Stone of Scone

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Stone of scone replica 170609.jpg

A replica of the Stone of Scone

The Stone of Scone (/ˈskn/; Scottish Gaelic: An Lia Fàil, Scots: Stane o Scuin), also known as the Stone of Destiny and often referred to in England as The Coronation Stone, is an oblong block of red sandstone, used for centuries in the coronation of the monarchs of Scotland and later the monarchs of England and the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Historically, the artefact was kept at the now-ruined Scone Abbey in Scone, near Perth, Scotland. It is also known as Jacob's Pillow Stone and the Tanist Stone, and in Scottish Gaelic clach-na-cinneamhain. Its size is about 26 inches (660 mm) by 16.75 inches (425 mm) by 10.5 inches (270 mm) and its weight is approximately 336 pounds (152 kg). The top bears chisel-marks.[citation needed] At each end of the stone is an iron ring, apparently intended to make transport easier.[citation needed] The Stone of Scone was last used in 1953 for the coronation of Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Tradition and history[edit]

Replica of the Stone of Scone at Scone Palace

Origin and legends[edit]

In the 14th century, the English cleric and historian Walter Hemingford described the Scottish coronation stone as residing in the monastery of Scone, a few miles north of Perth:

Apud Monasterium de Scone positus est lapis pergrandis in ecclesia Dei, juxta manum altare, concavus quidem ad modum rotundae cathedreaie confectus, in quo futuri reges loco quasi coronationis ponebantur ex more.

In the monastery of Scone, in the church of God, near to the high altar, is kept a large stone, hollowed out as a round chair, on which their kings were placed for their ordination, according to custom.

Various theories and legends exist about the stone's history prior to its residence at Scone:

  • Legends hold that this stone was the coronation stone of the early Dál Riata Gaels, which they brought with them from Ireland when settling Scotland.[citation needed]
  • The more historically supported story is of Fergus, son of Erc. As the first King of the Scots in Scotland, he is recorded to have brought the stone (and some claim the coronation chair as well, though this is unlikely) from Ireland to Argyll, and was crowned in it.[1]
  • In either case, these legends present a transport from Ireland and connection to the stone Lia Fáil, the coronation stone of the kings of Tara. As referenced above, the Scottish Gaelic, clach-na-cinneamhain, clach Sgàin, and Lia(th) Fàil[1] lends strong etymological support.[2]
  • Legends place the origins in Biblical times and consider the stone to be the Stone of Jacob taken by Jacob while in Haran.[3] (Genesis 28:10-22).[4]
  • According to Hector Boece, the Stone was first kept in the west of Scotland at the lost city of Evonium. Founded by Evenus, or Ewin, Evonium and its founder have been tentatively identified as Irvine, Ayrshire, a medieval power centre on the west coast of Scotland, and with Dunstaffnage, in Argyll.

The stone taken by Edward I of England to Westminster has been proven[5] by geologists to be a "lower Old Red Sandstone" quarried in the vicinity of Scone.[6] This account has, of course, limited its history to that land.

Doubts as to the present stone's authenticity have however existed for a long time now. One example can be cited to show that they date back at least a couple hundred years.[7]

A letter to the editor of the Morning Chronicle of 2 January 1819 states that "On the 19th of November, as the servants belonging to the West Mains of Dunsinane-house, were employed in carrying away stones from the excavation made among the ruins that point out the site of Macbeth's castle here, part of the ground they stood on suddenly gave way, and sank down about six feet, discovering a regularly built vault, about six feet long and four wide. None of the men being injured, curiosity induced them to clear out the subterranean recess, when they discovered among the ruins a large stone, weighing about 500l [230 kg]. which is pronounced to be of the meteoric or semi-metallic kind. This stone must have lain here during the long series of ages since Macbeth's reign. Besides it were also found two round tablets, of a composition resembling bronze. On one of these two lines are engraved, which a gentleman has thus deciphered.— 'The sconce (or shadow) of kingdom come, until Sylphs in air carry me again to Bethel.' These plates exhibit the figures of targets for the arms. From time immemorial it has been believed among us here, that unseen hands brought Jacob's pillow from Bethel and dropped it on the site where the palace of Scoon now stands. A strong belief is also entertained by many in this part of the country that it was only a representation of this Jacob's pillow that Edward sent to Westminster, the sacred stone not having been found by him. The curious here, aware of such traditions, and who have viewed these venerable remains of antiquity, agree that Macbeth may, or rather must, have deposited the stone in question at the bottom of his Castle, on the hill of Dunsinane (from the trouble of the times), where it has been found by the workmen.

This curious stone has been shipped for London for the inspection of the scientific amateur, in order to discover its real quality."[8]

Westminster Abbey[edit]

The Stone of Scone in the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey, 1855.

In 1296 the Stone was captured by Edward I as spoils of war and taken to Westminster Abbey, where it was fitted into a wooden chair, known as King Edward's Chair, on which most subsequent English sovereigns have been crowned. Doubtless by this he intended to symbolise his claim to be "Lord Paramount" of Scotland with right to oversee its King.[9]

Some doubt exists over the stone captured by Edward I. The Westminster Stone theory posits that the monks at Scone Palace hid the real stone in the River Tay or buried it on Dunsinane Hill, and that the English troops were fooled into taking a substitute. Some proponents of the theory claim that historic descriptions of the stone do not match the present stone.[3] If the monks did hide the stone, they hid it well; no other stone fitting its description has ever been found.

In The Treaty of Northampton 1328, between the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England, England agreed to return the captured Stone to Scotland. However, riotous crowds prevented it from being removed from Westminster Abbey.[10] It was to remain in England for another six centuries. In the course of time James VI of Scotland came to the English throne as James I of England but the stone remained in London; for the next century, the Stuart Kings and Queens of Scotland once again sat on the stone — but at their coronation as Kings and Queens of England.

Removal and damage[edit]

On Christmas Day 1950, a group of four Scottish students (Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Kay Matheson, and Alan Stuart) took the Stone from Westminster Abbey for return to Scotland.[11] In the process of removing it from the Abbey the stone broke into two pieces.[12][13] After burying the greater part of the stone in a field where gypsies were camped[14] in Kent for a few days, they risked the road blocks on the border and returned to Scotland with this piece, which they had hidden in the back of a borrowed car, along with a new accomplice John Josselyn. Although an Englishman, Josselyn, who was then a student at the University of Glasgow, was a Scottish Nationalist. Rather ironically and probably unknown to him at the time, Edward I (who captured the Stone in 1296 and took it to Westminster Abbey) was Josselyn's 21st great grandfather.[15] The smaller piece was similarly brought north a little while later. This journey involved a break in Leeds, where a group of sympathetic students and graduates took the fragment to Ilkley Moor for an overnight stay, accompanied by renditions of "On Ilkla Moor Baht 'at". The Stone was then passed to a senior Glasgow politician who arranged for it to be professionally repaired by Glasgow stonemason Robert Gray.

A major search for the stone had been ordered by the British Government, but this proved unsuccessful. Perhaps assuming that the Church would not return it to England, the stone's custodians left it on the altar of Arbroath Abbey, on 11 April 1951, in the safekeeping of the Church of Scotland. Once the London police were informed of its whereabouts, the Stone was returned to Westminster. Afterwards, rumours circulated that copies had been made of the Stone, and that the returned Stone was not in fact the original.[16]

Ian Hamilton spoke of the removal and damage of the stone as recently as 26 July 2009 at The Gathering 2009 in Edinburgh.

On 11 June 1914, a lady's handbag, containing an explosive device, was hung on the back of King Edward's Chair. It exploded at around 5:50 p.m., blowing off part of the carved work at the back of the chair. Although no individual was charged with carrying out the attack, suffragettes were blamed because of the passage of the recent Cat and Mouse Act.[17] The initial police report indicated that the damage to the chair was minor, but did not say whether there was any damage to the stone.

Return to Scotland[edit]

In 1996, in a symbolic response to growing dissatisfaction among Scots at the prevailing constitutional settlement, the British Conservative Government decided that the Stone should be kept in Scotland when not in use at coronations. On 3 July 1996 it was announced in the House of Commons that the Stone would be returned to Scotland, and on 15 November 1996, after a handover ceremony at the border between representatives of the Home Office and of the Scottish Office, it was transported to Edinburgh Castle, arriving on 30 November 1996, where it remains along with the crown jewels of Scotland (the Honours of Scotland) in the Crown Room. The handover was done on St Andrew's Day (patron Saint of Scotland); the Queen sent as her representative Prince Andrew. Provision has been made to transport the stone to Westminster Abbey when it is required there for future coronation ceremonies.[18]

Cultural references[edit]

Stone of Scone has appeared in print, television, and film:

The Stone, although not directly referred to, was mentioned in Macbeth: "... [we shall travel to be] crowned at Scone ..."

The Stone and its authenticity were the subject of the 1958 novel The Stone by Scottish historical novelist Nigel Tranter.

The Stone also appears in the Nigel Tranter novel Macbeth the King. Macbeth's coronation at Scone is depicted along with this confirmation as King by the Thanes, including MacDuff, who does so reluctantly.

The Stone of Scone figures prominently in Das Königsprojekt, a 1974 novel by the German writer Carl Amery.

The return of the Stone of Scone to Scotland is documented in the Scottish Gaelic song Òran na Cloiche (Song of the Stone), covered by artists including Kathleen MacInnes and Mànran.

In the 1988 animated film Pound Puppies and the Legend of Big Paw, the stone that contains the sword Excalibur also contains a magical bone called the "Bone of Scone." While Arthur pulls the sword from the stone, Arthur's dog Digalot pulls the Bone of Scone from the same stone, thus unleashing "Puppy Power" which allows humans and dogs to communicate with each other.

In the episode Pendragon of the Gargoyles second season originally airing in 1996, King Arthur comes to London and encounters the Stone of Destiny at Westminster Abbey. The Stone spoke, telling Arthur that he must prove himself once more worthy of Excalibur and sent him and his "squire", the London Clan gargoyle Griff, to New York for that task. The story of the stone is expanded in the follow-up Gargoyles SLG comics.

In 1996 Trilobyte released the game Clandestiny in which the ultimate goal is to find the Stone of Scone and return it to its proper place.

In the two-part series finale of the Hamish Macbeth TV series in 1997, a millionaire is searching for the real Stone, as the one in Westminster Abbey is a fake. Hamish (Robert Carlyle) leads a posse on a death-defying trek across mountain and moorland in order to rescue their friend and save the Stone. This story is set in 1996 current events having invalidated the premise during production of the series.

In a 1997 episode of the television series Highlander, the 1950 return was adapted with the characters Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul), Hugh Fitzcairn (Roger Daltrey) and Amanda Darieux (Elizabeth Gracen) stealing the stone for various reasons. Duncan wishes to see it returned to Scotland, Fitzcairn owes Duncan a debt of honour for cheating at golf, and Amanda wants to sell the stone to pay off her gambling debts. Duncan makes a copy of the stone only to have it break when his workbench collapses. This broken stone is returned to Westminster Abbey, while the real stone is hidden in plain sight as a conveniently placed seat on the Royal Highlands Golf Course in Scotland.

Terry Pratchett authored the 1999 Discworld novel The Fifth Elephant centred around the theft of a Dwarfish coronation seat made from hardened bread and called the Scone of Stone. As in real life, the story includes claims that copies were made, and there are disputes over the Scone's genuineness.

Patricia Kennealy Morrison, in her science-fantasy series The Keltiad, has a 1986 novel The Throne of Scone, in which the Stone has been transmuted into a throne that her starfaring Kelts have brought with them from Earth.

The stone is referred to in the comedy play by Derek Webb called Bringing Back the Bluestones in which a Welsh group decide to emulate the return of the Stone of Scone to Scotland by demanding the return of the Bluestones from Stonehenge to Pembrokeshire.

The 2005 Doctor Who short story "Set in Stone" revolved around the Doctor, Ian Chesterton, and Barbara Wright stealing the stone.

In 2000, a bilingual BBC film (English & Scottish Gaelic) was released, Interrogation of a Highand Lass/An Ceasnachadh, about the 1950 liberation of the stone from Westminster Abbey, in which activist and school teacher—Kay Matheson—is played by actress and singer, Kathleen MacInnes.

In October 2008, a feature film, Stone of Destiny, based on the theft of the stone, was released by Infinity Entertainment of Vancouver. It was written and directed by Charles Martin Smith and produced by Rob Merilees and the late William Vince. The role of the Scottish nationalist politician John MacCormick was played by Robert Carlyle.

It is also mentioned briefly in the British script of We Will Rock You, a stage musical written by the two remaining members of Queen using their selections of their music. Killer Queen and Khashoggi are looking for "The place of Living Rock", blowing up all the known artefacts made of stone.

In the 2009 period drama "The Young Victoria", Viscount Melbourne asks The Queen in Westminster Abbey prior to her coronation if she is familiar with the Stone. She answers that she is quite in awe of it.

In November 2009 featured as a specialist subject on Mastermind, contestant Mike Gradone of Edinburgh scoring 13 points from 15 questions.

In the 2010 film The King's Speech, Australian speech therapist Lionel Logue sits on the coronation throne in order to provoke King George VI into talking. In the ensuing argument the king refers to the Stone of Scone.

2011 novel by Jeanette Baker "Legacy" (Casablanca Classics) is a fictional account of the possibility of the original Stone of Scone being hidden away and a replica taken to Westminster. The story tells of a female descendant of the person who hid the stone away uncovering the details of the legend and an attached curse.

Episode 4 of the Syfy series Legend Quest involved a hunt for the "true" Stone of Destiny.

In one adventure of Solar Pons—the Sherlock Holmes pastiche created by August Derleth⁠—a Scottish nationalist very similar to Ian Hamilton, stole the Stone from Westminster in 1935. The thefts are very similar, to the point of occurring on Christmas Day and the stone being recovered from Arbroath Abbey. However, the fictional event was first published in "The Return of Solar Pons", without the benefit of prescience, in 1958.

The July 3, 2014 episode of "Jeopardy!" featured the stone as the correct response to the Final Jeopardy Question, which described the closing of the Scottish/English border in 1950 when the stone was stolen.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Andree, p. 163
  2. ^ Danvers, Frederick Charles. The covenant; or, Jacob's heritage, William Henry Guest, publ. (1877) pp. 226-233
  3. ^ a b David Lister (June 15, 2008). "Stone of Destiny a 'fake to dupe invading English', Abbot of Scone hid real stone from Edward I, says Salmond". The Times. "The stone, said to have been used in the coronation of early Scottish monarchs and in Biblical times by Jacob as a pillow, is one of the earliest symbols of Scottish nationhood and has been an emblem of strained relations with England ever since it was stolen by Edward I in 1296. ... He said that monks at Scone Abbey had probably duped the English into believing that they had stolen the stone when, in fact, they took a replica." 
  4. ^ Andree, Paul H. Israelology - The Birthright, House of Israel, Kingdom, and Sons of God, Paul H. Andree, publ. (2008) pp. 158-164
  5. ^ 'The Stone of Destiny: Symbol of Nationhood' by David Breeze and Graeme Munro
  6. ^ John Prebble, The Lion in the North
  7. ^ Macpherson, Marie. The Stone of Destiny, Nov. 29, 2013
  8. ^ Morning Chronicle, Saturday 2 January 1819
  9. ^ Arundell, Brian, of Wardour Howard. Judah Scepter: A Historical and Religious Perspective, iUnivers (2010) p. 3
  10. ^ Brown, Christopher "Bannockburn 1314"
  11. ^ "Blog Archive » Emotion Nationalism And The Brave-Heart Factor". Ian Hamilton Qc. 2008-01-20. Retrieved 2010-11-13. 
  12. ^ Thomas Quinn (25 May 2008). "Film on Stone of Destiny heist 'will end UK'". Guardian. Retrieved 2011-12-25. 
  13. ^ Olga Craig (14 Dec 2008). "Ian Hamilton on Stone of Destiny: I felt I was holding Scotland's soul". Telegraph. Retrieved 2011-12-25. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ "John Rodney Josselyn - Overview -". 
  16. ^ "Scotland's 'Stone of Scone' finds its way home". CNN. Retrieved 24 May 2010. 
  17. ^ "Militants Blow Up Coronation Chair. Bomb in Westminster Abbey Wrecks Historic Relic and Damages Altar Screen". New York Times. June 12, 1914. Retrieved 2010-09-11. "While the House of Commons this afternoon was discussing the problem of what to do with the militant suffragettes and being blandly assured by the Home Secretary, the Right Hon. Reginald McKenna, that his policy of mild repression under the Cat and Mouse act only required patience to become entirely successful, the most startling outrage yet attempted by any of the "wild women" was perpetrated in Westminster Abbey." 
  18. ^ There was much comment of course that the stone being transferred was not the real stone at all, but a replica which had taken its place either in the 13th century or in the 1950s, although no evidence for this exists.

Further reading[edit]

  • No Stone Unturned: The Story of the Stone of Destiny, Ian R. Hamilton, Victor Gollancz and also Funk and Wagnalls, 1952, 1953, hardcover, 191 pages, An account of the return of the stone to Scotland in 1950 (older, but more available, look on ABE)
  • Taking of the Stone of Destiny, Ian R. Hamilton, Seven Hills Book Distributors, 1992, hardcover, ISBN 0-948403-24-1 (modern reprint, )
  • Martin-Gil F.J., Martin-Ramos P. and Martin-Gil J. "Is Scotland's Coronation Stone a Measurement Standard from the Middle Bronze Age?". Anistoriton, issue P024 of 14 December 2002.
  • The Stone of Destiny: Symbol of Nationhood by David Breeze, Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments, and Graeme Munro, Chief Executive, Historic Scotland; Published by Historic Scotland 1997: ISBN 1-900168-44-8

External links[edit]