks at Macy’s. This is specially made and designed for this character. It’s unique. While a dressmaker may have made the dress, it’s also possible the character’s maid did. Don’t hurt the dress. I’m sure a decently proficient character can design one that your character can fight in if she really has to, complete with hidden pockets and split skirts. (Reference Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness Quartet and Protector of the Small, pay special attention to Kel’s maid Lalasa.) Ripping the dress off (if she even could, have you ever tried to tear clothing?) is an incredibly brattish thing to do and spitting on months of someone’s hard work.
Servants are people too.
If your knight isn’t a noble (and the setting is the kind of place where she can still hold rank without lineage), someone bought and paid for that dress for her. It may be the nicest non-combat oriented clothing she owns with the rest of her salary going to gear (the full variety of weaponry, armor, feeding and stabling the warhorse).
Now, let’s talk about this assassination attempt.
When it comes to assassination of important figures, you’ve got several options. We’ve talked a fair amount about assassins on this blog and why characters attempt them. However, nobles and royals are incredibly important and well-protected people. Assassinating them is actually very difficult and if one tries, they intend to succeed because they aren’t likely to get a second chance. However, the sort of Hollywood ninja-esque, break into a castle wearing a white hoodie with a giant knife strapped to their wrist with intent to take on 50 to 60 guards on the way to their target just isn’t it. Again, the point of an assassination is to succeed and, most importantly, not get caught.
The Medici Family: the assault, murder, and attempted murder of Lorenzo and Giuliano de’Medici is perhaps the most famous and infamous attempted assassination during the Renaissance. Ambushed in the Florence Cathedral by their political rivals the Pazzi, Giuliano de’Medici was murdered in front of a crowd of 10,000. Lorenzo barely escaped. The goal of the Pazzi was to attack in a place considered sacrosanct (a church) and cause a riot so their enemies could not escape. Pick a place where an attack is unexpected and an enemy cannot control all the variables.
This is why all assassinations of U.S. Presidents have happened outside the White House, in places where security could not control the area. The attempted assassination of President Bartlett in the finale of Season 1 of The West Wing is an excellent example of how difficult it is to take down someone so well protected but also how it can be done.
The Red Wedding: Yeah, yeah, spoiler alert. (Not like the above isn’t a spoiler…) The Red Wedding is actually an example of a tried and true, and bloody, assassination method which is: bring them to your turf or someone else’s under the guise of friendship and kill them all. This is the wipe them all out method, so there will be no one left to take revenge.
This is why the wrist clasp, the handshake, and even the hug are a common greeting, they’re a hidden weapon/armor check.
Subtlety, Stealth, Poison: Poison is such a common method of assassination that most royals will have an official taste tester as a simple precaution, even if they trust their nobles. However, there are places where a taste tester may not be present such as at a party where a poisoner might not be able to get their poison to it’s intended target unless they’re right next to them.
Which means, they need to be right next to them. Taking on the guise of a servant but more likely a party guest, the assassin attends the party and ingratiates themselves with their target. The assassin will choose a guise and personality that their target finds most aesthetically appealing and least threatening, it can be sexual but it can also be friendly. The assassin will approach and attack via whatever their personal blind spot is, this allows them to get close to their target, convinces their target to trust them, and then they strike.
This is why women, historically, have been the best and most successful assassins.
However, if you’re wanting a straight up fight where the character can test their mettle in combat, the Medici or the Red Wedding is the way to go. The classical antagonist assassin is all about testing loyalty, trust, and friendship in the personal sense as opposed to physical one. Assassins don’t do well in straight up fights, they can but it’s not where their strengths lie. They’ll fight with intention to escape or they’ll try to finish their mission and die in the process. Assassins are about deception, betrayal, and manipulation. These can be great things to throw at a noble knight because that’s usually their literary weak point, but if it’s not what you want, don’t go there.
However, an assassination attempt is a major thread which should be set up throughout the book. The Medici and the Red Wedding set ups are best as inciting incidents (the royals family is betrayed, murdered, MC is the only survivor pulled from the fray by a trusted guard) or as a climax (MC will finally be crowned queen, but the main villain hasn’t been defeated yet. On her way to the coronation ceremony, he launches a surprise assault in the middle of the crowded city square as a last ditch effort to cement his rule.)
The single assassin is best as an early to mid-point plot thread, where one character is convinced something is wrong while the other is blindsided by the hottie with a body. Or, they’re there the whole time as the scheming love interest. That works too.
I don’t know if that helps, but I hope so.