A priceless 16th-century casket containing the embalmed heart of a French queen consort has been found after it was snatched by thieves earlier this month.
The theft of the 500g solid golden box containing Anne of Brittany’s heart had fuelled fears the relic would be melted just for its weight in gold.
The casket was taken along with other relics after robbers reportedly broke in through a window of the Thomas-Dobree museum in the western French city of Nantes.
French police arrested two men who then led them to the buried haul on Saturday.
Anne of Brittany was born in 1477, the daughter of Duke Francis II of Brittany, and died in 1514 at the royal Chateau de Blois in the Loire Valley in central France.
She left instructions in her will that upon her death, her heart be removed and sent to Brittany.
A gold reliquary, inscribed in old French, was made to hold her heart.
The theft was not the first narrow escape for the artefact, which was saved from being melted down the wake of the 1789 French Revolution.
However, the artefact was retrieved and returned to a cathedral in Nantes.
Its permanent home has been the Dobree Museum since the late 19th century.
Anne was the only woman to have been queen consort of France twice, from 1491 to 1498 and again from 1499 until her death.
She was first betrothed to the young Prince Edward of England – one of the ill-fated ‘princes in the tower’ who disappeared in their teens.
The princes were lodged in the Tower of London by their uncle Richard, Duke of Gloucester, after the death of their father Edward IV of England.
Shakespeare later portrayed Richard, who went on to be crowned Richard III, as the murderer who ordered the princes to be killed.
Anne first became French queen consort when she married Charles VIII in 1491.
He died without an heir and she married his cousin Louis XII a year later in 1498.