Murder of David Rizzio

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Murder of David Rizzio
Perpetrator: Lord Patrick Ruthven
Lord Darnley
James Douglas, Earl of Morton
Patrick Bellenden
Andrew Kerr
Numerous others
Date: March 9, 1566
Location: Palace of Holyroodhouse, Scotland, United Kingdom
Motive: Jealousy
Crimes: Murder

The murder of David Rizzio was an assassination that took place on March 9 1566 in Holyroodhouse Palace, Scotland. David Rizzio was secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots who was believed to be having an affair with her, leading to a group of Protestant nobles attacking and killing him in the presence of the Queen.


Mary, Queen of Scots, was married to Lord Darnley, a Protestant noble. However, he was an alcoholic and may have been abusive towards her. Soon, she became pregnant. The jealous Darnley believed that Mary's secretary David Rizzio may have been the father, not him, and joined a growing number of Protestant nobles who disliked Rizzio.

Rizzio was considered a good musician and excellent singer, which brought him to the attention of the cosmopolitan young queen. Towards the end of 1564, having grown wealthy under her patronage, he became the queen's secretary for relations with France, after the previous occupant of the post had retired. Rizzio was ambitious, controlling access to the queen and seeing himself almost a Secretary of State. As a Catholic and a foreigner other courtiers felt he was too close to the queen, and the conspiracy to get rid of him, led by Lord Patrick Ruthven, was now joined by Darnley due to the possibility of an affair.


On Saturday, March 9, 1566, the Queen had supper with Rizzio and a few ladies-in-waiting in her chamber. At about 8 o'clock, a group of assassins burst in and accused Mary of adultery, with Ruthven demanding that Rizzio be handed over. The man in question tried to hide behind Mary, but was seized and dragged away. Mary tried to intervene, but was threatened by two of the perpetrators, Andrew Kerr and Patrick Bellenden, brother of the Lord Justice Clerk. Rizzio was dragged into another room, stabbed 57 times and thrown down the stairs.


Immediately after the murder Mary was able to speak to Lord Darnley, and may have convinced him they were both in danger and captives in the palace. The guard around her was relaxed and at midnight the next day they escaped and she rode behind Arthur Erskine to Seton Palace and then to safety at Dunbar Castle. Mary's cousin, Elizabeth I of England, was informed of the murder.

It was noted at the time that James Douglas, Earl of Morton, Ruthven, Lord Patrick Lindsay, the Clerk Register, the Secretary of State and the Lord Justice Clerk all fled after the murder.