FOLLOWING years of speculation it has finally been confirmed that an altar cloth kept at a rural Herefordshire church is from the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

The rich embroidered cloth had been on display since 1909 in St Faith's Church in Bacton and had previously been used as an altar cloth.

The Golden Valley church had always been aware of its links with the Elizabethan period and knew it had come to the church after being gifted to Blanche Parry in around 1590.

Miss Parry was born in Bacton but went on to serve 57 years for Queen Elizabeth I and died as her Chief Gentlewoman of the Bedchamber.

Extensive research was carried out by Abbey Dore historian Ruth Richardson into Miss Parry and the embroidery. She discovered that in the famous Rainbow Portrait in Hatfield House the Queen is dressed in a strikingly similar fabric, which suggests it could have come from the Queen's skirt.

And now representatives from the Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) have identified the altar cloth as a piece of 16th century embroidery which could have belonged to Queen Elizabeth I herself.

Churchwarden at Bacton Church, Charles Hunter, said members of the HRP asked to visit the church last year.

Mr Hunter said: "They walked into the church and it was immediately obvious what we always thought was the case, was the case and they told us we had a unique piece of Elizabethan dress and the only one in existence."

The altar cloth has now been removed from the church because of its value- it has been insured for £1m but is thought to be worth millions.

Mr Hunter sent pictures of the altar cloth to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in 2002 but they were unable to confirm whether it was Elizabethan.

Now with this confirmation under their belt the piece will be conserved at Hampton Court in London.

They have been told a facsimile will be produced which could be displayed in Bacton church.

Mr Hunter said: "I don't know where the long term future will be. That is still to be decided. It is still the property of Bacton church and it will remain so."

HRP said the high status fabric which is white silk shot through with silver and embroidered with gold could only be worn by royalty.

HRP joint chief curator Tracy Borman said: "This is an incredible find – items of Tudor dress are exceptionally rare in any case but to uncover one with such a close personal link to Queen Elizabeth I is almost unheard of."

The revelation is uncovered in a new book by Ms Borman called The Private Lives of the Tudors.

Ruth Richardson wrote the biography: Mistress Blanche, Queen Elizabeth I's Confidante, and the book-calendar: Blanche Parry & Queen Elizabeth I. She said: "I am delighted it is being conserved. It is a national treasure."