Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Lord Darnley

First Murder: David Rizzio

Every murder story, real or imagined, has an element of comic relief in it.  The very character of David Rizzio (or "Riccio" as it is sometimes spelled) has such elements in it.  Rizzio was the Queen's secretary, rising to that position over the first months of Mary's reign as Queen of Scotland.  He was more than that.  He was a musician who entertained Mary, a companion with whom she played cards, and, in effect, a sort of court jester. 

Most of all, he had a comic appearance.  He was short, swarthy, and, in the eyes of some, a grotesque and ugly figure.  As his self-importance grew, he became more and more a strutting little rooster. He dressed lavishly, and restricted access to his Queen, who preferred to remain isolated in her apartments rather than concern herself with the entreaties of members of her Council.  Rumors that he was Mary's lover abounded, circulated by the jealous lords who sought more influence with her.  Such rumors were not only false, but absurd.  The beautiful six-feet-tall Mary was an unlikely paramour for the dwarfish, comical Rizzio.  She enjoyed his company, but no more than she would have enjoyed the company of an energetic lap dog.

If there was a ruling emotion among the lords of Scotland, it was paranoia.  The favor shown to Rizzio by Mary galled them.  It particularly galled Darnley, whose profligate ways and desire to be named "crown matrimonial," rather than his lesser status of "King-Consort," led him to become involved with a plot to do away with Rizzio.

After supper, in the Queen's chamber, Rizzio and Mary, along with a number of attendants, were playing cards.  Mary was five months pregnant.  It was a usual evening  light-hearted, relaxing, and frivolous. Ruthven, an old and devious lord, entered from the staircase that led from Darnley's chamber a floor below. He was part of a group that included Morton and Maitland, which had hatched the scheme. Darnley was with them.  It was clear to all in the chamber that Ruthven's intent was to murder Rizzio.  Clinging to the Queen's skirts, shouting for protection, Ruthven grabbed Rizzio.  Darnley raised his dagger to stab Rizzio, but Ruthven accomplished the deed first.  Other lords of the Ruthven group entered through the main door to the chamber and blocked the exit.  Two of them dragged the wounded Rizzio out the door, stabbed him, and threw him down the stairs as a horrified Mary looked on.  She was convinced that they meant to kill her as well.  Rizzio's screams could be heard from the floor below.  Darnley, showing his usual bravery, began to beg Mary's pardon.  It was all over in a few minutes.

Mary was thunderstruck.  Her own husband had been part of a cabal to murder her secretary and perhaps even to murder her.  It occurred to her that they intended for her to miscarry.

After all had left, including a hypocritical and supposedly contrite Darnley, Mary immediately made plans to escape Holyrood Castle.  She managed to smuggle a plea for help to Lord Bothwell, whom she trusted, and late that night, she climbed over a wall disguised with a cloak, and escaped.

 

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