James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

March 9

The Murder of Riccio

By William E. Aytoun (1813–1865)

  • Riccio was the Italian secretary and favorite of Mary Queen of Scots, and his murder by Darnley’s orders on March 9, 1566, was one of the many acts that led to Darnley’s tragical death not long afterward.

  • ’TWAS night—mirk night—the sleet beat on,

    The wind, as now, was rude,

    And I was lonely in my room

    In dreary Holyrood.

    I heard a cry, a tramp of men,

    A clash of steel below,

    And from my window, in the court

    I saw the torches glow.

    More common were such sounds to me

    Than hum of evening hymn;

    I caught my sword, and hurried out

    Along the passage dim.

    But O, the shriek that thrilled me then—

    The accents of despair,

    The man’s imploring agony,

    The woman’s frantic prayer!

    “O, for the love of God and Christ,

    Have mercy—mercy—I!

    O mistress—Queen—protect me yet,

    I am not fit to die!”

    “O God! stand by me, Darnley—you—

    My husband! will you see

    Black murder in my presence here!

    O God! he turns from me!

    Back—villains, back! you shall not strike,

    Unless you slay me too.

    O help! help! help! they kill the Queen!

    Help! help! O nobles—you—

    O Ruthven—Douglas—as you trust

    For mercy in your need,

    For Christ’s dear sake, be satisfied—

    Do not this monstrous deed!

    I’ll yield—O yes! I’ll break with France,

    Do anything you will,

    But spare him—spare him—spare him, friends!

    Why should you seek to kill?

    O God! unloose me, Darnley! shame!

    Let go my arm, thou knave!

    To me—to me—all Scottish hearts—

    Help! Murder! Come and save!”

    A door flew wide. I saw them there—

    Ruthven in mail complete,

    George Douglas, Ker of Fawdonside,

    And Riccio at their feet.

    With rapiers drawn and pistols bent,

    They seized their wretched prey;

    They wrenched her garments from his grasp,

    They stabbed him where he lay.

    I saw George Douglas raise his arm,

    I saw his dagger gleam;

    And then I heard the dying yell,

    And Mary’s piteous scream.

    I saw her writhe in Darnley’s arms

    As in a serpent’s fold—

    The coward! he was pale as death,

    But would not loose his hold!

    And then the torches waved and shook,

    And louder grew the din,

    And up the stair, and through the doors

    The rest came trooping in.

    What could I do? No time was that

    To listen or to wait;

    Thronged were the rooms with furious men,

    And close beset the gate.

    Morton and Lindsay kept the court,

    With many a deadly foe;

    And swords are swift to do their work

    When blood begins to flow.

    Darkling I traced the passage back

    As swiftly as I came,

    For through the din that rose without

    I heard them shout my name.

    Enough!—that night one victim died

    Before Queen Mary’s face,

    And in my heart, I doomed that night

    Another in his place.

    Not that I cared for Riccio’s life,

    They might have worked their will;

    Though base it was in men so high

    A helpless wretch to kill.

    But I had seen my Queen profaned,

    Outraged before my face,

    By him, the dastard, heartless boy,

    The land’s and our disgrace.

    ’Twas he devised the felon plot—

    ’Twas he that planned the crime—

    He led the murderers to her room—

    And—God—at what a time!


    I was a witness on that night

    Of all his shame and guilt;

    I saw his outrage on the Queen,

    I saw the blood he spilt;

    And, ere the day had dawned, I swore,

    Whilst spurring through the sand,

    I would avenge that treachery,

    And slay him with my hand—

    Or, in the preachers’ cherished phrase,

    Would purge him from the land!