Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
The Death of Rizzio
By William Robertson (17211793)
From History of Scotland
NOTHING now remained but to concert the plan of operation, to choose the actors, and to assign them their parts in perpetrating this detestable crime. Every circumstance here paints and characterises the manners and men of that age, and fills us with horror at both. The place chosen for committing such a deed was the queens bedchamber. Though Mary was now in the sixth month of her pregnancy, and though Rizzio might have been seized elsewhere without any difficulty, the king pitched upon this place, that he might enjoy the malicious pleasure of reproaching Rizzio with his crimes before the queens face. The Earl of Morton, the lord high chancellor of the kingdom, undertook to direct an enterprise, carried on in defiance of all the laws of which he was bound to be the guardian. The Lord Ruthven, who had been confined to his bed for three months by a very dangerous distemper, and who was still so feeble that he could hardly walk, or bear the weight of his own armour, was intrusted with the executive part; and while he himself needed to be supported by two men, he came abroad to commit a murder in the presence of his sovereign.
On the ninth of March, Morton entered the court of the palace with an hundred and sixty men; and without noise, or meeting with any resistance, seized all the gates. While the queen was at supper with the countess of Argyle, Rizzio, and a few other persons, the king suddenly entered the apartment by a private passage. At his back was Ruthven, clad in complete armour, and with that ghastly and horrid look which long sickness had given him. Three or four of his most trusty accomplices followed him. Such an unusual appearance alarmed those who were present. Rizzio instantly apprehended that he was the victim at whom the blow was aimed; and in the utmost consternation he retired behind the queen, hoping that the reverence due to her person might prove some protection to him. The conspirators had proceeded too far to be restrained by any considerations of that kind. Numbers of armed men rushed into the chamber. Ruthven drew his dagger, and with a furious mien and voice commanded Rizzio to leave a place of which he was unworthy, and which he had occupied too long. Mary employed tears, and entreaties, and threatenings, to save her favourite. But notwithstanding all these he was torn from her by violence, and before he could be dragged through the next apartment, the rage of his enemies put an end to his life, piercing his body with fifty-six wounds.
Athol, Huntly, Bothwell, and other confidants of the queen, who had apartments in the palace, were alarmed at the uproar, and filled with the utmost terror on their own account; but either no violence was intended against them, or the conspirators durst not shed the noblest blood in the kingdom in the same illegal manner with which they had ventured to take the life of a stranger. Some of them were dismissed, and others made their escape.
The conspirators, in the meantime, kept possession of the palace, and guarded the queen with the utmost care. A proclamation was published by the king, prohibiting the parliament to meet on the day appointed; and measures were taken by him for preventing any tumult in the city. Murray, Rothes, and their followers, being informed of every step taken against Rizzio, arrived at Edinburgh next evening. Murray was graciously received both by the king and queen: by the former on account of the articles which had been agreed to between them; by the latter, because she hoped to prevail upon him by gentle treatment not to take part with the murderers of Rizzio. Their power she still felt and dreaded; and the insult which they had offered to her authority, and even to her person, so far exceeded any crime she could impute to Murray, that, in hopes of wreaking her vengeance on them, she became extremely willing to be reconciled to him. The obligations, however, which Murray lay under to men who had hazarded their lives on his account, engaged him to labour for their safety. The queen, who scarce had the liberty of choice left, was persuaded to admit Morton and Ruthven into her presence, and to grant them the promise of pardon in whatever terms they should deem necessary for their own security.
The king, meanwhile, stood astonished at the boldness and success of his own enterprise, and uncertain what course to hold. The queen observed his irresolution, and availed herself of it. She employed all her art to disengage him from his new associates. His consciousness of the insult which he had offered to so illustrious a benefactress inspired him with uncommon facility and complaisance. In spite of all the warnings he received to distrust the queens artifices, she prevailed on him to dismiss the guards which the conspirators had placed on her person; and that same night he made his escape along with her, attended by three persons only, and retired to Dunbar. The scheme of their flight had been communicated to Huntly and Bothwell, and they were quickly joined by them and several other of the nobles. Bothwells estate lay in that corner of the kingdom, and his followers crowded to their chief in such numbers, as soon enabled the queen to set the power of the conspirators at defiance.