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Melville Castle was frequented by Mary, Queen of Scots. During one of her visits, David Rizzio, her Italian secretary and close companion, is said to have planted a tree as a token of his love for her by the banks of the River North Esk. The tree, an ancient sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa), survives to this day next to the stable block, now known appropriately as Chestnut House.
However, such blatant displays of love were to be Rizzio’s downfall. He was murdered before the Queen’s eyes in the Palace of Holyrood House in 1566 by a group of conspirators led by Mary’s jealous second husband, Lord Darnley. Rizzio’s chestnut remains today as an enduring symbol of his ill-fated affection for Mary.
The tree is a fine old specimen of huge girth, and it is quite feasible that it did indeed originate in the mid-1560s. The vast trunk is 7.6 metres (25 feet) in girth.
Like all ancient sweet chestnuts, it is of no significant height, and has died back to 16.7 metres (55 feet). The crown is of reasonable shape, although abundant deadwood indicates that it is in the natural process of decline. However, the capacity for the species to regenerate itself by forming a new crown from dormant buds should guarantee its presence for a few more centuries at least.
Where to see Rizzio's Chestnut:
The private gardens of Chestnut House, about 100 metres (110 yards) south west of Melville Castle Hotel, near Dalkeith, Midlothian. Access to the tree itself is available on with written permission, however, it can be viewed from the grounds of the hotel.
Image: copyright Edward Parker