Police suspect the theft of Mary Queen of Scots’ rosary beads from Arundel Castle was carried out with inside knowledge.
Sources say the intruders appeared to know how to avoid security cameras, and even disabled some of those covering key areas during the £1million raid.
Detectives believe the criminals must have conspired with someone who has detailed information about the historic property.
The burglars may also have known that the Duke of Norfolk, 64, and his family would be away from the castle in West Sussex, which has a history dating back to 1067.
Two security guards were on duty on Friday night when the gang broke in through a window and forced open a display cabinet, seizing the gold beads and other royal treasures, including coronation cups spanning several centuries.
The burglars may have known that the Duke of Norfolk, 64, and his family would be away from the castle in West Sussex, which has a history dating back to 1067. Pictured: The 18th Duke of Norfolk and Duchess of Norfolk
The rosary beads, which were carried by Roman Catholic Mary to her execution in 1587, were among stolen gold and silver items said to be worth more than £1million. Pictured left: The rosary beads and bible belonging to Mary Queen of Scots (pictured right)
Arundel Castle. An alarm went off at 10.30pm and when police arrived minutes later they found a getaway car on fire nearby
An alarm went off at 10.30pm and when police arrived minutes later they found a getaway car on fire nearby.
The raid came just days after the castle reopened to the public following the relaxation of pandemic restrictions.
The Earl Marshal: A hereditary royal officeholder who is responsible for organising the State Opening of Parliament
Edward William Fitzalan-Howard, the current Duke of Norfolk, holds the royal hereditary office of Earl Marshal.
As Earl Marshal, the Duke is responsible for organising the State Opening of Parliament and is one of two officials who walks backwards facing the sovereign.
A Duke of Norfolk has held the office for nearly 350 years.
The dukedom was formed in 1483 by King Richard for John Howard – his supporter in the Wars of the Roses.
The Howards kept their Roman Catholic faith when King Henry VIII split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century, creating a Church of England separate from papal rule.
During this time, Thomas Howard – the third Duke of Norfolk – fell from favour and was only saved from death because Henry himself died the night before Howard’s scheduled execution.
The Howard Dukes of Norfolk became connected to the Fitzalan Earls of Arundel after Philip, the son of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, became the heir of the 12th Earl Arundel when his mother Mary died eight weeks after giving birth to him in 1557.
However, the 4th Duke was executed in 1572 due to his association with Mary Queen of Scots, and the title of the Duke of Norfolk was suspended.
The title was regained by Thomas Howard, the 5th Duke of Norfolk, when Charles II, who restored the monarchy and attempted to relax the rules against the Catholics, returned to the English throne in 1660.
Arundel Castle has been the seat of the Duke of Norfolk and their ancestors for more than 850 years.
Apart from the occasional reversion to the Crown, the castle has descended directly from 1138 to the present day.
It was carried by female heiresses from the d’Albinis to the Fitzalans in the 13th century and then from the Fitzalans to the Howards in the 16th century.
The rosary beads, which were carried by Roman Catholic Mary to her execution in 1587, were among stolen gold and silver items said to be worth more than £1million.
Sussex Police say the beads have ‘little intrinsic value’ as metal but ‘as a piece of the Howard family history and the nation’s heritage they are irreplaceable’.
It’s feared that the haul of treasures may have been stolen to order for unscrupulous collectors. Or they could be lost forever if the thieves melt them down.
The current Duke of Norfolk’s direct ancestor, the fourth duke, was intimately involved in Mary Queen of Scots’ life. Fifteen years before her death he was convicted of plotting to depose Queen Elizabeth I and hand the English throne to Mary, her cousin.
With Catholics around Europe hailing her as the true queen of England, Mary was imprisoned for years and later convicted of plotting against the Crown.
At 44, she was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire.
Many of her possessions were destroyed to stop them becoming relics for supporters but the rosary is a rare item that survived.
It is also part of personal family history for the duke who, like his forefathers, is among Britain’s leading Roman Catholics.
Arundel is the latest in a string of castles and stately homes targeted thanks to their priceless treasures and relatively lax security.
In 2018, a masked raider nicknamed the ‘Night Watcher’ tied up the owners of Goodwood House and forced them to open a safe full of antique jewellery.
The Earl of March was beaten in a terrifying ordeal at his ancestral seat near Chichester, West Sussex.
The intruder escaped with valuables worth £700,000, including a ring King Charles II gave to a mistress who was an ancestor of the earl.
The owners remained tied up until staff arrived next morning.
In 2019 burglars stole valuables from an exhibition at Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire, including a ‘priceless’ Fabergé caviar box, gold snuff boxes and an enamel and rose Cartier gold fob watch.
They were gifts from King Edward VII to his mistress Alice Keppel, great-grandmother of the Duchess of Cornwall.
Owner Lady Ashcombe noted similarities between the break-in and one at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, just days earlier, when a solid gold toilet worth £4.8million was stolen just 48 hours after going on display.
Blenheim admitted its security arrangements ‘need to be challenged’ after a gang used two vans in a smash-and-grab raid.
There are not yet thought to be signs of clear links between these raids and the one at Arundel.
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.’
The execution of Mary Queen of Scots 8 February, 1587. She is seen holding the rosary beads as she was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle for a plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I
A Sussex Police spokesman said the rosary is of little value as metal, but of huge significance
Alarms at the castle were tripped at 10.30pm and a display case (pictured above) was smashed so the thieves could get their hands on the treasures inside
An ill-fated monarch: The life and times of Mary Queen of Scots up until her execution in 1587
Born on December 8, 1542, at Linlithgow Palace, Mary became Queen of Scots when she was just six days old.
As Hendy VII of England’s great-granddaughter she was next in line to the English throne, after Henry VIII’s children.
She was due to marry Henry VIII’s son, the future Edward VI, after Scottish nobility decided to make peace with England. But it was opposed by the Catholics and she was taken to Stirling Castle.
Scotland returned to its traditional ally, France, and Mary later married the French King Henry II’s heir, Dauphin Francis, on April 24, 1558.
The University of Dundee created a computer generated image (pictured) of the face of Mary Queen of Scots as she would have looked during the time of her reign
He succeeded to his father’s throne in 1559, making Mary Queen of France as well as Scotland. However, King Francis II’s reign was brief and he died in 1560 as a result of an ear infection.
The following year Mary decided to return to Scotland, which was now a Protestant country, after religious reforms led by John Knox.
She was a Roman Catholic and was assured by her half-brother Lord James Stewart that she would be allowed to worship as she wished when she returned in August 1561.
At first she ruled successfully and was advised by James and William Maitland of Lethington. But her marriage in 1565 to her second cousin Henry, Lord Darnley (who was the great-grandson of Henry VII), triggered a series of tragic events.
Darnley, who was spoilt and petulant, had became the focus of her enemies and their relationship became difficult. The birth of their son, James, did little to improve it and when Darnley was murdered in 1567, people began to suspect she was involved.
Her marriage three months later to the Earl of Bothwell – who was generally believed to be the murderer – brought her ruin with Protestant Lords rising against her in a battle at Carberry Hill, near Edinburgh, on June 15, 1567.
She later surrendered and was imprisoned in Lochleven Castle, Kinross-shire, and forced to abdicate in favour of her son. Bothwell had fled but was arrested and held prisoner until his death.
Mary escaped from Lochleven in 1568 and after another failed battle went to England where she hoped Queen Elizabeth I would support her cause, but she was kept in captivity in the country for 19 years.
A number of Roman Catholic plots against Queen Elizabeth led her ministers to demand Mary’s execution.
She was executed at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire on Feburary 8, 1587, aged 44.
Mary Queen of Scots was buried in Peterborough Cathedral but in 1612 her son James VI had her body exhumed and placed in the vault of King Henry VII’s Chapel in Westminster Abbey.