In Rizzio (Pegasus Crime, Sept.), Mina dramatizes the Tudor-era assassination of David Rizzio, the personal secretary of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Where did the idea for this book come from?
Rizzio is part of a series called Darklands, in which contemporary Scottish writers reimagine historical events. I was asked because of my nonfiction novel The Long Drop, which follows a drunken night in 1956, when a serial killer went on a 12-hour pub crawl with his victim’s father and husband, following a public call for information. Instead of the usual chronological telling, I focused on a time-limited event, and that was the approach here.
Is there any debate about why Rizzio was killed?
Rizzio’s murder was something of a committee decision, and therefore a bit of a mess. There were differing justifications: Rizzio was a foreigner, it was a warning to Mary, he was her lover and had fathered James VI, but almost every actor had a different motive. Some wanted to kill him for religious reasons, some for possible social advancement, some were motivated by raw misogyny.
How did you deviate from what’s known historically?
Barely at all. That weekend is very well documented in letters from Mary, and a legal affidavit from the leader of the killers, Lord Ruthven, both written shortly afterwards. Ruthven’s account is least credible. It’s peppered with claims to have paused the action several times to make verbose statements that clear him of treasonable intent. Mary’s account is remarkably consistent—she told the same story 20 years later in a letter to Cosimo de Medici. Most of the dialogue in Rizzio is taken from the historical record.
What are the biggest misconceptions about Mary?
That she was “good” or “bad.” She was neither. She was a woman with power and money. Other people wanted it, and she didn’t want to give it to them. Also, that she spoke French because she was raised in the French court and that the Scottish people hated her for it. She actually spoke very good Scots with a fine accent, and was very popular among the people of Scotland.
Why did you use anachronistic language?
As an acknowledgment of my own narrative voice. We can only ever read the past through the prism of the present. The selection of scenes and characters, of events and turns and objects, are all determined by current thought and preoccupations, and the use of current vernacular was a recognition of that fact.