Casket 'owned by Mary, Queen of Scots' to go on display in museum

The 'iconic piece' will be shown at the National Museum of Scotland from Thursday.

Silver casket ‘owned by Mary, Queen of Scots’ to go on display in National Museum of Scotland National Museums Scotland
Casket: The 500-year-old item was purchased for £1.8m.

A 500-year-old silver casket believed to have been owned by Mary, Queen of Scots is to go on display in Edinburgh.

The “iconic piece” will be shown at the National Museum of Scotland from Thursday May 19 after it was purchased for £1.8m.

Made in Paris, probably between 1493 and 1510, the casket is an extremely rare work of early French silver, of which very little survives, even in France.

It is likely that its long-standing association with Mary has kept it preserved for centuries.  

The casket has now been acquired by National Museums Scotland from Lennoxlove House Ltd, its owner since the middle of the 20th century.

The purchase came after financial support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund, the Scottish Government and several trusts, foundations and individual donors.

Acquired by Anne, Duchess of Hamilton in around 1674, the casket was kept in her family’s possession for around 300 years.

She bought the casket, which was previously owned by Mary, Marchioness of Douglas, on the understanding that it had belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots.

This came to light after a handwritten note detailing the information was found stored with it from the late 17th century.

The note records the belief that this is the casket which played a dramatic role in Mary’s downfall when, in December 1568, a similar casket was produced at a hearing ordered by Elizabeth I against Mary at Westminster.

This contained what have become known as the Casket Letters.

These love poems and letters, allegedly from Mary to her third husband, the Earl of Bothwell, implicated them both in a conspiracy to murder her second husband, Lord Darnley. 

Dr 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.

“I am delighted that this beautiful object has been acquired for the nation and I am grateful to the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund, and all the individuals whose generosity has made this acquisition possible.”

The Scottish Government contributed £200,000 to the purchase of the casket and culture minister Neil Gray said:

“I’m delighted that the Scottish Government’s contribution of £200,000 to the National Museums Scotland Acquisitions Fund has helped to secure this exquisite casket for the nation.

“Quite apart from the colourful 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.

“I hope people will make a point of going to see the casket as well as all the many other treasures on display in the National Museum of Scotland.”