On Saint Andrew’s Day, November 30, 1996 in a cavalcade along the High Street running from Holyrood Palace to the Castle at Edinburgh the fabled Stone of Destiny was returned home to Scotland after a 700 year-old theft.
The stone was the ancient stone upon all kings of Scotland were crowned. The “speaking stone” as one legend states (there is no historical evidence) was the stone upon which Jacob of Biblical fame was to have rested his head. It was taken from Syria to Egypt where it was taken to Spain and then Ireland to Tara where the high kings of Ireland were crowned. The stone was brought to Scotland by the Scoti of Ireland who came in the 5th century and was the centerpiece of the coronation of the kings of the new kingdom of Dalridia in what is now Argyll at Dunadd. When the Viking raids increased along the west coast of Scotland at the time of King Kenneth macAlpin moved the stone from Iona to Perth. The stone was placed in the Abbey at Scone and from there all of the kings of Scotland up to King John Balliol in 1292 were crowned.
King John was the chosen claimant from the thirteen who vied for the kingship of Scotland left vacant by the death of the “Maid of Norway” the granddaughter of King Alexander III. By naming him king, Edward I of England believed that Scotland was now a vassal of England and expect the Scottish nobles to help fight his war in France. Not so though King John was weak with little control over the nobles of Scotland, he with the support of those noble in 1296 signed a treaty with France for mutual aid, which was to become known as the Auld Alliance. This enraged Edward who quickly retaliated by bringing an army to Scotland and first laying waste to Berwick killing over 8000 inhabitants and from there he headed north and met the Scottish Army, such that it was, at Dunbar and totally destroyed the Scottish army. At this point Edward demanded fealty of the Scottish nobles and their signature became known as the Ragman’s Rolls.
While in Scotland in an effort to break the moral backs of the Scots he rode to Scone which was then the capital and at the Abbey he removed the relics of Scotland which include the Black Rood of St Margaret, which was the piece of the ‘true cross” that Queen Margaret brought with her to Scotland when she married King Malcolm III and gave the Scottish church. Edward also took the Stone of Destiny so that there would be no more kings of Scotland that weren’t also kings of England. However, that didn’t stop the Scots because Scottish kings continued to be crowned at Scone, minus the stone, from King Robert de Brus forward.
King Edward meanwhile had a special chair made to house the stone and his son Edward II was the first of the English kings to be crowned over the stone so that when crowned as English King he was also crowned king of Scotland, as if the Scots accepted that. The stone remained in England until the mid 1950’s when a group of Nationalistic college students decided that that they wanted to bring back the stone to Scotland where it belonged. On a raid on Christmas Eve they stole into Westminster Cathedral and took the stone away across the borders back to Scotland. While in the process it was believed that the stone broke and was left with gypsies until the parts of the stone could be brought back to Scotland. The British government was in quite the tizzy for a good four months until the students had it repaired and was given over to the Church of Scotland who left it at the abbey of Arbroath draped in the Scottish Saltire.
Now there are some who believe that that stone that Edward had taken back to England was not the actual stone but a fake stone, as the stone is much more similar to the red sandstone found around Scone. Some even believe that the stone was really just a lid from a cesspit in the abbey and passed off as the real Stone of Destiny. Now, this is one of those legends I can get behind. My Scottish and Irish side love the irony of knowing that all of the kings and queens of England from Edward II onward my actually have been sitting on a part of the loo during their coronation.
More on the Ian Hamilton and those who helped him liberate the Stone in the 1950’s in the next posting this week