REVIEW

Rizzio is a modern retelling of one of Scottish history's most infamous episodes

In Rizzio, multi-award winning Scottish crime writer Denise Mina has turned her talent to historical crime, in a modern retelling of one of the most infamous episodes in Scottish history, the murder of David Rizzio, private secretary to Mary Queen of Scots.

Rizzio is the first in a series from Polygon called "Darkland Tales", in which "the best modern Scottish writers offer dramatic retellings of stories from the nations history, myth and legend . . . landmark moments from the past, viewed through a modern lens and alive to modern sensibilities".

David Rizzio has come to the Scottish court from Milan.

Fluent in four languages, Rizzio is "the smartest man Mary ever met, chic in his dress, pretty in his manners and he could sing so well that the other choristers called him David Le Chant".

But he's foreign and Catholic and therefore hated and despised by the powerful, protestant, Scottish Lords and Mary's husband, Darnley.

Darnley wants Rizzio murdered in front of the heavily pregnant Queen. He hopes, as a result, she'll miscarry and die.

Then he would be King.

On the evening of March 9, 1566, Mary hosts a supper party in her private chambers in Holyrood Palace. Edinburgh is full of the most powerful men in Scotland, waiting to meet in Parliament to ratify a treaty with France.

Mary doesn't know, as she laughs with her friends, that "half the nobles of Scotland are downstairs, silently storming her palace.

"They are skittering around in the dark, two hundred of them, crowding the entrances and overwhelming the guards".

Led by Lord Ruthven and Darnley, they will murder Rizzio, stabbing him 56 times and take the Queen hostage.

Mina's vivid brutal account stays true to history.

The incident is well documented, not only in Queen Mary's letters but also in a legal affidavit from Lord Ruthven.

Therefore, most of the dialogue in Rizzio is taken from the historical record.

Although the dialogue is authentic, Rizzio is a decidedly feminist interpretation of events.

Mina is most disparaging about the men involved.

To Mina, these "Great men of History" are brutal killer, misogynists and drunks.

Mary never returned to Holyrood.

Her staterooms fall into disrepair and, in a moving epilogue, Mina describes the decay that follows, before the rooms were restored by the Victorians.

The continued fascination with Rizzio's fate is reflected in the numbers of tourists who flock to see the stained floor-boards, where he died.

This story History, myth and key legends from Scotland first appeared on The Canberra Times.