Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Book Review : David Rizzio & Mary Queen of Scots : Murder at Holyrood by David Tweedie (Sutton Publishing 2006)

The scriptwriter who presented a Hollywood boss with a synopsis of the life of Mary Queen of Scots would be told to tone it down a bit - parts just stretch credibility too far. The most climactic scene would be that of the pregnant Mary playing cards with her maid and David Rizzio, her trusted confidant, court musician and Privy Counsellor, when her estranged husband Darnley bursts in with some men who hold a knife against Mary's unborn child and pull away Rizzio in order to stab him to death in a frenzied attack.

There haven't been many books focusing on Rizzio - there is not much information available about him, especially about his early life - and David Tweedie has carried out an excellent job in collating what information exists and and presenting it in a lively format.

Rizzio is presented as a talented adventurer, who cam to Scotland by chance on a diplomatic mission and who stayed on. His singing voice and his charm made him a favorite of Mary, especially as her short marriage to Darnley was falling apart. She became more and more reliant on him, finally contemplating making him Lord Chancellor, before the jealousy of the Scottish Lords, a tempestuous crew, and of Darnley in particular, led to his murder.

Tweedie is not afraid to address controversy. He considers the claim that Rizzio was the father of James VI before rejecting it. If James had been full-term, then he would have been conceived just after Mary's honeymoon, when Mary was anxious to secure the succession as quickly as possible and was still in love with Darnley. And Rizzio himself was possibly homosexual, a reason why Mary did not perceive him as a threat.

However, whilst the story of Rizzio is fascinating and the facts well gathered, I found the book to be at the same time quite irritating. What this book lacked is a strong editor. Facts are repeated over and over to no end, and the prose style...

"Fully to understand the special place of David Rizzio in Mary's story, we must look back a little into her early life."...

"But Mary's child husband, by now Francois II, was frail and sickly, and in consequence it may very well be that he was insufficiently mature to consummate their marriage. Whether this was so or not, his sudden death on 6 December 1560 made her person available for yet another dynastic marriage. The marriage of a ruling prince was always of concern in the politics of Renaissance Europe, and her fate was no different."

...strange locutions, superfluous words and cliches all vie for position. Perhaps I have been spoiled by reading too much of the beautiful flowing prose of Jane Dunn or Anne Somerset recently, perhaps I am being harsh on an amateur historian and a small publishing house. However, it did get wearing after a while, and detracted from an otherwise interesting account of a strange shadowy figure in Scottish history.

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