Who was Mary, Queen of Scots? Life and death of Mary Stuart explained after Arundel Castle rosary beads theft

A set of gold rosary beads carried by Mary Queen of Scots at her execution in 1587 was taken in the robbery

Mary, Queen of Scots, also known as Mary Stuart or Mary I of Scotland, led a life full of tragedy, romance and drama.

Crowned Queen at just six days old and eventually beheaded for treason, this is everything you need to know about Mary Queen of Scots - and what has happened to her rosary beads at Arundel Castle.

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Who was Mary Queen of Scots?

1st February 1587, the death warrant of Mary Queen of Scots, authorised by Elizabeth I, is brought to her in her prison (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Mary, Queen of Scots was born at Linlithgow Palace on 8 December 1542 - and became Queen of Scots when she was just six days old, following the death of her father, King James V.

As well as her claim to the Scottish throne, Mary’s claim to the throne of England was almost as strong, as she was Henry VII of England’s great-granddaughter and therefore next in line to the English throne after Henry VIII’s children.

Originally, it had been arranged for Mary to marry King Henry VIII’s son Prince Edward, however the Scots refused to approve this agreement, which led to a war between Scotland and England - the so-called ‘Rough Wooing’.

At the age of six, Mary was sent to be raised in the French court, and in 1558 she married the French dauphin who became King Francis II of France in 1959, making her Queen of France as well as Scotland, however he died the following year.

Following her husband's death, Mary returned to Scotland to claim her role as Queen. In 1565, she married her English cousin Lord Darnley in order to reinforce her claim of succession to the English throne, after Elizabeth’s death.

She and Darnley had a son together, James VI. Lord Darnley later died under mysterious circumstances in Edinburgh - the house he was lodging in was blown up in February 1567, however when his body was found after the explosion, it was discovered that he had been strangled.

Three months later, Mary married the Earl of Bothwell, who was generally believed to be the one to have killed Darnley. The marriage shocked the people of Scotland.

The National Trust for Scotland (NTS), explains that “Protestant novels united against Mary and Bothwell” and at the Battle of Carberry Hill on 15 June 1567, Mary surrendered and Bothwell fled.

Mary was taken as a prisoner to Lochleven Castle, and was forced to abdicate and her young son was crowned King James VI of Scotland.

With the help from a servant at the castle, Mary was able to escape the castle, dressed in servant clothing. She escaped to a waiting boat and was able to raise an army, but was defeated by her Scottish enemies at the Battle of Langside on 13 May 1568.

Mary then fled to England and appealed to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I of England, for help.

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Arundel Castle: Priceless gold rosary beads Mary Queen of Scots carried to her e...

Why was she beheaded?

As a result of an enquiry into Darnley’s death, later thought to be based on forged letters according to the NTS, Mary was imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth I.

Mary was held as prisoner in a number of different castles and grand houses for almost 19 years. Mary was treated well during her imprisonment - she had her own servants, was able to accept visitors and kept pets.

During her imprisonment, Mary plotted numerous plans to set her free and as a result of this, she was no longer allowed to communicate by letter. In 1585, she found a way to smuggle letters in a beer barrel.

In one letter, Sir Anthony Babington wrote to Mary suggesting that Queen Elizabeth should be killed, and that Mary become Queen of England. Mary replied to this letter using code, and agreed to the plan.

However, this turned out to be a trick set up by Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham.

In October of 1586, Mary was put on trial for high treason and found guilty. After nearly 19 years of imprisonment, Mary was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle in England on 8 February 1587.

She was originally buried in Peterborough Cathedral, but in 1612 her son James VI had her exhumed and reburied in the vault of King Henry VII’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey.

What has happened to her beads?

A set of “irreplaceable” gold rosary beads, carried by Mary Queen of Scots to her execution in 1587, are among the historic treasures worth more than £1 million stolen in a raid at Arundel Castle.

Other items taken in the burglary include coronation cups given by Mary to the Earl Marshal as well as gold and silver items.

Staff of the castle were altered to the break in at 10:30pm on Friday 21 May, after the burglar alarm was set off. Police soon arrived at the scene.

A 4x4 saloon car, which has since been burnt out and abandoned, 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 £1 million.

“At 10:30pm on Friday 21 May, castle staff were alerted to the break in after a burglar alarm had sounded.

“Police were on the scene within minutes. Various items have been stolen of great historical significance.”

The spokesperson explained that 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”.

They added: “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 to the police to assist them in returning these treasures back where they belong.”

Detective Constable Molly O’Malley of Chichester CID said: “If you were in Arundel on Friday evening and saw any suspicious activity around the area of the castle, please contact us either online or by calling 101, quoting Operation Deuce.

“In addition, the castle only re-opened to visitors on Tuesday May 18 so if you were visiting during the past few days do you on reflection recall anyone behaving at all suspiciously?

“If you are offered or hear of anyone offering for sale any of the items stolen, we would also like to hear from you.

“You can also contact the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”