Edinburgh World Heritage - Learn more about Riccio’s tragic death and his link to Mary Queen of Scots

 

Learn more about Riccio’s tragic death and his link to Mary Queen of Scots

David Riccio (his surname is also spelled Rizzio) was born in Italy around 1533 and came to Scotland in 1561 as part of a diplomatic mission.  He was a good musician and singer and these qualities brought him to the attention of Mary Queen of Scots.  She took him into her court and he became her Secretary for relations with France. The Queen’s husband, Lord Darnley, became jealous of David Riccio and hatched a plot against him.   On 9 February 1566 David was among a group dining with the Queen in her private chambers at Holyrood.  Suddenly Lord Darnley and a group of armed men burst into the room.  One of them said to the Queen: “It would please Your Majesty to let yonder man Davie come forth of your presence.”


Mary realised that Riccio’s life was in danger and confronted the plotters.  A fight broke out and Riccio hid behind the Queen’s dress as her friends and servants struggled with the plotters who tried to stab him. Mary was six-months pregnant and believed that the men planned to kill her too. As she was roughly pushed aside and held by Darnley, a loaded gun was aimed at her stomach to stop her from intervening.  David Riccio was dragged from the room and was stabbed over 50 times before his body was dumped down the stairs.

David was originally buried in Holyrood Abbey.  The tradition is that his body and memorial were moved to the Canongate kirkyard when it was established in 1688.  Some people have suggested that it is unlikely that the body of a foreign Catholic would have been moved into a Protestant churchyard more than 100 years after his death.  But a former Minister of the Canongate church, writing in the 1960s, noted that the tradition is strong and that “unless one has strong evidence to the contrary it is bad to scorn tradition”.

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