Mary Queen of Scots - Jacob Abbott


Mary had a secretary. named David Rizzio. He was from Savoy, a country among the Alps. It was the custom then, as it is now, for the various governments of Europe to have embassadors at the courts of other governments, to attend to any negotiations, or to the transaction of any other business which might arise between their respective sovereigns. These embassadors generally traveled with pomp and parade, taking sometimes many attendants with them. The embassador from Savoy happened to bring with him to Scotland, in his train, this young man, Rizzio, in 1561, that is just about the time that Mary herself returned to Scotland. He was a handsome and agreeable young man, but his rank and position were such that, for some years, he attracted no attention.

He was, however, quite a singer, and they used to bring him in sometimes to sing in Mary's presence with three other singers. His voice, being a good bass, made up the quartette. Mary saw him in this way, and as he was a good French and Italian scholar, and was amiable and intelligent, she gradually became somewhat interested in him. Mary had, at this time, among her other officers, a French secretary, who wrote for her, and transacted such other business as required a knowledge of the French language. This French secretary went home, and Mary appointed Rizzio to take his place.

The native Scotchmen in Mary's court were naturally very jealous of the influence of these foreigners. They looked down with special contempt on Rizzio, considering him of mean rank and position, and wholly destitute of all claim to the office of confidential secretary to the queen. Rizzio increased the difficulty by not acting with the reserve and prudence which his delicate situation required. The nobles, proud of their own rank and importance, were very much displeased at the degree of intimacy and confidence to which Mary admitted him. They called him an intruder and an upstart. When they came in and found him in conversation with the queen, or whenever he accosted her freely, as he was wont to do, in their presence, they were irritated and vexed. They did not dare to remonstrate with Mary, but they took care to express their feelings of resentment and scorn to the subject of them in every possible way. They scowled upon him. They directed to him looks of contempt. They turned their backs upon him, and jostled him in a rude and insulting manner. All this was a year or two before Mary's marriage.

Rizzio consulted Melville, asking his judgment as to what he had better do. He said that, being Mary's French secretary, he was necessarily a good deal in her company, and the nobles seemed displeased with it; but he did not see what he could do to diminish or avoid the difficulty. Melville replied that the nobles had an opinion that he not only performed the duties of French secretary, but that he was fast acquiring a great ascendency in respect to all other affairs. Melville further advised him to be much more cautious in his bearing than he had been, to give place to the nobles when they were with him in the presence of the queen, to speak less freely, and in a more unassuming manner, and to explain the whole case to the queen herself, that she might co-operate with him in pursuing a course which would soothe and conciliate the irritated and angry feelings of the nobles. Melville said, moreover, that he had himself, at one time, at a court on the Continent, been placed in a very similar situation to Rizzio's, and had been involved in the same difficulties, but had escaped the dangers which threatened him by pursuing himself the course which he now recommended.

Rizzio seemed to approve of this counsel, and promised to follow it; but he afterward told Melville , that he had spoken to the queen on the subject, and that she would not consent to any change, but wished every thing to go on as it had done. Now the queen, having great confidence in Melville, had previously requested him, that if he saw any thing in her deportment, or management, or measures, which he thought was wrong, frankly to let her know it that she might be warned in season, and amend. He thought that this was an occasion which required this friendly interposition, and he took an opportunity to converse with her on the subject in a frank and plain, but still very respectful manner. He made but little impression. Mary said that Rizzio was only her private French secretary; that he had nothing to do with the affairs of the government; that, consequently, his appointment and his office were her own private concern alone, and she should continue to act according to her own pleasure in managing her own affairs, no matter who was displeased by it.

It is probable that the real ground of offense which the nobles had against Rizzio was jealousy of his superior influence with the queen. They, however, made his religion a great ground of complaint against him. He was a Catholic, and had come from a strong Catholic country, having been born in the northern part of Italy. The Italian language was his mother tongue. They professed to believe that he was a secret emissary of the pope, and was plotting with Mary to bring Scotland back under the papal dominion.

In the mean time, Rizzio devoted himself with untiring zeal and fidelity to the service of the queen. He was indefatigable in his efforts to please her, and he made himself extremely useful to her in a thousand different ways. In fact, his being the object of so much dislike and aversion on the part of others, made him more and more exclusively devoted to the queen, who seemed to be almost his only friend. She, too, was urged, by what she considered the unreasonable and bitter hostility of which her favorite was the object, to bestow upon him greater and greater favors. In process of time, one after another of those about the court, finding that Rizzio's influence and power were great and were increasing, began to treat him with respect, and to ask for his assistance in gaining their ends. Thus Rizzio found his position becoming stronger, and the probability began to increase that he would at length triumph over the enemies who had set their faces so strongly against him.

Though he had been at first inclined to follow Melville's advice, yet he afterward fell in cordially with the policy of the queen, which was, to press boldly forward, and put down with a strong hand the hostility which had been excited against him. Instead, therefore, of attempting to conceal the degree of favor which he enjoyed with the queen, he boasted of and displayed it. He would converse often and familiarly with her in public. He dressed magnificently, like persons of the highest rank, and had many attendants. In a word, he assumed all the airs and manners of a person of high distinction and commanding influence. The external signs of hostility to him were thus put down, but the fires of hatred burned none the less fiercely below, and only wanted an opportunity to burst into an explosion.

Things were in this state at the time of the negotiations in respect to Darnley's marriage; for, in order to take up the story of Rizzio from the beginning, we have been obliged to go back in our narrative. Rizzio exerted all his influence in favor of the marriage, and thus both strengthened his influence with Mary and made Darnley his friend. He did all in his power to diminish the opposition to it, from whatever quarter it might come, and rendered essential service in the correspondence with France, and in the negotiations with the pope for obtaining the necessary dispensation. In a word, he did a great deal to promote the marriage, and to facilitate all the arrangements for carrying it into effect.

Darnley relied, therefore, upon Rizzio's friendship and devotion to his service, forgetting that, in all these past efforts, Rizzio was acting out of regard to Mary's wishes, and not to his own. As long, therefore, as Mary and Darnley continued to pursue the same objects and aims, Rizzio was the common friend and ally of both. The enemies of the marriage, however, disliked Rizzio more than ever.

As Darnley's character developed itself gradually after his marriage, every body began to dislike him also. He was unprincipled and vicious, as well as imperious and proud. His friendship for Rizzio was another ground of dislike to him. The ancient nobles, who had been accustomed to exercise the whole control in the public affairs of Scotland, found themselves supplanted by this young Italian singer, and an English boy not yet out of his teens. They were exasperated beyond all bounds, but yet they contrived, for a while, to conceal and dissemble their anger.

It was not very long after the marriage of Mary and Darnley before they began to become alienated from each other. Mary did every thing for her husband which it was reasonable for him to expect her to do. She did, in fact, all that was in her power. But he was not satisfied. She made him the sharer of her throne. He wanted her to give up her  place to him, and thus make him the sole possessor of it. He wanted what was called the crown matrimonial. The crown matrimonial  denoted power with which, according to the old Scottish law, the husband of a queen could be invested, enabling him to exercise the royal prerogative In his own name, both during the life of the queen and also after her death, during the continuance of his own life. This made him, in fact, a king for life, exalting him above his wife, the real sovereign, through whom alone he derived his powers.

Now Darnley was very urgent to have the crown matrimonial conferred upon him. He insisted upon it. He would not submit to any delay. Mary told him that this was something entirely beyond her power to grant. The crown matrimonial could only be bestowed by a solemn enactment of the Scottish Parliament. But Darnley, impatient and reckless, like a boy as he was, would not listen to any excuse, but teased and tormented Mary about the crown matrimonial continually.

Besides the legal difficulties in the way of Mary's conferring these powers upon Darnley by her own act, there were other difficulties, doubtless, in her mind, arising from the character of Darnley, and his unfitness, which was every day becoming more manifest, to be intrusted with such power. Only four months after his marriage, his rough and cruel treatment of Mary became intolerable. One day, at a house in Edinburgh, where the king and queen, and other persons of distinction had been invited to a banquet, Darnley, as was his custom, was beginning to drink very freely, and was trying to urge other persons there to drink to excess. Mary expostulated with him, endeavoring to dissuade him from such a course. Darnley resented these kind cautions, and retorted upon her in so violent and brutal a manner as to cause her to leave the room and the company in tears.

When they were first married, Mary had caused her husband to be proclaimed king, and had taken some other similar steps to invest him with a share of her own power. But she soon found that in doing this she had gone to the extreme of propriety, and that, for the future, she must retreat rather than advance. Accordingly, although he was associated with her in the supreme power, she thought it best to keep precedence for her own name before his, in the exercise of power. On the coins which were struck, the inscription was, "In the name of the Queen and King  of Scotland." In signing public documents, she insisted on having her name recorded first. These things irritated and provoked Darnley more and more. He was not contented to be admitted to a share of the sovereign power which the queen possessed in her own right alone. He wished to supplant her in it entirely.

Rizzio, of course, took Queen Mary's part in these questions. He opposed the grant of the crown matrimonial. He opposed all other plans for increasing or extending in any way Darnley's power. Darnley was very much incensed against him, and earnestly desired to find some way to effect his destruction. He communicated these feelings to a certain fierce and fearless nobleman named Ruthven, and asked his assistance to contrive some way to take vengeance upon Rizzio.

Ruthven was very much pleased to hear this. He belonged to a party of the lords of the court who also hated Rizzio, though they had hated Darnley besides so much that they had not communicated to him their hostility to the other. Ruthven and his friends had not joined Murray and the other rebels in opposing the marriage of Darnley. They had chosen to acquiesce in it, hoping to maintain an ascendency over Darnley, regarding him, as they did, as a mere boy, and thus retain their power. When they found, however, that he was so headstrong and unmanageable, and that they could do nothing with him, they exerted all their influence to have Murray and the other exiled lords pardoned and allowed to return, hoping to combine with them after their return, and then together to make their power superior to that of Darnley and Rizzio. They considered Darnley and Rizzio both as their rivals and enemies. When they found, therefore, that Darnley was plotting Rizzio's destruction, they felt a very strong as well as a very unexpected pleasure.

Thus, among all the jealousies, and rivalries, and bitter animosities of which the court was at this time the scene, the only true and honest attachment of one heart to another seems to have been that of Mary to Rizzio. The secretary was faithful and devoted to the queen, and the queen was grateful and kind to the secretary. There has been some question whether this attachment was an innocent or a guilty one. A painting, still hanging in the private rooms which belonged to Mary in the palace at Holyrood, represents Rizzio as young and very handsome; on the other hand, some of the historians of the day, to disprove the possibility of any guilty attachment, say that he was rather old and ugly. We may ourselves, perhaps, safely infer, that unless there were something specially repulsive in his appearance and manner, such a heart as Mary's, repelled so roughly from the one whom it was her duty to love, could not well have resisted the temptation to seek a retreat and a refuge in the kind devotedness of such a friend as Rizzio proved himself to be to her.

However this may be, Ruthven made such suggestions to Darnley as goaded him to madness, and a scheme was soon formed for putting Rizzio to death. The plan, after being deliberately matured in all its arrangements, was carried into effect in the following. manner. The event occurred early in the spring of 1566, less than a year after Mary's marriage.

Morton, who was one of the accomplices, assembled a large force of his followers, consisting, it is said, of five hundred men, which he posted in the evening near the palace, and when it was dark he moved them silently into the central court of the palace, through the entrance E, as marked upon the following plan.

[Illustration] from Mary Queen of Scots by Jacob Abbott


Mary was, at the time of these occurrences in the little room marked C, which was built within one of the round towers which form a part of the front of the building, and which are very conspicuous in any view of the Palace of Holyrood. This room was on the third floor, and it opened into Mary's bedroom, marked B. Darnley had a room of his own immediately below Mary's. There was a little door, d, leading from Mary's bedroom to a private stair-case built in the wall. This stair-case led down into Darnley's room; and there was also a communication from this place down through the whole length of the castle to the royal chapel, marked Ch, the building which is now in ruins. Behind Mary's bedroom was an ante-room, R, with a door, o, leading to the public stair-case by which her apartments were approached. All these apartments still remain, and are explored annually by thousands of visitors.

It was about seven o'clock in the evening that the conspirators were to execute their purpose. Morton remained below in the court with his troops, to prevent any interruption. He held a high office under the queen, which authorized him to bring a force into the court of the palace, and his doing so did not alarm the inmates. Ruthven was to head the party which was to commit the crime. He was confined to his bed with sickness at the time, but he was so eager to have a share in the pleasure of destroying Rizzio, that he left his bed, put on a suit of armor, and came forth to the work. The armor is preserved in the little apartment which was the scene of the tragedy to this day.

Mary was at supper. Two near relatives and friends of hers—a gentleman and a lady—and Rizzio, were with her. The room is scarcely large enough to contain a grater number. There were, however, two or three servants in attendance at a side-table. Darnley came up about eight o'clock, to make observations. The other conspirators were concealed in his room below, and it was agreed that if Darnley found any cause for not proceeding with the plan, he was to return immediately and give them notice. If, therefore, he should not return, after the lapse of a reasonable time, they were to come up by this private stair-case, in order to avoid being intercepted or delayed by the domestics in attendance in the ante-room, R, of which there would have been danger if they had ascended by the public stair-case at T.

Finding that Darnley did not return, Ruthven with his party ascended the stairs, entered the bed-chamber through the little door at d, and then advanced to the door of the cabinet, his heavy iron armor clanking as he came. The queen, alarmed, demanded the meaning of this intrusion. Ruthven, whose countenance was grim and ghastly from the conjoined influence of ferocious passion and disease, said that they meant no harm to her, but they only wanted the villain who stood near her. Rizzio perceived that his hour was come. The attendants flocked in to the assistance of the queen and Rizzio. Ruthven's confederates advanced to join in the attack, and there ensued one of those scenes of confusion and terror, of which those who witness it have no distinct recollection on looking back upon it when it is over. Rizzio cried out in an agony of fear, and sought refuge behind the queen; the queen herself fainted; the table was overturned; and Rizzio, having received one wound from a dagger, was seized and dragged out through the bed-chamber, B, and through the ante-room, R, to the door, o, where he fell down, and was stabbed by the murderers again and again, till he ceased to breathe.

After this scene was over, Darnley and Ruthven came coolly back into Mary's chamber, and, as soon as Mary recovered her senses, began to talk of and to justify their act of violence, without, however, telling her that Rizzio had been killed. Mary was filled with emotions of resentment and grief. She bitterly reproached Darnley for such an act of cruelty as breaking into her apartment with armed men, and seizing and carrying off her friend. She told him that she had raised him from his comparatively humble position to make him her husband, and now this was his return. Darnley replied that Rizzio had supplanted him in her confidence and thwarted all his plans, and that Mary had shown herself utterly regardless of his wishes, under the influence of Rizzio. He said that, since Mary had made herself his wife, she ought to have obeyed him, and not put herself in such a way under the direction of another. Mary learned Rizzio's fate the next day.

The violence of the conspirator, did not stop with the destruction of Rizzio. Some of Mary's high officers of government, who were in the palace at the time, were obliged to make their escape from the windows to avoid being seized by Morton and his soldiers in the court. Among them was the Earl Bothwell, who tried at first to drive Morton out, but in the end was obliged himself to flee. Some of these men let themselves down by ropes from the outer windows. When the uproar and confusion caused by this struggle was over, they found that Mary, overcome with agitation and terror, was showing symptoms of fainting again, and they concluded to leave her. They informed her that she must consider herself a prisoner, and, setting a guard at the door of her apartment, they went away, leaving her to spend the night in an agony of resentment, anxiety, and fear.

Lord Darnley took the government at once entirely into his own hands. He prorogued Parliament, which was then just commencing a session, in his own name alone. He organized an administration, Mary's officers having fled. In saying that he did these things, we mean, of course, that the conspirators did them in his name. He was still but a boy, scarcely out of his teens, and incapable of any other action in such an emergency but a blind compliance with the wishes of the crafty men who had got him into their power by gratifying his feelings of revenge. They took possession of the government in his name, and kept Mary a close prisoner.

The murder was committed on Saturday night. The next morning, of course, was Sunday. Melville was going out of the palace about ten o'clock. As he passed along under the window where Mary was confined, she called out to him for help. He asked her what he could do for her. She told him to go to the provost of Edinburgh, the officer corresponding to the mayor of a city in this country, and ask him to call out the city guard, and come and release her from her captivity. "Go quick," said she, "or the guards will see you and stop you." Just then the guards came up and challenged Melville. He told them he was going to the city to attend church; so they let him pass on. He went to the provost and delivered Mary's message. The provost said he dared not, and could not interfere.

So Mary remained a prisoner. Her captivity, however, was of short duration. In two days Darnley came to see her. He persuaded her that he himself had had nothing to do with the murder of Rizzio. Mary, on the other hand, persuaded him that it was better for them to be friends to each other than to live thus in a perpetual quarrel. She convinced him that Ruthven and his confederates were not, and could not be, his friends. They would only make him the instrument of obtaining the objects of their ambition. Darnley saw this. He felt that he as well as Mary were in the rebels' power. They formed a plan to escape together. They succeeded. They fled to a distant castle, and collected a large army, the people every where flocking to the assistance of the queen. They returned to Edinburgh in a short time in triumph. The conspirators fled. Mary then decided to pardon and recall the old rebels, and expend her anger henceforth on the new; and thus the Earl Murray, her brother, was brought back, and, once more restored to favor.

After settling all these troubles, Mary retired to Edinburgh Castle, where it was supposed she could be best protected, and in the month of July following the murder of Rizzio, she gave birth to a son. In this son was afterward accomplished all her fondest wishes, for he inherited in the end both the English and Scottish crowns.