"O Scotia! my dear, my native soil!
For whom my warmest wish to heaven is sent;
Long may thy hardy sons of rustic toil
Be blest with health, and peace, and sweet content"
Robbie Burns

Thursday, September 23, 2010


In the last posting I discussed Scotland’s sacred “Stone of Destiny”, the legendary pillow of Jacob (of Biblical fame) which traveled from the Holy Land to Syria to Egypt to Spain to Ireland and then finally arriving with the Scotti of Dalriada in the 5th century. It was this ancient stone on which all Gael and later Scottish kings were crowned, and which King Edward I of England in 1296 removed from Scotland and placed in the Coronation chair in Westminster Abbey. This was to insure that all English kings would also be Scottish kings or at best overlords of the Scottish crown. The Stone was returned to Scotland, on loan in 1996, 700 years after the first theft. But it wasn’t really 700 years because the Stone made a short visit home in the 50’s

On Christmas Eve, four Glaswegian university students filled with Scottish national pride and some were members of the Scottish Covenant Association, probably a bit too much holiday left Scotland and headed to London to liberate (or steal if your English) the Stone. The leader of the group was a young college student named Ian Hamilton, who had recently returned to college after spending time in the British Army. It was a period of social and political unrest in Scotland and a solution many Scot’s were seeking was to seek Home Rule from England. John McCormack and an the emerging Scottish national party (later forming the SNP) wrote a Scottish Covenant for seeking Home Rule for Scotland but when it was defeated by the government at Westminster. A frustrated Ian Hamilton decided that what the cause needed was a nationalist symbol to stir the people and the perfect one was that which the English had stolen from the Scots some 650 years before.

Ian, and fellow Glaswegian students Kate Matheson, Gavin Vernon and young Alan Stuart planned over a number of weeks to break into Westminster Abbey. And the caper if the movie based on Mr. Hamilton’s book THE TAKING OF THE STONE OF DESTINY is to be believed was a almost a bit of a “Keystone Cops”. They arrived on Christmas Eve 1950 believing most people were home involved in holiday cheer. The four broke in to the abbey (the movie is a bit different than Hamilton’s account) and in the process of pulling it along the floor of the abbey they broke the stone. Once they made their escape they took the larger part and left it with Travelers (gypsies?) in Kent. And the smaller part elsewhere.

Westminster Abbey

After the news of the theft was discovered the British government suspected Scottish nationalists of taking the stone and set up roadblocks on the Border. However, the young idealists put the stone in the trunk and drove it over the Border right under the government’s nose. Meanwhile in Scotland the news of the theft was cause for great celebration and resurgence in national pride of even the most hardened and discouraged Scots. The smaller piece was later brought north and the two were joined together again by a stonemason and was handed over to a Scottish politician. In April of 1951, the repaired stone covered by a Scottish Saltire was found at the alter of the ruins of Arbroath Abbey in Angus. This was a symbolic gesture given the history of the Abbey and the Declaration of Arbroath calling for Scottish independence in 1320. The four students were finally arrested for the theft but because their actions had inspired the whole nation of Scotland and creating a shot in the arm for Scottish Home Rule movement , the Westminster government never brought the students to trial.

Arbroath Abbey ruins, Angus, Scotland

As an aside, now there were those who looked at the stone when it came to Scotland in 1996 and remarked on how it was so very similar to the same sandstone found in the Perth area of Scone and clearly not the basalt that history claimed. In “ Monuments Celtiques” by Jacques Cambray in 1805, he claims that the stone had a writing on it when translated from the original “ Ni Fallat fatum, Scoti quocumque locatum inventient lapidiem negnasse tenetur ibidem” said, “ If the Destiny proves true, then the Scots are known to have been Kings wherever men find this stone.” This may have been more myth and little substance as Cambray believed in a “stone” cult and his connection of the Druids to megaliths has plagued the study of both. However, Scottish activist Wendy Wood in 1968 went to Westminster Abbey and slipped a piece of cardboard under the iron railing that said, “ This is not the original Stone of Destiny. The real Stone is of black basalt marked with hieroglyphics and is inside a hill in Scotland.” And others recently have questioned the validity of the stone that Edward took in 1296. But where is this hill?

Seal of Scone Abbey

There has long been a legend that the Monks at Scone Abbey were cunning and aware of the English king’s intent to take the royal regalia of Scotland which included the Stone, and that they substituted the real stone with a fake, maybe even a cesspit cover. After all what did Edward know of the stone? If this was true then why didn’t they bring the stone out for the crowning of Robert the Bruce in 1306 or let the English know later they took the wrong stone? These questions are met with the explanation that the monks didn’t want to make the English angrier than they were with the Scots and these were dangerous times. The idea that they may have given Edward a fake might be supported in when looking at the Peace Treaty of Northampton in 1328, which declared Scotland an independent nation, that Robert Bruce was their king and that his heirs would reign upon his death, the border between the nations would remain the same as the period of King Alexander 111 and young king David II would marry Joan of England. Some sources say the Stone was also to be returned to Scotland as per the agreement and that King Edward 111 ordered its return, but that his mother never complied. That the Scots didn’t object one might assume they already knew they had the “real” Stone anyway.

Macbeth's legendary fort on the top of Dunsinnan Hill, Perth Scotland

So where might the real one be? Legend has it that it was placed in the hillside at Dunsinnan Hill which was once the site of King Macbeth’s castle and lies near Scone. In the late 1700’s or early 1800’s a young farm boy after a brutal rainstorm found what appeared to be a cave or fissure. Boys being curious, decided to investigate and found a subterranean chamber, which held a stairs with a blocked passage. But what intrigued them the most was a stone slab held up by four stone legs and the stone had writing on it. Later on as the one grew older he heard the legend and went back to the Hill to look for the opening but never found it. Some believe that the stone is now housed at Dunsinnan Hall because a worker on one of the restoration of the hall overheard the owner claiming he could touch the stone whenever he wanted to. The current owner of the Hall has neither admitted nor denied ownership/guardianship of the Stone.

When Ian Hamilton was asked if the Stone returned to Scotland was a fake, he claimed the Stone he and his fellow patriots liberated from England was the original stone that King Edward took. However, with a twinkle in his eye, he didn’t dismiss the claim the Stone he liberated might have actually been a fake all along.

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