The murder of David Rizzio, personal secretary of Mary Queen of Scots, in my mind is one of the most dramatic moments in Scottish history, if not all history. Rizzio was born in 1533 in Pancalieri in the duchy of Savoy, the son of a poor musician. He had a beautiful singing voice and was in the employ of the archbishop of Turin before he made his way to the court of the duke of Savoy in Nice and a position as secretary to the duke’s ambassador, the Marquess of Moretto. In the fall of 1561, they travelled to Scotland. The Marquess was impressed with Rizzio’s musical talents and encouraged him to seek a job at the Scottish court.Share
Mary, Queen of Scots was an expert musician herself and just happened to be looking for a bass to sing in a quartet of French singers. Rizzio performed for the queen twice and she liked him so much she offered him a job as a gentleman of the privy chamber. While some in the Scottish court found Rizzio to be an ugly little man, others found him congenial. He had expensive taste in clothes and an overinflated sense of self importance. Mary’s secretary for French correspondence fell out of her favor in December 1564 and Mary appointed Rizzio as his replacement.
Seigneur Davie, as he came to be called, did everything in his power to garner favor with Mary. As her secretary, he was constantly in her company and continued to carry out his duties as gentleman of the privy chamber. Those seeking favors of the Queen soon learned to bribe Rizzio to get what they wanted. Some of the Scottish lords became envious of Rizzio’s influence over the Queen. Mary knew the lords took exception to Rizzio’s power in her affairs but she felt their resentment was unwarranted.
When Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley arrived in Edinburgh from England in 1565, Rizzio curried favor with him and urged Mary to marry him. Mary quickly fell in love with Darnley and they married on July 29, 1565 at the Palace of Holyroodhouse. By all accounts, the marriage was not a happy one and Mary soon came to rue her decision to marry him. Darnley proved to be weak and immature, a drinker and a womanizer, visiting taverns and brothels in Edinburgh. And he was constantly harassing Mary to give him the crown matrimonial, making him King in Scotland which she was loath to do based on his behavior. Despite all the turmoil, Mary was soon pregnant with her first child who would come to be James VI, King of Scots and King James I of England.
Some of the lords realized they could use Darnley as a weapon against Mary and worked to increase his aggravation and resentment over not being given the crown matrimonial. There were whispers and rumors that Mary’s child was Rizzio’s. Darnley’s suspicions were aroused even further when Mary spent a lot of time with Rizzio, dining and playing cards until the wee hours of the morning. He grumbled that Mary was ignoring him.
Some of the lords, including Mary’s half-brother the Earl of Moray had tangled with Mary early on and were facing forfeiture of their lands when Parliament was called to meet in March of 1565. The English ambassador, Thomas Randolph was reporting there was a plot afoot to murder Rizzio. Parliament opened as planned on March 7 and a bill of forfeit against Moray was set to pass on March 12. The conspirator’s plot was set into motion on the evening of March 9th. (Read more.)