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A set of gold rosary beads carried by Mary Queen of Scots at her execution in 1587 has been stolen along with more than £1m of gold and silver items in a raid on Arundel Castle.

The artefacts were snatched from the West Sussex castle on Friday night.

Other pieces taken during the raid include coronation cups given by Mary to the Earl Marshal.

An Arundel Castle spokesman said the stolen items were of "priceless historical importance".

The castle only reopened to the public on Tuesday.

Staff were alerted to the break-in at 22:30 BST on Friday after a burglar alarm went off.


Sussex Police told the BBC the thieves entered through a window and smashed a glass cabinet to grab the items.

Det Cons Molly O'Malley said the force believed a 4x4 saloon found abandoned and on fire in nearby Barlavington "was linked".

'Unique artefacts'
The castle spokesman said: "Various items have been stolen of great historical significance.

"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 rosary beads

image captionThe rosary beads were carried by Mary as she was led to her death
A spokesman 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."

Brighton & Hove Archaeological Society tweeted: "What terrible news from Arundel. This theft is from all of us. It is our heritage."

Cabinet at Arundel Castle

image captionThe items were taken from a display cabinet, police say
Det Con Molly O'Malley of Chichester CID urged people who were in Arundel on Friday evening and saw any suspicious activity around the area of the castle to contact the force either online or by calling 101, quoting Operation Deuce.

"The castle only re-opened to visitors on Tuesday 18 May, so if you were visiting during the past few days do you on reflection recall anyone behaving at all suspiciously?" he said.

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

Who was Mary, Queen of Scots?
Mary was born at Linlithgow Palace in 1542 and became queen when her father died soon after her birth.

However, Mary was taken to France in 1548 and Scotland was ruled by regents.

Mary Queen of Scots
IMAGE COPYRIGHTGETTY IMAGES
image captionMary Queen of Scots was held in captivity for 18 years before she was executed
She returned in 1561 to begin her reign as Queen of Scots but was forced to abdicate at the age of 24 after six tumultuous years.

After an unsuccessful attempt to regain the throne, Mary fled to England seeking the protection of her cousin, Elizabeth I.

Mary had once claimed Elizabeth's throne as her own and was considered the legitimate sovereign by many English Catholics.

The Scots queen was held in captivity for 18 years before she was executed at Fotheringhay Castle in 1587, at the age of 44.

Her son James became king of Scotland and England.

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