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Stone of Destiny or Stone of Scone? Probably a fake.

The Stone of Destiny or Stone of Scone is in Edinburgh. Or is that stone a copy of another copy of a replica? What happened to the real stone anyway?

Stone of Destiny

The Stone of Destiny is another name for the stone on which the monarchs of Scotland were crowned at Scone, just outside the city of Perth, Scotland. To some Scots it is an icon and a potent symbol. Others wonder at the fuss about an obviously faked chunk of sandstone from Perthshire. The Stone of Destiny and the Stone of Scone are the same. However, the Scone of Stone meanwhile refers to very old scones sometimes served in low-grade coffee-shops. (Stop right there and get a grip. That’s enough about scones – Ed.)

The legend of the Stone of Scone

In legend, it was the biblical Jacob’s pillow. It was taken to Scythia, by Scota. She was the daughter of a Pharoah. No, really. She married and her descendants became Kings of Spain. One of them carried the stone to Ireland then an early king of Scotland took it over to Argyll. Next, the missionary Columba got hold of it after he came to the island of Iona in 563AD. (You may surmise here I have cut a long story short. You have to do this with anything relating to the Stone of Destiny.)

Thanks for keeping up. Right, a few problems here: this legend only dates from the start of the 14th century. It was invented as a story for Pope Boniface (love the name) in order to prove the Scots were much older than the English and therefore should be independent from them. (In those days supportive economic data was harder to come by.) There are other early references but let’s focus on a moment in time here. (Cue kind of trembly and tense violin music or out-of-tune bagpipe wailing. Whatever works best for you.)

Stone of Scone lookalike, at Scone.

Stone of Scone lookalike, at Scone.

(Pictured here) A replica of the Stone of Destiny, apparently. It’s in the grounds of Scone Palace.

That day at the Abbey at Scone...

Gasp! Help ma boab! (And other expressions signifying Scottish incredulity.) News has arrived for the monks at the Abbey at Scone, custodians of the Stone of Destiny. King Edward of (gasp again!) England is on his way!

The monks know that this (probably ornately carved) stone is important and has already been graced by the solemn rear-ends of a line of Scottish kings.

But by 1296, King Edward of England has had enough of the uppity Scots and wants to crush them forever. Or, worse, make them like the English. The conversation in the monastery goes like this:

Brother Hamish: ‘WTF. We’ve got tae dae something… He’s gonnae murder us. Or make us speak using vowels with diphthongs. Ah cannae stand thae diphthongs.’

Brother Jimmy: ‘Hang on a minute. This Edward guy. He disnae ken whit the stane looks like. We could hide the stane and pit anither ane in its place, no?’

Brother Hamish: ‘See you, Jimmy? Yerra genius.’

(Roughly translating: the two clever monks have decided to hide the original stone and substitute another one. King Edward doesn't actually know what the stone looks like.)

And so they did. By good luck, a local builder was in fitting a new kitchen in the refectory at the time. Aha, building material at hand. No time to lose. The monks did a swap. They took a chunk of the local sandstone, a bit rough and ready, and somehow convinced King Edward of England’s courier that it was (snigger!) the real Stone of Destiny.

He said something like: ‘Rai-eet-ow, mite. Stown of Destiny, aa-eeh? Give us an ‘and wiv it. Naa-oo, soign ‘ere on the dotted loin.

(Couriers from England, eh? Never make out a word they say.)

Anyway, he heaved it into his van and took it to Westminster, London, England. Everyone was happy. The two monks did a high five, or ‘altus quintus’ as they called it in Latin. Nobody minded that the dimensions of the stone were a bit odd for sitting on. There were no carvings, nor carrying hooks, nor any of the details seen in the 12th-century seals of the Scottish kings and also illustrated in contemporary coinage. These show the kings seated on some larger stone object, high enough for them to be seated on in the first place. The carried-off Stone of Destiny is only 10.75 inches (27cm high.) Och, details, details…

Something else was done that day in 1296. The monks not only substituted a stone – they had to hide the real stone, of course. A potent symbol of Scotland in a top secret hiding place – so top secret that, known only to a few, the Stone of Destiny was lost. Forgotten.

Fast forward. (The nation of Scotland meanwhile got sold off by the hard-up aristocracy and had been in a union with England since 1707.) But here is the interesting bit. A real ‘what if’…….now listen up.

What happened to the real Stone of Destiny

In 1818, a certain Mr Nairne of Dunsinane House, near Scone, followed up on a story he had heard from two local men. Some years before, when just young boys working on a local farm, they said that they went exploring a recent landslip on Dunsinane Hill, around the site of an ancient hill fort, known as Macbeth’s Castle. They found a fissure – a hidden cave. Inside it was a black stone, mysteriously carved. Nairne was interested, assembled a team of diggers and investigated. Their diggings eventually revealed this location once again. They found not just the stone as described by the farm lads but also two round tablets with insignia – similar perhaps to the plaque-like objects seen illustrated in the Great Seals of Kings Malcolm V, Alexander I and David I.

According to newspaper accounts of the time ‘the curious stone has been shipped to London for the inspection of the scientific amateur, in order to discover its real qualities.’ Well, you’d expect that wouldn’t you? The Scots couldn’t be trusted to draw the right conclusions perhaps, especially as a backward northern province of ‘North Britain’.

Oddly enough, that stone has not been seen since. Apparently it was not only black but semi-metallic in appearance, as if it was meteoric in origin. It is known that this type of 'heaven-sent' rock has significance for ancient peoples all over the world.

On the Moot Hill, Scone, scene of the crowning of Scotland's monarchs

On the Moot Hill, Scone, scene of the crowning of Scotland's monarchs

(Pictured here) The Moot Hill in the grounds of Scone Palace, where the Kings of Scotland were crowned sitting on the Stone of Destiny. A replica stone is on the site today, though it isn’t that small shapeless lump on the grass on the left of the picture. No, that’s a peacock, hunched and miserable (as were we) because it was raining. Another (white) peacock shelters from at the base of the tree. The deer in the picture don’t mind the rain as they are made of plaited willow. It was late in the afternoon and things were getting a bit surreal……

‘Declaration of Arbroath’ statue, Arbroath.

‘Declaration of Arbroath’ statue, Arbroath.

Later still, the so-called Stone of Destiny or Coronation Stone, that lived under the throne in Westminster Abbey, London, England, was damaged by suffragette attack in 1914. Then, in 1950 it was removed by a group of four Scottish students – nationalistically motivated, the rascals! It broke in two. Tee-hee. It was subsequently repaired and left in Arbroath Abbey, which, of course, is associated with the Scots’ ‘Letter of Arbroath’ or ‘Declaration of Arbroath’ (1320), justifying their right to be a free nation.

Pictured here is a modern statue commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath.  (Also available as a souvenir tea-towel.) Also pictured is Arbroath Abbey. (Excellent visitor centre here.)

Arbroath Abbey today.

Arbroath Abbey today.

The real Stone of Destiny?

Back in 1950, rumours circulated that copies of the stone had been made – but in any case a stone or the stone was returned to Westminster Abbey. There it sat until the obviously pro-Unionist Westminster government returned it to Scotland in 1996. (Nope, personally, I never did quite understand why.

Probably it was a case of 'Oh, give them their stone back. That'll shut them up'. Anyway, it wasn’t enough to settle anything down in Scottish politics.) The current deal is that the Stone of Destiny, Stone of Scone, Coronation Stone, or whatever it is called, goes back to Westminster if needed for a coronation. Whatever.

Right now, you can see a stone of some kind of destiny in Edinburgh Castle. And you can decide for yourself which stone it is.

But aren’t legends and enduring mysteries such fun?

If you want to read a whole lot more detail about this, then get yourself a copy of The Scots Magazine of December 1984. In there you will find a fascinating and authoritative article by the historian A.C McKerracher all about the mystery of the stone.