THEY may have resided in England for hundreds of years but the theft of the gold rosary of Mary, Queen of Scots from Arundel Castle at the weekend is a national loss that will be keenly felt by many people in Scotland and beyond.

The rosary was rightly in the keeping of the Howard family for it was given to their ancestors by Mary herself in appreciation of their efforts and those of England’s leading Catholics to put their co-religionist on the throne of their country.

Indeed Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk, had wanted to marry Mary as early as 1568 after she first arrived in England having abdicated the Scottish throne and lost the Battle of Langside. Howard and Mary were both involved in the Ridolfi Plot in the early 1570s which would see him marry Mary and dethrone Elizabeth I.

The Duke was beheaded for his role in that plot in 1572 and Mary herself lost any chance of supplanting Elizabeth who signed her death warrant in 1587 when Mary was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle. It may be a Howard family heirloom but with its intimate connection to Mary, the rosary must be counted as a national treasure of Scotland.

Question must therefore be asked about how the thieves were able to smash their way in and steal more than £1m worth of treasures – the rosary, though gold, has not been valued but is considered priceless given its historic importance.

Other personal possessions of Scotland’s only queen regnant are reported to have been stolen.

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These include coronation cups given by Mary to Howard Earl Marshal along with other gold and silver items.

Staff were alerted to the break-in late on Friday after a burglar alarm was tripped and police rushed to the scene.

In nearby Barlavington, a 4×4 saloon car was found burned out and abandoned. It is thought to have been involved in the raid.

A Sussex Police spokesperson said: “Police are seeking thieves who broke into Arundel Castle and stole gold and silver items worth in excess of £1m.

“At 10.30pm on Friday, May 21, castle staff were alerted of a break-in after a burglar alarm had sounded. Police were on the scene within minutes.

“Various items have been stolen of great historical significance. These include the gold rosary beads carried by Mary Queen of Scots at her execution in 1587, several coronation cups given by the sovereign to the Earl Marshal of the day, and other gold and silver treasures.

“The rosary is of little intrinsic value as metal, but as a piece of the Howard family history and the nation’s heritage, it is irreplaceable. The items were taken by force from a display cabinet along the public route.”

A spokesperson for Arundel Castle Trustees said: “The stolen items have significant monetary value, but as unique artefacts of the Duke of Norfolk’s collection have immeasurably greater and priceless historical importance.

“We therefore urge anyone with information to come forward.”