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An Italian in Scotland

This is the tragic story of David Rizzio, an Italian musician in the court of Mary Queen of Scots.

Mary Queen of Scots is one of the most well known historical figures of her time. She spent some time as Queen of France before returning home to reclaim her throne and go head to head with Queen Elizabeth I. Mary was surrounded by an array of people who served her during her reign as Queen. One such stand out was her private secretary Italian born David Rizzio. 

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David Rizzio was born in Turin, Italy in 1533. Though he is known as David Rizzio, his given name was David Riccio di Panclaieri in Piemonte. He started his like as a musician eventually working his way to the Court of Savoy where he became a retainer for the Archbishop. 

In 1561, Rizzio, along with a few other men, was sent to Scotland on behalf of Savoy. Mary enjoyed Rizzio’s skills as a musician and asked him to remain as a member of her court. Eventually, Rizzio worked his way up to Mary’s private secretary. 

Mary was a Catholic Queen and was always look upon with suspicion by the Protestants in Scotland. Being Catholic himself, Rizzio’s presence in Mary’s company caused quite a stir. Rumors began to spread that he was a Papal spy sent to Scotland to help bring Catholicism back. 

Around this time Mary wed Henry Stuart, better known as Lord Darnley. The marriage was fraught with issues from the start. Darnley wanted to be King and didn’t want to defer to Mary’s higher rank. Eventually, a plot began to form that would allow Darnley to take power from Mary and be named the lawful ruler. The plot was formulated by a handful of lords who were facing charges of treason. They played on Darnley’s insecurities and convinced him that Rizzio and Mary were sleeping together. 

Even though the pair were not have an affair, Rizzio’s close relationship with Mary would be his downfall. 

On March 9th, 1566 Rizzio and a handful of other courtiers were having dinner with Mary when Darnley and his conspirators arrived. They dragged Rizzio from the room and stabbed him 57 times. He was only 33 when he died. 

Mary never punished her husband for the role he played in Rizzio’s death, nor did she ever get her hands on the other conspirators involved. Darnley would later be murdered himself, while Mary would later be executed by Queen Elizabeth I for treason. 

Unfortunately, David Rizzio has become a footnote in the life of a famous Queen. Even if Rizzio had not been murdered chances are he may not have survived Mary’s eventual fall. We’ll never know what more this great Italian could have accomplished if he had been given more time. 


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