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Indistinctly signed and dated 1546, the crystal glazed, gold ring enclosed a portrait believed to be the young Mary, inside a border of seed pearls and rubies. During the 19th century an ancestor of the vendor, Agnes Strickland, wrote a biography of Mary Queen of Scots which told how the hapless Queen had distributed her belongings among her servants the night before her execution. These included a silver drinking cup, which went to Mary Strickland, but there was no mention of the portrait ring.

In fact, despite Robin Fenner’s best efforts, no contemporary documentary evidence of this portrait ring could be found, hence the lowly estimate of £3000-5000 at his sale (10 per cent buyer’s premium) on March 11.

“Had I been able to prove that she owned it, then we would have been looking at £25,000”, said the auctioneer.

However, the ring remained within financial reach of interested museums and sold for £5000. Mr Fenner would not reveal the identity of the purchaser, but he said that the ring would soon be displayed to the public.