he National Museum of Scotland has announced that it has secured the casket, thought to have been produced at a hearing ordered by Elizabeth 1 against Mary in 1568.
The acquisition of the casket, which is now on display at the Edinburgh attraction, has avoided the risk of it going overseas if it was sold on the open market, where huge interest from museums and galleries in France would have been anticipated.
The Scottish Government has helped acquire the casket from the East Lothian-based Hamilton dynasty, which has owned it since 1674. The proceeds would will secure the future of their historic home at Lennoxlove House, near Haddington.
The so-called “casket letters” were used to implicate Mary and her third husband, the Earl of Bothwell, in the murder of her second husband, Lord Darnley, although they are believed by many experts to have been doctored.
It is thought that the casket was originally given to Mary by her first husband, Francois, and came to Scotland with her in 1561.
A cased appears in official records following Mary’s arrest in 1567, when it was said to have been discovered in the hands of a servant of Lord Bothwell. It was produced a year later by the Earl Moray when it contained the “casket letters.”
An official announcement on the acquisition said: “Made in Paris, probably between 1493 and 1510, the casket is a superb and extremely rare work of early French silver, very little of which survives, even in France. It is likely that its long-standing association with Mary has kept it preserved for over 450 years.”
National Museum director Dr Chris Breward 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.”
Scottish culture minister Neil Gray said: “Quite apart from the colourful history associated with the item, 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.”
A statement from Lennoxlove House said: “Although we are sad that the casket is leaving Lennoxlove House, its sale will enable the long-term maintenance of the house and its contents.
“We are delighted that it has been acquired it for the nation and that millions of visitors to the museum will now be able to enjoy its exceptional story and exquisite beauty.”
Dr Simon Thurley, chair of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, which contributed £810,000 towards the acquisition, said: “We’re really excited to support the acquisition of this remarkable casket.
“Not only will it bring an object of great national importance into public ownership, it will bring to life the story and secrets of the casket and of Mary Queen of Scots to a whole new generation of visitors at the National Museums of Scotland.”