The History of Leith

March 6, 2012

The Murder of Rizzio-1566

on the 29th of July, 1565, Mary was married to her wretched and dissipated cousin, the handsome Darnley, at Stirling Castle, in which an apartment had been fitted up as a Roman Catholic chapel by
David Rizzio. Three days before this Darnley had been created Duke of Albany, but he looked forward to wearing the crown. His headstrong, dissolute, foolish, and in many instances brutal disposition,
soon weakened the affections of the queen, and her imprudent love for him, which had at one time been so violent and generous, was—especially after the murder of Rizzio—converted into abhorrence. The appointment of the latter—said by Rymer to be a pensioner of the Pope—to the important and confidential office of secretary to the queen had given great offence to the haughty nobles of
Scotland; and such was his influence over her, that it has been more than once supposed that he was her confessor in disguise, which, could it be proved, would throw a new light on his history
and that of Mary, by accounting for his influence over her, and her horror of his murderers. A footnote to Ada Regia, vol. iv., says that ” he was an old, crabbed, and deformed fellow, and that ’twas his loyalty and sagacity which made him so dear to the queen.” Thuanus too, says that notwithstanding his mean origin she made him sit at table with her every day. He certainly fitted up
the chapel for her marriage, and is known to have had a brother, Joseph, said to be in holy orders, who was on his way to Scotland at the time of the murder. Darnley’s unsuccessful attempt
to obtain the crown-matrimonial roused all the vengeance of himself and his father, who now determined to put Rizzio to death and deprive Mary of the throne. How and why the conspiracy spread belongs to history; suffice it that it was on the evening of Saturday, the 9th of March, 1566, the conspirators determined to strike the blow, in terms of their “Articles” with “the noble and mighty Prince Henry, King of Scotland, husband to our sovereign Lady,” signed Ist March, 1566; and they seem to have entered the palace unnoticed by the sentinels, for Mary had, since 1562, a gardedu-corps of seventy archers, under Sir Arthur Erskine of Scotscraig.
In the dusk of the spring evening the Earl of Morton arrived with 500 of his personal retainers, and on being joined by the other lords, his accomplices, assembled secretly in the vicinity of
the palace, into which they had passed, Morton,ordering the gates to be locked, took possession of the keys, while Darnley, George Douglas, known as the Postulate (i.e., a candidate for some office), the Lords Lindsay and Ruthven, were waiting to proceed to the queen’s apartments in the Tower of James V., where they expected to find their victim. It had been originally intended to murder Rizzio in his own apartment, a plan abandoned for the double reason that they might have failed to find him, as he frequently slept in the room of his brother Joseph, and that to slay him under Mary’s eyes would malign and terrify her more.
At this time she, altogether unsuspicious, was at supper in the closet with her sister the Countess of Argyle, her brother Robert, Commendator of Holyrood, her Master of the Household, the Captain of the Archers, and Rizzio, while two servants of the Privy Chamber were waiting by a side-table, at which, Camden states, Rizzio was seated. Ascending the private staircase, Darnley entered alone, and kissing the queen, seated himself by her side; but a minute scarcely elapsed when Ruthven drew aside the tapestry, entered, and without ceremony threw himself into a chair. He was in full armour, with his sword drawn, and looked pale, wan, and ghastly, having been long a-bed with an incurable disease. Mary, now far advanced in pregnancy, repressed her terror, and said, ” My lord, hearing you were still ill, I was about to visit you, and now you enter our presence in armour. What does it mean ? ” “I have been ill indeed,” replied the savage noble, sternly; ” but am well enough to come here for your good.” ” You come not in the fashion of one who meaneth well,” said Mary. ” There is no harm intended to your grace, nor any one but yonder poltroon,. David.” “What hath he done?” “Ask the king, your husband, madam.” Mary now assumed an air of authority, and demanding an explanation of Darnley, commanded Ruthven to begone. On this, the Master of the Household and the captain of the archers attempted to expel him by force, but he brandished his sword, exclaiming, ” Lay no hands on me—for I will not be so handled !” Another conspirator, Kerr of Faudonside, now burst in with a horse-petronel cocked, and the private stair beyond was seen crowded by others, ” Do you seek my life ?” exclaimed Mary, on finding the weapon levelled at her breast. ” No,” replied Ruthven; ” but we will have out yonder villain, Davie.” He now tried to drag forth the hapless Italian, who had retreated into the recess of a window, a dagger in one hand, and with the other clinging to the skirt of the interposing queen. ” If my secretary has been guilty of any misdemeanour,” said she, “he shall be dealt with according to the forms of justice.”
” Here is justice, madam ! ” cried one, producing a rope, from which we learn by Knox and the work of Prince Lebanoff, that the first intention had been to hang Rizzio. ” Fear not,” said the
queen to him ; ” the king will not suffer you to be slain in my presence, nor will he forget your faithful services.”
” A Douglas !—a Douglas !” was now resounding through the palace, as Morton and his vassals rushed up the great staircase and burst into the presence-chamber, the light of their glaring torches and flashing of their weapons adding to the terror of the little group in the closet. The supper-table, which had hitherto interposed between Rizzio and his murderers, was now overturned before
the queen, and had not the Countess of Argyle caught one of the falling candles, the room would have been involved in darkness. Rizzio, who on this fatal night was dressed in black figured
damask, trimmed with fur, a satin doublet, russet velvet hose, and wore at his neck a magnificent jewel—never seen after that night — now clung in despair to the weeping queen, crying, ” Giustizia ! Giustizia ! Sauve ma vie, madame,—sauve ma vie ! ”
But he was stabbed over her shoulder by George Douglas with the king’s own dagger, and other daggers and swords followed fast. By force the usually half-drunken Darnley tore the queen’s skirt
from the clutch of the poor bleeding creature, who, amid ferocious shouts and hideous oaths, was dragged through the bed-room to the door of the presence-chamber, where the conspirators gathered |
about him and completed the bloody outrage. So eager were all to take part in the murder that they frequently wounded each other, eliciting greater curses and yells; and the body of Rizzio, gashed by fifty-six wounds, was left in a pool of: blood, with the king’s dagger driven to the hilt in it, in token that he had sanctioned the murder. After a time the corpse was flung down-stairs, stripped naked, dragged to the porter’s lodge, and treated with every indignity. Darnley and the queen were meanwhile alone together in the cabinet, into which a lady rushed to announce that Rizzio was dead, as she had seen the body. ” Is it so ? ” said the weeping queen ; ” then I will study revenge ! ” Then she swooned, but was roused by the entrance of Ruthven, who, reeking with blood, staggered into a chair and called for wine. After receiving much coarse and unseemly insolence, the queen exclaimed, ” I trust that God, who beholdeth all |this from the high heavens, will* avenge my ‘wrongs, and move that which shall be born of me to root out you and your treacherous posterity ! “—a denunciation terribly fulfilled by the total destruction of the house of Ruthven in the reign of her son, James VI.
In the middle of a passage leading from the quadrangle to the chapel is shown a flat square -stone, which is said to mark the grave of Rizzio; but it is older than his day, and has probably served for the tomb of some one else.
The floor at the outer door of Mary’s apartments presents to this day a dark irregular stain, called Rizzio’s blood, thus exciting the ridicule of those who do not consider the matter. The floor is of great antiquity here—’manifestly older than that of the adjacent gallery, laid in the time of Charles I. “We know,” says Robert Chambers, in his “Book of Days,” ” that the stain has been shown there since a time long antecedent to that extreme modern curiosity regarding historical matters which might have induced an imposture, for it is alluded to by the son of Evelyn as being
shown in 1722.”

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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