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Stone of Scone

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The Stone of Scone being carried out from Edinburgh Castle in preparation for its use at the coronation in 2023 of Charles III

The Stone of Scone (/ˈskn/; Scottish Gaelic: An Lia Fàil, meaning Stone of Destiny, also called clach-na-cinneamhuinn; Scots: Stane o Scone), is an oblong block of red sandstone that was used in the coronation of Scottish monarchs until the 13th century, and thereafter in the coronation of English and later British monarchs. The Stone measures 26 by 16.7 by 10.5 inches (66 cm × 42 cm × 27 cm) and weighs approximately 335 lb (152 kg; 23.9 st). A cross is roughly incised on one surface, and an iron ring at each end aids with transport.[1] Monarchs sat on the Stone of Scone itself until a wooden platform was added to the Coronation Chair in the 17th century.[2]

The artefact was originally kept at the now-ruined Scone Abbey in Scone, near Perth. In 1296, the forces of King Edward I of England captured it during Edward's invasion of Scotland. The Stone was subsequently used in the coronation of English monarchs and British monarchs for over 500 years.

In 1996, the stone was returned to Scotland, and kept in Edinburgh Castle with the Honours of Scotland. The stone remains property of the Crown and is transported to London for use at coronations.[3] Since March 2024, it has been on permanent public display in Perth.

Origin and legends[edit]

Replica of the Stone of Scone in front of a much later chapel

In the 14th century the English cleric and historian Walter Hemingford identified the previous location of the Scottish coronation stone as the monastery of Scone, three kilometres (two miles) north of Perth:

Various theories and legends exist about the stone's history prior to its placement in Scone. One story concerns Fergus, son of Erc, the first King of the Scots (r.c. 498 – 501) in Scotland, whose transport of the Stone from Ireland to Argyll, where he was crowned on it, was recorded[5] in a 15th-century chronicle. Some versions identify the stone brought by Fergus with the Lia Fáil, in Scottish Gaelic (or Erse) originally rendered "Lia Fàil" and,[6] after Twentieth Century alphabet revisions that saw the Grave accent replaced with the Acute accent, "Lia Fáil" (Gaelic for "stone of destiny", from "Lia", meaning "stone",[7] and "fàil", meaning "fatal", and of the same etymology as English Fate).[8][9] used at Tara for inaugurating the High Kings of Ireland. Other traditions contend that the Lia Fáil remains at Tara.[10][11] (Inis Fáil, "The Island of Destiny", is one of the traditional names of Ireland.) Other legends place the origins of the Stone in Biblical times and identify it as the Stone of Jacob, taken by Jacob from Bethel while on the way to Haran (Genesis 28:10–22).[12] This same Stone of Jacob was then supposedly taken to ancient Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah.[13]

Contradicting these legends, geologists have proven that the stone taken by Edward I of England to Westminster[14] is a "lower Old Red Sandstone", which was quarried in the vicinity of Scone.[15] Doubts over the authenticity of the stone at Westminster exist: a blog post by retired Scottish academic and writer of historical fiction, Marie MacPherson, shows that they date back at least two hundred years.[16]

A letter to the editor of the Morning Chronicle, dated 2 January 1819, states:

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 500 lb [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. Beside 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.[1]

Dunsinane Hill has the remains of a late prehistoric hill fort, and this has historical associations with Macbeth, but no remains dating to the 11th century have been identified on the hill.[17]

Westminster Abbey[edit]

The Stone of Scone in the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey (photo c. 1875 – c. 1885). In 1914, the stone was broken in half by a suffragette bombing.

In 1296, during the First Scottish War of Independence, King Edward I of England took the stone as spoils of war and removed it to Westminster Abbey, where it was fitted into a wooden chair – known as the Coronation Chair or King Edward's Chair – on which most subsequent English and then British sovereigns have been crowned. Edward I sought to claim the status of the "Lord Paramount" of Scotland, with the right to oversee its King.[18]

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 tricked into taking a substitute. Some proponents of this theory claim that historic descriptions of the stone do not match the present stone.[19]

In the 1328 Treaty of Northampton between the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England, England agreed to return the captured stone to Scotland; rioting crowds prevented it from being removed from Westminster Abbey.[20] The stone remained in England for another six centuries. When King James VI of Scotland assumed the English throne as James I of England, he was crowned at Westminster Abbey on the stone.[21] 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, and in, England.

1914 suffragette bombing[edit]

On 11 June 1914, as part of the suffragette bombing and arson campaign of 1912–1914, suffragettes of the Women's Social and Political Union planted a bomb loaded with metal bolts and nuts to act as shrapnel next to the Coronation Chair and Stone;[22][23] no serious injuries were reported in the aftermath of the subsequent explosion despite the building having been busy with 80–100 visitors,[24][25] but the deflagration blew off a corner of the Coronation Chair[22][23] and broke the Stone in half – although this was not discovered until 1950, when four Scottish nationalists broke into the church to steal the stone and return it to Scotland.[23] Two days after the Westminster Abbey bombing, a second suffragette bomb was discovered before it could explode in St Paul's Cathedral.[22]

Early 20th century[edit]

The possibility that the Coronation Chair could be damaged or destroyed by German air raids during the Second World War resulted in it being moved to Gloucester Cathedral for the duration of the war. Concerns about the propaganda implications of the Stone falling into German hands led to it being hidden behind ancient lead coffins in a burial vault under Abbot Islip's Chapel, situated off the north ambulatory of the abbey.[26] Other than the Dean, Paul de Labilliere and the Surveyor of the Fabric of Westminster Abbey, Charles Peers, only a few other people knew of its hiding place. Worried that the secret could be lost if all of them were killed during the war, Peers drew up three maps showing its location. Two were sent in sealed envelopes to Canada, one to the Canadian Prime Minister William King, who deposited it in the Bank of Canada's vault in Ottawa. The other went to the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, who stored his envelope in the Bank of Montreal in Toronto. Once he had received word that the envelopes had been received, Peers destroyed the third map, which he had been keeping at his bank.[26]

Peers later received a suggestion via the Office of Works that the Stone should be sent to Scotland for safekeeping:

I trust the Office of Works will not lend itself to this attempt by the Scotch to get hold of the Stone by a side wind. You cannot be so simple as not to know that this acquisitive nation have ever since the time of Edward I been attempting by fair means or foul, to get possession of the Stone, and during my time at Westminster we have received warnings from the Police that Scottish emissaries were loose in London, intending to steal the Stone and we had better lock up the Confessor's Chapel, where it is normally kept.[26]

First return to Scotland[edit]

On Christmas Day 1950, a group of four Scottish students (Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Kay Matheson,[27] and Alan Stuart) removed the stone from Westminster Abbey, intending to return it to Scotland.[28] During the removal process, the stone broke into two pieces.[29][30] After burying the greater part of the Stone in a Kent field, where they camped for a few days,[31] they uncovered the buried stone and returned to Scotland, along with a new accomplice, John Josselyn.

According to an American diplomat who was posted in Edinburgh at the time, the stone was briefly hidden in a trunk in the basement of the consulate's Public Affairs Officer, without his knowledge, then brought up further north.[32] The smaller piece was similarly brought north at a later time. The entire stone was passed to Glasgow politician Robert Gray, who arranged for a Glasgow stonemason to repair it.[33][34]

The British Government ordered a major search for the stone, but were unsuccessful. The stone was left by those that had been hiding it on the altar of Arbroath Abbey on 11 April 1951, a property owned by the Church of Scotland. Once the London police were informed of its whereabouts, the stone was returned to Westminster four months after its removal. Afterward, rumours circulated that copies of the stone had been made, and that the returned stone was not the original.[35][36]

Return to Scotland[edit]

On 3 July 1996, in response to a growing discussion around Scottish cultural history, the British Government announced that the stone would return to Scotland, 700 years after it had been taken.[36][37] On 15 November 1996, after a handover ceremony at the border between representatives of the Home Office and of the Scottish Office, the stone was transported to Edinburgh Castle. An official handover ceremony occurred in the Castle on 30 November 1996, St Andrew's Day, to mark the arrival of the stone.[38] Prince Andrew, Duke of York, representing Queen Elizabeth II, formally handed over the Royal Warrant transferring the stone into the safekeeping of the Commissioners for the Regalia.[39][40] It currently resides in Perth.[41][42]

Public display[edit]

As part of a consultation in 2019,[43] the Scottish Government asked the public for their views on the preferred location for public display of the Stone of Scone. Two options were proposed: featuring it as the centrepiece of a proposed new Perth Museum (a £23 million redevelopment of the former Perth City Hall) or remaining at Edinburgh Castle in a major redevelopment of the existing display.[44][45]

In December 2020, the Scottish Government announced that the stone would be relocated to the Perth Museum.[46] The museum opened on 30 March 2024, with the stone as one of its main exhibits.[47]

Temporary return to London[edit]

In September 2022, Historic Environment Scotland announced that the stone would temporarily return to Westminster Abbey for the coronation of Charles III.[48] It subsequently left the castle on 27 April 2023 in a procession led by Joseph Morrow, the Lord Lyon King of Arms,[49] arriving in Westminster Abbey on 29 April.[50] After the coronation on 6 May, the stone was put on temporary display at the abbey before being returned to Edinburgh Castle later in the month.[51]

2023 incident[edit]

On 15 November 2023, three members of environmental activist group This is Rigged smashed the stone's protective glass case, and spray-painted the words "Is Treasa Tuath Na Tighearna" (Gaelic for "The People Are Mightier Than A Lord") on the glass, alongside the group's logo. Edinburgh Castle was closed to the public for the rest of the day. The activists were arrested following the action, which they claimed was intended to pressure supermarkets to reduce food prices and the Scottish Government to fund a community food hub.[52]

Missing fragment[edit]

In January 2024, a fragment of the stone, previously thought to have been lost, was found in a cupboard at the headquarters of the Scottish National Party. According to Scottish cabinet papers released on 1 January, the fragment was given to the then first minister Alex Salmond in 2008 by the son of John MacCormick, who had been involved in the removal of the stone from Westminster Abbey. Sir John Elvidge, who was Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet at time, told Mr Salmond that he could keep the fragment. Mr Salmond then passed it to the SNP for safekeeping.[53][54]

Historic Environment Scotland subsequently carried out tests on the fragment, which established it was genuine "beyond reasonable doubt". In May 2024, it was announced that the fragment would be held by the Commissioners for the Safeguarding of the Regalia "on behalf of the Nation and the people of Scotland".[55]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "The stone of Destiny". English Monarchs. www.englishmonarcs.co.uk. 2004–2005. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  2. ^ James Yorke (17 August 2013). "Review of The Coronation Chair by Warwick Rodwell". The Spectator. Archived from the original on 15 February 2016.
  3. ^ "Stone of Destiny". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). Vol. 280. United Kingdom: House of Commons. 3 July 1996. col. 973.
  4. ^ Skene, William Forbes (1869). The Coronation Stone. Edinburgh: Edmonston & Douglas. pp. 11. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  5. ^ Andree, p. 163.
  6. ^ Dwelly, Edward (1994). Faclair Gaidhlig Gu Beurla Le Dealbhan/Dwelly's Illustrated Gaelic to English Dictionary (12 ed.). Glasgow, Scotland: Gairm Publications. p. 588. ISBN 1871901286. †lia-fàil, -e, s.f. The stone on which the Scottish, and as some say the Irish kings used to be crowned, now in the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey, also called clach-na-cinneamhuinn.
  7. ^ Dwelly, Edward (1994). Faclair Gaidhlig Gu Beurla Le Dealbhan/Dwelly's Illustrated Gaelic to English Dictionary (12 ed.). Glasgow, Scotland: Gairm Publications. p. 587. ISBN 1871901286. †lia, s.f. [&**m.] Stone, great stone. †2 Hunger. 3‡‡Welting. 5‡‡Hog, pig. 6**Stream.
  8. ^ Dwelly, Edward (1994). Faclair Gaidhlig Gu Beurla Le Dealbhan/Dwelly's Illustrated Gaelic to English Dictionary (12 ed.). Glasgow, Scotland: Gairm Publications. p. 404. ISBN 1871901286. †fàil,** a. Fatal. 2 Generous, liberal. see Lia fàil.
  9. ^ O'Reilly, Edward (1864). AN IRISH-ENGLISH DICTIONARY, WITH COPIOUS QUOTATIONS FROM THE MOST ESTEEMED ANCIENT AND MODERN WRITERS, TO ELUCIDATE THE MEANING OF OBSCURE WORDS, AND NUMEROUS COMPARISONS OF IRISH WORDS WITH THOSE OF SIMILAR ORTHOGRAPHY, SENSE, OR SOUND IN THE WELSH AND HEBREW LANGUAGES (A NEW EDITION, CAREFULLY REVISED, AND CORRECTED. ed.). Dublin: James Duffy. p. 226. fail, s. f. the hiccough; a rim or border round the edge of a pot, bucket, etc.; a ring, a wreath, a ring, a collar; company, society ; fate ; a place ; an inclosure, a fence ; a circle; adj. fatal; generous; s. f. a den, a resting place.
  10. ^ Danvers, Frederick Charles (1877). The covenant; or, Jacob's heritage. William Henry Guest. pp. 226–233.
  11. ^ Petrie, George (1839). "On the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill". The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. Royal Irish Academy: 159–162.
  12. ^ "Genesis 28:10–22". Bible.org. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  13. ^ 'England, the Remnant of Judah, and the Israel of Ephraim' by F.R.A. Glover (Frederick Robert Augustus Glover).
  14. ^ 'The Stone of Destiny: Symbol of Nationhood' by David Breeze and Graeme Munro
  15. ^ John Prebble, The Lion in the North.
  16. ^ Marie MacPherson (29 November 2013). "The Stone of Destiny". English Historical Fiction Authors. Google Inc. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  17. ^ Dunsinane Hill, fort, ancientmonuments.uk, accessed 10 June 2022
  18. ^ Arundell, Brian, of Wardour Howard. Judah Scepter: A Historical and Religious Perspective, iUnivers (2010) p. 3
  19. ^ "Salmond: 'Stone of Destiny is fake'". 7 January 2018. Archived from the original on 12 August 2014. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  20. ^ Brown, Christopher "Bannockburn 1314"
  21. ^ Horatio Brown, Calendar State Papers, Venice: 1603–1607, vol. 10 (London, 1900), pp. 75–76 no. 105: John Speed, The History of Great Britaine (London, 1614), p. 885.
  22. ^ a b c "Suffragettes, violence and militancy". The British Library. Archived from the original on 10 September 2021. Retrieved 2 October 2021.
  23. ^ a b c Webb, Simon (2014). The Suffragette Bombers: Britain's Forgotten Terrorists. Pen and Sword. p. 148. ISBN 978-1783400645.
  24. ^ Walker, Rebecca (2020). "Deeds, Not Words: The Suffragettes and Early Terrorism in the City of London". The London Journal. 45 (1): 59. doi:10.1080/03058034.2019.1687222. ISSN 0305-8034. S2CID 212994082.
  25. ^ Jones, Ian (2016). London: Bombed Blitzed and Blown Up: The British Capital Under Attack Since 1867. Frontline Books. p. 65. ISBN 978-1473879010.
  26. ^ a b c Shenton, Caroline (2021). National Treasures: Saving the Nation's Art in World War II (Hardback). London: John Murray. pp. 203–204. ISBN 978-1529387438.
  27. ^ "Kay Matheson". The Daily Telegraph. London. 14 July 2013. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 4 June 2019.
  28. ^ "Blog Archive » Emotion Nationalism And The Brave-Heart Factor". Ian Hamilton Qc. 20 January 2008. Archived from the original on 12 July 2011. Retrieved 13 November 2010.
  29. ^ Thomas Quinn (25 May 2008). "Film on Stone of Destiny heist 'will end UK'". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  30. ^ Olga Craig (14 December 2008). "Ian Hamilton on Stone of Destiny: I felt I was holding Scotland's soul". Telegraph. Archived from the original on 12 January 2022. Retrieved 25 December 2011.
  31. ^ Scott, Kirsty (14 October 2008). "The Caledonian job". The Guardian.
  32. ^ "Scotland, A Land Apart". Association for Diplomatic Studies & Training. Retrieved 30 July 2021.
  33. ^ "The Stone of Destiny". Scone Palace Perthshire. 12 July 2013. Archived from the original on 26 January 2019. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  34. ^ "Offer to repair Stone of Destiny". The Glasgow Herald. 17 September 1974. p. 3. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  35. ^ Richard Blystone (15 November 1996). "Scotland's 'Stone of Scone' finds its way home". CNN. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  36. ^ a b Richard Halloran (26 August 2014). "The Sad, Dark End of the British Empire". Politico Magazine. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  37. ^ "The return north of Jacob's pillow may prove cold comfort to Mr Major, argues Malcolm Dickson Tory moment of destiny". The Glasgow Herald. 4 July 1996. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
  38. ^ Ascherson, Neal (1 December 1996). "Scotland welcomes the new Stone age". The Independent on Sunday. Archived from the original on 25 May 2022. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  39. ^ "20 lesser known facts about the Stone of Destiny – 20 facts for 20 years!". Edinburgh Castle Blog. 30 November 2016. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  40. ^ The ceremonial of the day: "No. 24101". The Edinburgh Gazette. 29 November 1996. pp. 2861–2862.
  41. ^ Bradley, Neil Pooran, Sian (28 March 2024). "Stone of Destiny given ceremonial send-off to its next home". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 28 March 2024.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  42. ^ "See and do > highlights > the Stone of Destiny". edinburghcastle.scot. Retrieved 4 August 2020.
  43. ^ "The Stone of Destiny". Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  44. ^ Compare: Stone of Destiny – future location: public engagement report. Scottish Government – Riaghaltas na h-Alba. 2020. ISBN 978-1800045200. Retrieved 15 April 2021.
  45. ^ "Perth wants Stone of Destiny to return to 'ancestral home'". BBC News. 16 August 2019. Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  46. ^ "The Stone of Destiny". Scottish Government. Retrieved 23 December 2020.
  47. ^ Ogston, Graeme (28 March 2024). "Stone of Destiny takes centre stage at new £27m Perth Museum". BBC News. Retrieved 3 April 2024.
  48. ^ "Stone of Destiny to return to Westminster Abbey for coronation". BBC News. 12 September 2022. Retrieved 13 September 2022.
  49. ^ "Historic Stone of Scone moved to London for King Charles' coronation". Reuters. 28 April 2023.
  50. ^ "Stone of Destiny welcomed to the Abbey". Westminster Abbey. 29 April 2023. Retrieved 30 April 2023.
  51. ^ "Stone of Destiny back on display". The Herald. Glasgow. 17 May 2023. p. 5.
  52. ^ "Edinburgh Castle locked down after eco activists smash Stone of Scone case". The Telegraph. 16 November 2023.
  53. ^ Pollock, Laura (5 January 2024). "Missing piece of Stone of Destiny 'in cupboard at SNP HQ'". The National. Retrieved 5 January 2024.
  54. ^ Gordon, Tom (8 January 2024). "Alex Salmond's piece of Stone of Destiny 'found in cupboard at SNP HQ'". The Herald. Glasgow. p. 6. Retrieved 9 January 2024.
  55. ^ "Stone of Destiny fragment 'genuine beyond reasonable doubt'". BBC News. 17 May 2024. Retrieved 3 June 2024.

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)
  • Taking of the Stone of Destiny, Ian R. Hamilton, Seven Hills Book Distributors, 1992, hardcover, ISBN 0-948403-24-1 (modern reprint, but expensive)
  • 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]