Stone of Scone

Replica of the Stone of Scone, Scone Palace

The Stone of Scone (/ˈskn/; Scottish Gaelic: An Lia Fáil, 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 that has been used for centuries in the coronation of the monarchs of Scotland, and later also when the monarchs of Scotland became monarchs of England as well as in the coronations of the monarchs of Great Britain and latterly of the United Kingdom following the treaties of union. 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 66 cm (26 in) by 42.5 cm (16.7 in) by 26.7 cm (10.5 in) and its weight is approximately 152 kg (335 lb). A roughly incised cross is on one surface, and an iron ring at each end aids with transport.[1] 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 historyEdit

Replica of the Stone of Scone at Scone Palace

Origin and legendsEdit

In the 14th century, the English cleric and historian Walter Hemingford described the previous location of the Scottish coronation stone as the monastery of Scone, 3 km north of Perth:

Apud Monasterium de Scone positus est lapis pergrandis in ecclesia Dei, juxta magnum altare, concavus quidem ad modum rotundae cathedrae confectus, in quo futuri reges loco quasi coronationis ponebantur ex more.[2] At the monastery of Scone, in the church of God, near to the high altar, was placed a large stone, hollowed out as a round chair, on which future kings were placed for their coronation, according to custom.

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 in Scotland, whose transport of the Stone from Ireland to Argyll, where he was crowned on it, was recorded.[3]
  • Some versions identify the stone brought by Fergus with the Lia Fáil used at Tara for the High King of Ireland. Other traditions contend the Lia Fáil remains at Tara.[4][5] (Inis Fáil, The Island of Destiny, is one of the traditional names of Ireland.)
  • Legends place the origins of the Stone in Biblical times and consider the Stone to be the Stone of Jacob, taken by Jacob while in Haran, (Genesis 28:10–22).[6]

Geologists proved that the stone taken by Edward I of England to Westminster[7] is a "lower Old Red Sandstone", which was quarried in the vicinity of Scone.[8] Doubts over the authenticity of the stone have existed for a long time: a blog post by retired Scottish academic and writer of historical fiction Marie MacPherson shows that they date back at least two hundred years.[9]

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 500lb [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]

Westminster AbbeyEdit

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

In 1296, the stone was taken by Edward I as spoils of war and removed to Westminster Abbey, where it was fitted into a wooden chair—known as King Edward's Chair—on which most subsequent English and then British sovereigns have been crowned. Edward I sought to claim his status as the "Lord Paramount" of Scotland, with the right to oversee its King.[10]

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 the theory claim that historic descriptions of the stone do not match the present stone.[11]

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; riotous crowds prevented it from being removed from Westminster Abbey.[12] The stone remained in England for another six centuries, even after James VI of Scotland assumed the English throne as James I of England. 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.


On Christmas Day 1950, a group of four Scottish students (Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Kay Matheson,[13] and Alan Stuart) removed the stone from Westminster Abbey for return to Scotland.[14] During the removal process, the stone broke into two pieces.[15][16] After burying the greater part of the Stone in a Kent field, where they camped for a few days,[17] they uncovered the buried stone and returned to Scotland, along with a new accomplice, John Josselyn.

According to one US diplomat who was posted in Edinburgh at the time, the stone was hidden for a short time in a trunk in the basement of the Consulate's Public Affairs Officer, unknown to him, before it was removed.[18] The smaller piece was similarly brought north at a later time. The entire stone was passed to a senior Glasgow politician, who arranged for it to be professionally repaired by Glasgow stonemason Robert Gray.[19][20]

A major search for the stone was ordered by the British Government, but proved unsuccessful. The custodians left the stone 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 four months after it had been removed. Afterwards, rumours circulated that copies had been made of the stone, and that the returned stone was not the original.[21][22]

Return to ScotlandEdit

In 1996,[22] in a symbolic response to growing dissatisfaction among Scots at the prevailing constitutional settlement, the British Government decided that the stone should be kept in Scotland when not in use at coronations. On 3 July 1996, Prime Minister John Major announced to 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. The stone arrived in the Castle on 30 November 1996, St Andrew's Day, where the official handover ceremony occurred.[23] 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.[24][25] It currently remains alongside the crown jewels of Scotland, the Honours of Scotland, in the Crown Room.[26]

Future public displayEdit

The public are to be asked for their views on the preferred future location for public display of the Stone of Scone. Two options have been proposed - featuring as the centrepiece of a proposed new museum in Perth, a £23m redevelopment of the former Perth City Hall, or remaining at its present location at Edinburgh Castle in a major redevelopment of the existing display.[27] This is currently the subject of a public consultation published by the Scottish Government.[28]

In popular cultureEdit

  • The Stone of Scone's removal from Westminster Abbey and return to Scotland is the subject of the 2008 film Stone of Destiny,[17] with Charlie Cox as Ian Hamilton, who also appears in a cameo role in the film.
  • The same incident appears in an episode of Highlander: The Series.
  • It also appears in the final two episodes of Hamish Macbeth, "Destiny" parts 1 and 2.
  • The Stone is prominently featured in a scene from the 2010 film The King's Speech before the coronation of George VI.
  • In Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, The Fifth Elephant novel features the theft of the "Scone of Stone", an ancient bread on which a dwarf king takes seat for his coronation.
  • Andrew Greig's 2008 novel Romanno Bridge is about a quest for the real Stone of Scone.
  • August Derleth featured the removal and return of the stone in his short story "The Adventure of the Stone of Scone", included in one of the collections of his Sherlock Holmes pastiches, featuring his fictional detective Solar Pons. The story credits the recovery of the stone at the abbey to his powers of ratiocination.
  • In the alternate history novel Dominion by C.J. Sansom, the Stone of Scone is returned to Scotland by the fictional Nazi puppet government in control of the United Kingdom during World War 2.
  • In the animated series Gargoyles, Macbeth swears by the Stone of Destiny at his coronation ceremony. The Stone is later revealed to be the same from which Arthur drew Excalibur.
  • The Stone appears as a Treasure Demon (a class of enemies based on valuable objects) in the 2016 video game Persona 5.
  • The Stone of Destiny is the first book in the Four Treasures series by Caroline Logan, published by Cranachan Publishing

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "The stone of Destiny". English Monarchs. 2004–2005. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  2. ^ Skene, William Forbes (1869). The Coronation Stone. Edinburgh: Edmonston & Douglas. pp. 11. Retrieved 5 February 2016.
  3. ^ Andree, p. 163
  4. ^ Danvers, Frederick Charles (1877). The covenant; or, Jacob's heritage. William Henry Guest. pp. 226–233.
  5. ^ Petrie, George (1839). "On the History and Antiquities of Tara Hill". The Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. Royal Irish Academy. 18: 159–162.
  6. ^ "Genesis 28:10-22". Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  7. ^ 'The Stone of Destiny: Symbol of Nationhood' by David Breeze and Graeme Munro
  8. ^ John Prebble, The Lion in the North
  9. ^ Marie MacPherson (29 November 2013). "The Stone of Destiny". English Historical Fiction Authors. Google Inc. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  10. ^ Arundell, Brian, of Wardour Howard. Judah Scepter: A Historical and Religious Perspective, iUnivers (2010) p. 3
  11. ^ "Salmond: 'Stone of Destiny is fake'". Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  12. ^ Brown, Christopher "Bannockburn 1314"
  13. ^ "Kay Matheson". The Daily Telegraph. London. 14 July 2013. Retrieved 4 June 2019.
  14. ^ "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.
  15. ^ Thomas Quinn (25 May 2008). "Film on Stone of Destiny heist 'will end UK'". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  16. ^ Olga Craig (14 December 2008). "Ian Hamilton on Stone of Destiny: I felt I was holding Scotland's soul". Telegraph. Retrieved 25 December 2011.
  17. ^ a b Scott, Kirsty (14 October 2008). "The Caledonian job". The Guardian.
  18. ^ "ADST Interview with FSO Robert Houston".
  19. ^ "The Stone of Destiny". Scone Palace Perthshire. 12 July 2013. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  20. ^ "Offer to repair Stone of Destiny". The Glasgow Herald. 17 September 1974. p. 3. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  21. ^ Richard Blystone (15 November 1996). "Scotland's 'Stone of Scone' finds its way home". CNN. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  22. ^ a b Richard Halloran (26 August 2014). "The Sad, Dark End of the British Empire". Politico Magazine. Retrieved 30 August 2014.
  23. ^ Ascherson, Neal (1 December 1996). "Scotland welcomes the new Stone age". The Independent on Sunday. Retrieved 3 March 2017.
  24. ^ "20 lesser known facts about the Stone of Destiny – 20 facts for 20 years! - Edinburgh Castle Blog". 30 November 2016. Retrieved 24 February 2018.
  25. ^ The ceremonial of the day: "No. 24101". The Edinburgh Gazette. 29 November 1996. pp. 2861–2862.
  26. ^ "The Stone Of Destiny".
  27. ^ "Perth wants Stone of Destiny to return to 'ancestral home'". Retrieved 16 August 2019.
  28. ^ "The Stone of Destiny". Retrieved 16 August 2019.

Further readingEdit

  • 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 linksEdit