Bloody murder in the Queen’s apartments…it’s 1566 in Edinburgh

On This Day - 9 March 1566: David Rizzio murdered

92px-David Rizzio

David Rizzio
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

450 years ago one of the most infamous murders in Scottish history reached it’s swift and bloody end. David Rizzio, private secretary to no less a person to Mary Queen of Scots, was brutally stabbed to death by her jealous husband and his drunken band of friends, in the Queen’s presence and most definitely against her orders. To this day you can stand on the spot where the ill-fated Italian met his violent match. Some say you can still see the blood stain on the floor where he lay, cowering behind the Queen’s skirts, as the knives penetrated him again and again and again. 


Murder of Rizzio, slightly romanticised but you get the general drift
Public Domain via WIkimedia Commons

It was an event that symbolised her reign. Mary's lack of control over the Scottish nobles and their growing dissatisfaction with her, the choices she made and the people she had brought into what they vehemently thought of as their country were bringing her down. David Rizzio was a foreigner, an Italian. In their eyes he shouldn’t have risen to such prominence in their court at all. He certainly shouldn’t have been dining intimately with the Queen, that was an opportunity to have the Queen’s ear and influence her thinking. That right belonged to them, not this strange Italian. This murder, as with so many others, had much more to do with the perpetrators than the victim. 


David Rizzio
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Chief amongst the murder suspects was the Queen’s own husband, Henry, Lord Darnley (whose niece I wrote about last year, follow the link for more royal scandal). He had never quite found his place at the Scottish Court, continually frustrated by the fact that Mary refused to let him be King. He withdrew more and more into a select company of Scottish nobles who primed him with drink and listened to his complaints, often twisting his thoughts for their own ambitious ends. And so it was with the Rizzio matter. Although contemporary accounts describe Rizzio as hunchbacked, ugly and strange looking my suspicion is that this was fabricated by Mary’s enemies to further dissolve her reputation and that, in fact, he was actually devilishly good looking. This would explain Darnley’s bitter jealousy and also perhaps why he had got so far up the ranks of court so quickly and come to be dining with the Queen that fateful night. Mary had grown up at the French Court and was used to the finer things in life. For a Queen who loved surrounded herself in gaiety and pretty things, a good looking, well travelled and talented Italian nobleman probably made quite a nice change from the uncouth Scots who spread mistrust with every breath. 

Mary Stuart James Darnley

Henry, Lord Darnley and Mary, Queen of Scots
Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Good looking or not however, worming his way into the Queen’s apartments proved a costly mistake for Rizzio and, despite the Queen’s passionate protests, he was savagely butchered before her eyes. A sad end for a man seeking his fortune but not a surprising one for a man who so fatally failed to pay heed to the dangers scented in the wind and thought himself safe in the rooms of a woman who’s popularity was most definitely running out…

© Isla Robertson 2017