The story of David Rizzio (c.1533-66)

03 October 2019
Engraving of the west front of Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, before it was rebuilt in the 1670s C.1649
The story of the Italian courtier who became the private secretary of Mary Queen of Scots, before his brutal murder at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh.

Who was David Rizzio?

David Rizzio (sometimes spelt Rizzio or Riccio) was born in Turn, Italy, around 1533. Rizzio was from an old and noble family and as such, was able to secure a place at the court of the Duke of Savoy. He arrived in Scotland in 1561 with the Count de Moretto as part of an embassy from Savoy.

At the royal court in Edinburgh, Rizzio befriended a group of musicians who served Mary Queen of Scots and by this method, made his way into royal service. Within three years he had risen to become the queen’s secretary for relations with France and counted himself amongst Mary’s close friends.

Why was David Rizzio murdered?

Content continues after advertisements

Rizzio’s rise at court did not please everyone and he incurred the displeasure of Mary’s second husband Henry Lord Darnley [read more about Darnley here] who was jealous of Rizzio’s influence over Mary. On 9 March 1566, Rizzio was dining with Mary and a small group of their friends in a small supper room off her bedchamber at Holyrood Palace. A group of men led by Lord Ruthven forced their way past the queen’s guards and demanded Rizzio be handed over.

David Rizzio was dragged from the room by the invaders and stabbed more than fifty times, before his body was thrown down the staircase. Mary, at six month’s pregnant (with the future King James VI) was unable to stop the attack.

Rizzio’s burial place is now known but he may lie in an unmarked grave within the grounds of Holyrood Abbey.

Portrait of a man known as David Rizzio c.1620 (attributed to British School) is part of the Royal Collection.