Wed. Jul 6th, 2022

An exquisitely decorated silver casket believed to have played a role in the downfall of Mary, Queen of Scots has been acquired for the nation for £ 1.8m.

The National Heritage Memorial Fund contributed £ 810,000 towards the cost of the casket, along with £ 200,000 from the Scottish government and donations from other organizations and individuals.

Chris Breward, director of National Museums Scotland, said: “This extraordinary casket is truly one of Scotland’s national treasures. Venerated as a relic of Mary for centuries, it is believed to represent a momentous and disastrous moment in her turbulent life.

“Beyond this, the magnificence of the piece speaks to a queen at the height of her powers, wealth and position.”

Detail of the casket.
Detail of the casket. Photograph: National Museums Scotland

The casket goes on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh from Thursday.

It was made in Paris between 1493 and 1510, and is thought to have been given to Mary by her first husband, Francis II of France.

A handwritten note dating from the late 17th century stored with the casket records the belief that it was produced at a hearing ordered by Elizabeth I against Mary at Westminster in December 1568.

It contained what have become known as the Casket Letters: love poems and letters, allegedly from Mary to her third husband, the Earl of Bothwell, that implicated the pair in a conspiracy to murder her second husband, Lord Darnley. The letters are thought by many historians to have been doctored.

Following the Westminster hearing, Mary remained in English captivity for 19 years, until she was executed in 1587 for her involvement in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth I and place Mary on the English throne.

The casket was bought around 1674 by Anne, Duchess of Hamilton, and remained with the family for three centuries.

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Neil Gray, Scottish culture minister, said: “Quite apart from the colorful history associated with the item, given the belief that it belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots, the silver casket is a stunning work of art in its own right.”

It was sold by Lennoxlove House in East Lothian, which said the sale would enable long-term maintenance of the house and its contents.

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