Conservator Diana de Bellaigue removes tarnish from the Mary, Queen of Scots casket. Copyright Duncan McGlynn (5)

Casket believed to have belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots to go on tour

A silver casket believed to have been owned by Mary, Queen of Scots and which was acquired by National Museums Scotland in 2022 has undergone fresh conservation work ahead of going on tour to Kirkcudbright and Stirling.  

Images of the casket being conserved can be downloaded here. Video can be downloaded here. A 3D model of the casket can be viewed here.


An iconic piece of Scotland’s national heritage, the casket will go on display at Kirkcudbright Galleries from 2 November 2024 - 27 April 2025 then at Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum from 30 April – 31 August 2025. Its display at both venues is supported by the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund. 

To prepare the casket for the tour, centuries of tarnish and corrosion have been removed. The technique of electrolytic reduction was used via a pen-like device, allowing the delicate gold and silver surfaces to be cleaned in a highly controlled and targeted manner without the need for any abrasive polishing. 

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.   

For three centuries, it was owned by the family of the Dukes of Hamilton, following its acquisition, around 1674, by Anne, Duchess of Hamilton. According to a handwritten note stored with it from the late 17th century, she bought the casket, previously owned by Mary, Marchioness of Douglas, on the understanding that it had belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots.  

The note records the belief that this is the casket which played a dramatic role in Mary’s downfall when, in December 1568, a similar casket was produced at a hearing ordered by Elizabeth I against Mary at Westminster. This contained what have become known as the Casket Letters. These love poems and letters, allegedly from Mary to her third husband, the Earl of Bothwell, implicated them both in a conspiracy to murder her second husband, Lord Darnley.  

Dr Anna Groundwater, Acting Keeper of Scottish History and Archaeology at National Museums Scotland said:   

“One of Scotland’s national treasures, this extraordinary casket has been venerated as a relic of Mary, Queen of Scots for centuries, and I’m delighted that more people will have the opportunity to see it up close when it goes on tour later this year. Beyond its connections to one of Scotland’s most famous figures, it is a rare and spectacular piece of historic silver in its own right.” 

It is thought that the casket was given to Mary by her first husband, François II of France, and came to Scotland with her in 1561 after his death in 1560. Her inventories from this time list multiple examples of precious jewellery and other such valuable objects.   

A casket first appears in the records following Mary’s arrest in 1567 by the rebellious Confederate Lords, when it is discovered in the hands of Lord Bothwell’s servant. It was brought before the Scottish Privy Council where its lock was struck off to reveal its contents. Precisely what these were at that moment is unknown. However, a year later, when the Earl of Moray dramatically produced the same casket at Westminster, it now contained the damning Casket Letters. 

The authorship of the letters remains a subject of debate, but it is widely thought that they were doctored. Following the hearing at Westminster, Mary remained in English captivity for 19 years, until she was executed in 1587 for her involvement in the Babington Plot to assassinate Elizabeth I, and place Mary on the English throne. 

Councillor Jackie McCamon, Vice Chair of Communities Committee and speaking on behalf of Dumfries and Galloway Council said: 

“This is such an exciting loan. We are pleased to be working with the National Museums Scotland once more, a key partner for Kirkcudbright Galleries over the years, and have no doubt this will be an emotional and stirring exhibition. I personally can’t wait to see it” 


Caroline Mathers, Director of the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum said:  

 “The Smith Art Gallery and Museum is delighted to be partnering with the National Museum of Scotland to bring the Mary, Queen of Scots Casket to Stirling. This extraordinary treasure gives us a glimpse into the life of a Queen who has captured imaginations around the world for hundreds of years. A story of power, oppression and ultimately, betrayed. It’s as good a story as it gets.” 


The casket was acquired for the nation in 2022 for £1.8 million thanks to support from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, Art Fund, the Scottish Government and several trusts, foundations and individual donors. 

Its display in Kirkcudbright and Stirling is supported by the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund. Created by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund, the Weston Loan Programme is the first ever UK-wide funding scheme to enable smaller and local authority museums to borrow works of art and artefacts from national collections. 

Sophia Weston, Deputy Chair of the Garfield Weston Foundation, said: 

“One of the key aims of the Weston Loan Programme is to bring world class objects to regional museums so that they can be enjoyed by as many people as possible. We are delighted to support the display of this very special piece of Scottish history in Kirkcudbright and Stirling where it can be seen in a new context by local audiences.” 


The tour of the Mary, Queen of Scots casket is part of National Museums Scotland’s National Strategy, which sees collections and expertise shared through loans, participation in national projects, community engagement, funding for acquisitions and free knowledge and skills development opportunities for museums across Scotland. 

Over 2500 objects are currently on loan to Scottish organisations, bringing the National Collection to audiences across the country. These include two rare, decorative panels dating from the 16th and 17th centuries which feature in Perth Museum’s debut exhibition Unicorn and an 800-year-old Bishop’s crook, or crozier - made from gilt bronze and adorned with enamel inlay – which has recently gone on display in Whithorn Priory Museum.  

Find out more about Mary, Queen of Scots and some of the objects associated with her in National Museums Scotland’s collection here. 


Notes to editors

  1. National Museums Scotland is one of the leading museum groups in the UK and Europe and it looks after collections of national and international importance. The organisation provides loans, partnerships, research and training in Scotland and internationally. Our individual museums are the National Museum of Scotland, the National Museum of Flight, the National Museum of Rural Life and the National War Museum. The National Museums Collection Centre in Edinburgh houses conservation and research facilities as well as collections not currently on display. 

 2. Opened in 2018, Kirkcudbright Galleries is the newest Arts and Museums site owned and run by Dumfries and Galloway Council. With a completely re-designed interior the 19th century Kirkcudbright Town Hall, is now an exciting art gallery housing a permanent display of the Kirkcudbright Artists’ Collection, as well as an exciting range of temporary exhibitions throughout the year.  

3. The Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum is a place where everyone is welcome. The building has played a very special part in the history of Stirling since its founding in 1874. Established by the bequest of artist Thomas Stuart Smith (1815-1869), it was built on land supplied by the Burgh of Stirling. Today, The Smith functions as a gallery, museum, and cultural centre for the Stirling area. It serves as the repository for the historical artefacts and paintings of Stirlingshire, while also offering exhibition opportunities for contemporary artists. The Smith is a much-treasured resource in our community, valued for its lecture theatre, café, and biodiversity garden as well as exhibitions.  

4. Established in 1958, the Garfield Weston Foundation is a family-founded grant-maker that gives money to support a wide variety of charities across the UK. The Foundation’s funding comes from an endowment of shares in the Weston family business – a successful model that still exists today. The Weston family have a consistent aim. The more successful the family businesses, the more money the Foundation can donate. Each year the Foundation gives away its income and donations have continued to grow. Since it was established it has donated over £1.4 billion, of which over half has been given away in the past ten years. In the most recent financial year the Foundation gave away nearly £90 million to over 1,980 charities across the UK. 

5. Art Fund is the national charity for art, helping museums and people to share in great art and culture for 120 years. Art Fund raises millions of pounds every year to help the UK’s museums, galleries and historic houses. The charity funds art, enabling the UK’s museums to buy and share exciting works, connect with their communities, and inspire the next generation. It builds audiences, with its National Art Pass opening doors to great culture. And it amplifies the museum sector through the world’s largest museum prize, Museum of the Year, and creative events that bring the UK’s museums together. Art Fund is people-powered by 135,000 members who buy a National Art Pass, and the donors, trusts and foundations who support the charity.  The National Art Pass provides free or discounted entry to over 850 museums, galleries and historic places, 50% off major exhibitions, and Art Quarterly magazine.