Rosary Beads Belonging to Mary, Queen of Scots Were Just Stolen As Part of a $1.4 Million Heist at Arundel Castle

Arundel Castle, the scene of the crime.
Arundel Castle, the scene of the crime. / Traveladventure/iStock via Getty Images

Arundel Castle, the longtime seat of the Duke of Norfolk, is an 11th-century stone behemoth that played a role in the English Civil War in the 1640s and played host to Queen Victoria for a few days in the 1840s. Located in West Sussex, UK, the castle now houses many impressive historical artifacts, from resplendent tapestries to suits of armor. But the crown jewel of the collection is a gold rosary once owned by Mary, Queen of Scots.

Mary's priceless rosary beads.
Mary's priceless rosary beads. / RDImages/Epics/Getty Images

In addition to being a symbol of her unwavering Catholic faith—a serious point of contention with her cousin Queen Elizabeth I, who was working to restore England to Protestantism—the beads are one of Mary’s few surviving personal possessions. After she was implicated in an assassination conspiracy against Elizabeth I and beheaded in 1587, many of her belongings were destroyed. It’s been suggested that Mary was clutching the rosary during her pre-execution prayers.

On May 18, Arundel Castle finally reopened after COVID-19 closures so visitors could feast their eyes on the history-rich rosary themselves. Three days later, it was gone.

An 18th-century illustration of Mary's execution.
An 18th-century illustration of Mary's execution. / Hulton Archive/Getty Images

As Smithsonian reports, the relic was stolen in a burglary that occurred around 10:30 p.m. on Friday, May 21. Though the thieves did trip the alarms, they had disappeared by the time police got there. In their wake was one shattered glass display case and signs of forced entry through a window. Right now, the most promising lead is a sedan that officers discovered on fire in a small village just miles north of the castle. While they investigate whether that vehicle was the getaway car, they’re urging anyone who visited Arundel Castle last week to report anything suspicious they witnessed while there.

Mary’s rosary wasn’t the only pilfered artifact. The Sussex Police statement also mentioned “several coronation cups given by the Sovereign to the Earl Marshal of the day, and other gold and silver treasures.” The Earl Marshal, a position that’s been held by the Duke of Norfolk for centuries, is responsible for organizing a new monarch’s coronation ceremony. According to Apollo Magazine, few coronation cups still exist from their pre-Victorian heyday; the three stolen from Arundel Castle were gifted by George II, George III, and George IV. The value of all the loot totals around $1.4 million.

“The stolen items have significant monetary value, but as unique artifacts of the Duke of Norfolk’s collection have immeasurably greater and priceless historical importance,” an Arundel Castle Trustees spokesperson said in statement.

[h/t Smithsonian Magazine]