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Queen Mary’s rosary beads were on display at Arundel Castle until until successfully stolen recently. Source: © Arundel Castle

Queen Mary's Beads, Worn to Her Beheading, Have Been Stolen!

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Criminal gangs targeting historic sites in England have struck at Arundel Castle. The rosary beads worn by Mary Queen of Scots when she was being beheaded, have “vanished” in another brazen robbery at an ancient English castle. Currently Queen Mary’s beads are making their way into the murky world of illegal artifacts traders and collectors. But police are hot on the trail of the criminal gang who stole the sacred beads of Scotland’s ill-fated queen.

Police suspect “insider knowledge” must have come from Arundel Castle that helped the criminals evade CCTV detection as they made off with the rosary beads once belonging to Mary Queen of Scots. According to a long-form article in the Daily Mail about this horrendous anti-cultural crime, a manhunt is underway after Queen Mary’s beads were stolen, along with other valuable items, from Arundel Castle, in West Sussex.

The motte and quadrangle of Arundel Castle, which was the site of the crime. (98octane / CC BY 2.5)

Queen Mary’s Beads of Immense Historic Value

Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded on February 8, 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle for her alleged role in a plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I. While the stolen rosary beads were are of ‘little material value’ according to the Sussex police, but their historic significance is immense, because Catholic Mary wore these very rosary beads to her execution.

On top of this loss, several gold and silver artifacts, reported to be worth more than 1.415 million dollars (or 1.155 million euros), were also nabbed for some shadowy millionaire collector of stolen heritage.

These are Queen Mary’s beads, the very rosary beads she wore to her beheading! (Arundel Castle)

Getting all Sherlockian, on Friday night when the thieves invaded the property two security guards were on duty and neither one of them heard the window being forced open, nor did they hear the display cabinet being pried apart. After the criminals seized the beads and other “royal treasures, including coronation cups spanning several centuries,” they escaped, evading all CCTV cameras and guards. Hence, this crime is suspected to have been helped, in some way, from someone inside, or intimately involved with Arundel Castle.

Some Artifacts Are Smaller And Worth More Than Bags Of Cash

The raid came only days after the castle reopened to the public following the pandemic lockdown restrictions and detectives believe the criminals must have conspired with someone who knew the property inside out. When the alarm sounded at 10.30 pm police arrived only a few minutes later, but by then the getaway car was already torched and burning on a nearby road.

This cabinet was also opened by the thieves at Arundel Castle and was the source of the much more valuable stolen gold and silver artifacts. (Arundel Castle / Sussex Police)

According to a feature in Art News Queen Mary’s beads, clearly a Roman Catholic religious artifact, were carried by Mary to her execution in 1587, and as a piece of the Howard family history and the nation's heritage “they are irreplaceable.”

However, the police fear the artifacts might already be in the hands of a criminal gang on its way to “a crime boss with a penchant for the finer things.” Alternatively, because such artifacts are so valuable they can replace huge transfers of hard cash, which is much easier to trace.

Golden Toilets? Yup, Smart Thieves Will Take Anything!

In a Live Science article about the robbery Christopher Marinello, chief executive at Art Recovery International said, “that in 80 percent of cases criminals either try to hold the work for ransom, or wait for the museum to announce a reward for the return of the work.” Furthermore, he said the raid on Arundel Castle is just the latest targeted theft from stately homes across the UK in recent years.

Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s solid gold toilet that was stolen in 2019 from England’s Blenheim Palace is a recent example of high-end burglaries at aristocratic homes in England. (stu_spivack / CC BY-SA 2.0)

In September 2019, Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire was hit. In this instance the invaders swiped a “priceless Fabergé caviar box, gold snuff boxes and an enamel and rose Cartier gold fob watch,” that were gifts from King Edward VII to his mistress Alice Keppel, great-grandmother of the Duchess of Cornwall, according to the Art Net article. In Sudeley game of historic cat and mouse, or perhaps rat is a more fitting vermin, one criminal, Clinton Bowen, 39, was identified by his DNA which was gathered from a snood (a hairnet or scarf) left in the castle gardens. However, the three other accomplices, though filmed on CCTV, were never identified.

Also in 2019, thieves broke in Blenheim Palace and stole a solid golden toilet created by controversial Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan that is worth an estimated 7.1 million dollars (or 5.8 million Euros). Just goes to show, crime bosses will quite literally take anything that shines regardless of its heritage or cultural significance.

Top image: Queen Mary’s rosary beads were on display at Arundel Castle until until successfully stolen recently. Source: © Arundel Castle

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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