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History

Silver casket believed to have been owned by Mary, Queen of Scots on display


Photo copyright National Museums Scotland

The silver casket believed to have been owned by Mary, Queen of Scots, is now on display in Hawthornden Court at the National Museum of Scotland.

Made in Paris probably between 1493 and 1510, the casket is an extremely rare work of early French silver. Even in France, very little French silver is known to survive. Those at the National Museum of Scotland say there’s a chance the casket was preserved for over 450 years because of its long-standing association with Mary.

Photo © Stewart Attwood (4)

For about 300 years, the casket was owned by the family of the Dukes of Hamilton following its acquisition around 1674 by Anne, Duchess of Hamilton. In a handwritten note dated from the late 17th century that is stored with the casket, Anne, Duchess of Hamilton, claims she bought the coffin under the understanding that it once belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots.

Legend has it that the casket played a dramatic role in the downfall of Mary. In December 1568, a similar casket was produced at a hearing ordered by Elizabeth I against Mary at Westminster. This order contained what is known as the Casket Letters, a combination of love poems and letters allegedly sent from Mary to her third husband, the Earl of Bothwell. Those documents implicate them both in a conspiracy to murder her second husband, Lord Darnley.

The casket was made by an extremely skilled goldsmith. Historians know the goldsmith was located in Paris because there are two maker’s marks stamped into the external underside panel. There is a crowned fleur-de-lis identifying the casket as Parisian, and it sits above the two symbols for the specific goldsmith.

The casket is on display in a free exhibit at Hawthornden Court at the National Museum of Scotland. In August, the casket will be on permanent display in the Kingdom of the Scots gallery alongside other objects associated with Mary.

About author

My name is Sydney Zatz and I am a University of Iowa graduate. I graduated with a degree in journalism and sports studies, and a minor in sport and recreation management. A highlight of my college career was getting the chance to study abroad in London and experiencing royal history firsthand. I have a passion for royals, royal history, and journalism, which led me to want to write for Royal Central.