The National Museum of Scotland has announced that it has secured the coffin believed to have been produced at a hearing ordered by Elizabeth I against Mary in 1568.
The acquisition of the coffin, which is now on display at the Edinburgh attraction, has avoided the risk of it being sold overseas when it is sold on the open market, where great interest from museums and galleries in France would have been expected.
The Scottish Government helped acquire the coffin from the East Lothian-based Hamilton dynasty, who have owned it since 1674. The proceeds would secure the future of their historic home at Lennoxlove House, near Haddington.
The so-called “coffin letters” were used to implicate Mary and her third husband, the Earl of Bothwell, in the murder of her second husband, Lord Darnley, although many experts believe they were manipulated.
The coffin is believed to have been originally given to Mary by her first husband, Francois, and brought with her to Scotland in 1561.
A trunk appears in official records following Mary’s arrest in 1567, when it was allegedly discovered in the hands of one of Lord Bothwell’s servants. It was produced by the Earl Moray a year later when it contained the “Coffin Letters”.
An official announcement of the acquisition states: “The coffin was probably made in Paris between 1493 and 1510 and is a superb and extremely rare work of early French silver, of which very little survives even in France. It is likely that its longstanding association with Mary preserved it for over 450 years.”
The director of the National Museum, Dr. Chris Breward said: “This exceptional coffin is truly one of Scotland’s national treasures.
“Venerated for centuries as a relic of Mary, it is believed to represent a momentous and catastrophic moment in her turbulent life.
“Moreover, the splendor of the play speaks to a queen at the height of her power, wealth and position.”
Scotland’s Culture Minister Neil Gray said: “Apart from the colorful history attached to the item, the silver coffin is a stunning work of art in its own right.
“I really hope people will see the coffin as well as all the many other treasures on display at the National Museum.”
A statement from Lennoxlove House said: “While we are saddened that the coffin is leaving Lennoxlove House, its sale will allow for the long-term preservation of the house and its contents.
“We are delighted that it has been acquired for the nation and that millions of visitors to the museum can now enjoy its extraordinary history and exquisite beauty.”
dr Simon Thurley, Chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, who contributed £810,000 to the acquisition, said: “We are delighted to support the acquisition of this remarkable coffin.
“Not only will it bring an object of great national importance into public ownership, it will bring the history and mysteries of the coffin and Mary Queen of Scots to life for a whole new generation of visitors to the National Museums of Scotland.”