On this day in history : 9th March 1566 – David Rizzio, private secretary to Mary Queen of Scots, is murdered at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh – in front of the Queen….

17th Century portrait, said to be of David Rizzio – Public domain

Rizzio was born near to Turin, Italy around 1533…. He came to the Court of Mary initially in his capacity as an accomplished singer and musician….becoming her private secretary around the time that she was embarking on her courtship with Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley – who on the 29th of July 1565 became her second husband….

In the beginning Mary was infatuated with Darnley – but it was soon to all go wrong…. Darnley was not a nice man – he was vain, arrogant, violent, a womaniser and a heavy drinker…. He also wanted all the power for himself…. Mary had been prepared to rule jointly with her husband – but he expected her to step aside…. This angered Mary – and by the end of 1565 the pair were estranged – even though by now she was pregnant….

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley – Public domain

As well as wanting the crown to himself, Darnley also wished to change the religion of Scotland from Catholicism to Protestantism…. Mary, obviously, was a devout Catholic…. He began to plot and scheme, with the help of his Protestant associates…. These were to include his father – the 4th Earl of Lennox – William Maitland – who was angered that Mary had chosen Rizzio as her private secretary and Lord Ruthren…. Also involved were the Earl of Moray, Lord Lindsay, the Clerk Register James Balfour, the Lord Justice Clerk John Bellenden and many other noblemen….

Mary and Rizzio, a fellow Catholic, became close friends – their closeness began to raise a few eyebrows within the Court and Darnley was insanely jealous…. Encouraged by his Protestant friends he came to believe that Mary and Rizzio were having an affair – he was convinced the baby she was carrying was not his but had been fathered by Rizzio….

Mary Queen of Scots – Francois Clouet – Google Art Project – Public domain

At around 8pm on Saturday the 9th of March Mary, Rizzio and a small group of friends were taking supper in a room next to the Queen’s bed chamber… After overpowering the royal guards around 80 men, led by Lord Ruthren, made their way to Mary’s rooms…. Darnley entered first and addressed his wife…. His accomplices then burst in and Lord Ruthren demanded that Rizzio go with them…. Mary, realising that he was in danger, ordered them to leave “under pain of treason”…. Ruthren told Darnley to seize Mary – and a struggle broke out as her friends and servants intervened…. Rizzio took refuge behind Mary as more of Darnley’s assassin squad appeared and attempted to stab him…. Mary was pushed aside and she was restrained by Darnley…. She could have done nothing to help Rizzio anyway – as a gun was aimed at her six- month pregnant belly…. She thought they intended to kill her too….

Rizzio was dragged screaming from the room into the adjoining audience chamber…. He was stabbed over 50 times…. After being stripped of jewellery and clothes Rizzio’s body was then thrown down the stairway….

The Murder of Rizzio, 1787 by John Opie – Public domain

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