The Mystery of the Stone of Scone

King Edward's Chair and the Stone of Destiny

King Edward's Chair, the Coronation Chair; also known as St Edward's Chair, was commissioned by Edward I in 1296 to enclose the Stone of Scone, equally known as the Stone of Destiny. The majestic chair is made of oak, painted by Master Walter and decorated with patterns of birds, foliage and animals on a gold gilded ground. The figure of a king, either Edward the Confessor or Edward I, his feet resting on a lion, was painted on the back. The front originally held a panel concealing the stone from view. Four gilt lions were added at the base of the chair in the early sixteenth century; the present lions are replacements that date from 1727.

John de Balliol was the last Scottish King crowned on it in 1292 before Edward I of England invaded Scotland in 1296. The Stone of Scone was brought from Scotland in 1296 and placed in the care of the Abbot of Westminster. This image shows the Stone of Scone still inserted. The stone has since been returned to Scotland.

The chair was named after Edward the Confessor, and was kept in his shrine of St Edward' Chapel at Westminster Abby.  

After two world wars the only real damage this 785 year old regal chair has suffered has been damage in 1914 when it was the object of a bomb attack, thought to have been instigated by suffragettes; and graffiti by 18th and 19th century schoolboys.

November 15 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 and returned home to its rightful people. The Stone arrived in the Castle on St. Andrew's Day, 30 November 1996, and it remains alongside the crown jewels of Scotland in the Crown Room. It will only return to Westminster Abby for the use of coronations.

Until the removal of the Stone to Scotland in 1996 the Chair was the oldest piece of furniture in England still used for the purpose for which it was made.

The Stone of Destiny has also been called 'Jacobs Stone'. There are many legends concerning the Stone, one of the oldest is the Jacob Stone; it identifies it as the one upon which the Biblical figure Jacob rested his head at Bethel and saw visions of angels ..."And Jacob rose upn the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it"

Nigel Tranter: Scotland's Storyteller, Ray Bradfield

In Jewish tradition, Jacob’s pillow was used as the pedestal for the Ark of the Covenant in Solomon’s Temple.

Long before it was used in England it was used for the coronation of Scottish Monarchs. Its oldest verifiable home was Scone Abby in Scotland.  The Celtic name of the stone is Lia Fáil, "the speaking stone" the one that would cry out beneath the true king according to legend.

The 14th century English cleric and historian Walter Hemingford described the location of the Scottish coronation stone as the monastery of Scone, a few miles north of Perth: "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."

There is however a mystery surrounding the stone…….

Did the Stone of Scone ever really arrive in England or was this just Edward I's brilliant way of showing his command over the Scots?  Edward had already beaten down the Scots; they had felt the famous 'Hammer'. He had taken the Scottish regalia from Edinburgh, which included Saint Margaret's Black Rood, a part of the true cross that she brought to Scotland when she arrived to marry Malcolm III around 1070.

There was allegedly a prophecy attached to the stone that Sir Walter Scott translated as:

Unless the fates be faulty grown
And prophet’s voice be vain
Where’er is found this sacred stone
The Scottish race shall reign.

This stone of humble impression was supposed to be the traditional Coronation Stone for Scottish Kings, however there are many interesting items that make you wonder. The story claims that Saint Columba brought the stone from Ireland with him to Iona. Later Viking raids brought about the necessity to move the stone first to Atholl and then to Scone.  

  • After Edward raided the Scottish Regalia he made it known his next target was Scone. Confident in having subdued the Scottish people he was in no rush, word of his deeds preceded him. It took Edward three months to travel from Edinburg to Scone Abby, more than enough time for the Stone to be removed or replaced with a replica.

  • For Edward to have taken such an important artifact why is there little to no mention of a reaction by the people of Scotland.  Could it be that this was never a relic of great significance to the Scots, but a magnificent use of propaganda by Edward?

  • One unconfirmed source claims that in 1298 Edward I sent a raiding party back to Scone Abby in search of something. After tearing the Abby apart they returned to London with the Abbot for questioning.

  • Nigel Tranter, in Scotland's Storyteller believed the True Stone was originally hidden by the Abbot of Scone, and eventually entrusted to the care of Angus Og MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, by Robert the Bruce. Angus Og hid it in his native Hebrides, where the stone probably remains.

  • Other legend record that after the True Stone was given into the keeping of Angus Og Macdonald, its keepership passed into the branch of the clan who settled in Sleat. A descendant of this line, C. Iain Alasdair MacDonald, wrote to Tranter, claiming he was now the custodian of the Stone, which was hidden on Skye.

  • The treaty of Northampton in 1328 King Edward III offered the return of the stone even though it was never requested by the Scots. When it was not delivered as promised not a word of protest was heard from Scotland …. Did they know the whereabouts of the Real Stone?

  • An ever more remarkable fact is the Stone of Scone has a long history of legend going back to biblical times; even if its origin is of a lesser age, it still has its beginning in Ireland Geologist have scrutinized the stone and determined that the stone which had been housed in Westminster Abby for centuries is red sandstone quarried in the area of Scone.   

  • When Robert the Bruce was crowned King Robert of Scots by Bishop William de Lamberton at Scone, on 25 March 1306 with all formality and solemnity. The royal robes and vestments had hidden been from the English were brought out by the Bishop and set upon King Robert. No mention was made of the Stone of Scone, could it have still been at Scone?

 Is it possible that when Edward arrived at the Abby in Scone there was no Stone, or had it been substituted and he had been tricked? Seems like one of those many mysteries that we can always speculate on, but may never really know the answer.

 Anne Marie Bouchard

January 2015

Sources:

  • 'The Stone of Destiny: Symbol of Nationhood' by David Breeze and Graeme Munro

  • No Stone Unturned: The Story of the Stone of Destiny, Ian R. Hamilton

  •  Nigel Tranter: Scotland's Storyteller, Ray Bradfield

  • The Coronation Chair and Stone of Destiny by James Wilkinson

 

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Scone Abby

Anne Marie Bouchard