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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - August/September 2004
The Stone of Scone – A Remarkable Journey

Rev. Scott C. Hall, St. Joseph, MO

Contact Rev. Hall by writing 5508 South 37th Terrace, St. Joseph, MO 64503

   On November 15, 1996, a rather nondescript block of stone was taken under armed escort to the center of a bridge over the River Tweed.  There, on the border between Scotland and England, the Stone of Scone was transferred back to Scotland after a long sojourn in London.  The even received very little press in the United States and a mixed reaction amongst the Scots, ranging from indifference to elation.

   The return of this Stone was the latest episode in a remarkable journey which had begin 700 years ago.  Edward I, King of England, was attempting to unite the two countries by using a hammer of power, hence his nickname, The Hammer of the Scots.  It looked like he was going to be successful and to help that process he plundered the Stone of Scone (or DestinyO for the Westminster Chapel of Edward the confessor.  Since that time, the Stone has been part of a chair used for the coronation rites of Great Britain’s kings and queens.

   But, this return is only another chapter in the Stone’s long life and there will be more.

   This Stone’s remarkable journey has a complicated background.  It involves an ancient myth, the method of coronation used by the Kings of Scots, the wars with the first three Edwards – Kings of England, the peace treaty of 1329, the unions of Crowns and Parliaments after James VI also became James I, and reactions to the return of the Stone.

   The origin of its myth, i.e., story or legend, started with the Israelite Jacob, who dreamed about a ladder reaching from earth to God’s heaven.  Generations of students in Christian Church Schools have sung in remembrance: “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder…” His pillow was a stone; it was preserved and later joined with an Egyptian princess named Scota.  The stone traveled around the Mediterranean world.  It was taken to Ireland and used in coronation rites.  Scotland – the (new) Promised Land – was its next destination as it traveled with the Celts who established the Kingdom of Dalriada in Western Scotland.  They used the Stone in their coronation rites, thereby continuing its hallowed task.  Long before this there had been a marriage between this group and a prince of the Scythians, ancestors of the Picts.  This gave both peoples a common ancestor.  Kenneth I was the product of intermarriage between the Scots and Picts; using the Stone gave a deep sense of legitimacy to the political union being established under him (which would become Scotland).

   The Stone was moved to the Abbey of Scone where its sacred ceremonial mystique helped bless the coronation of subsequent Kings of the Scots.  Its precious and physical symbolism was used for the last time in Scotland when John Balliol became King of Scots.

   Scone Abbey, destroyed by John Knox’s reformers, has been replaced by Scone Palace, but vestiges of the small village once there are visible.  A small chapel stands near a little mound called, “Moot Hill” (Hill of Meeting).  Upon what was a much larger mound, Scots pledged themselves to their new king; their land was symbolically represented by dirt placed in their boots.  When the dirt was poured out, it represented the entire nation taking part in the rites.  The last King of Scots crowned here with the Stone was, as noted above, John Balliol, November 30, 1292.

   The site was used for Robert the Bruce when he became Robert I, and for others, but the Stone was far off in Westminster Abbey. L The last monarch crowned at the site was Charles II, in 1624; by that time there was one head of state for Scotland, England, Wales and some of Ireland, an uneasy union.

   When Balliol ascended the throne it looked like the beginning of a new chapter for the Scots after years of turmoil.  But, it soon became a nightmare when he was stripped of the office by Edward I, of England.  Imprisoned in the Tower of London, Balliol was later forced by Edward I to live in exile.  He died in France in 1314.

   Scotland appeared to be conquered by Edward I, who carried off the Stone of Scone – a symbol that the nation was erased and absorbed into another.  War and bloodshed soon engulfed the land as the Scots sought to throw off the occupation forces, under Edward’s control.

   A peace treaty was finally signed between the two nations in 1328.  One of its provisions was the return of the Stone, but it never was, even though this was Edward III’s order.

   At Westminster, the Stone was placed in a Coronation Chair and became part of the rites used by British monarchs since then.  Until recently, the chair and Stone could be viewed by the public amongst the many symbols of the United Kingdom.

   Two events in the story of Scotland and England are important to note here: 1.  In 1603, James 6th of Scotland became James 1st of Great Britain (UK).  This united the two crowns.  2.  An Act of Union in 1707 united parliaments.  While it was intended to create one country, the statement on paper to this effect was somewhat misleading.  The unification was difficult and not completely accepted by either side.  It is a long story.

   The Stone under the seat of the Coronation Chair was not very inspiring to the eyes.  Just a plain slab of what looked like sandstone, in a chair marked up like wooden school desks used to be.  Bits of paint were here and there making the marvelous symbol tacky looking.  It was, in this writer’s opinion, disconcerting for such a symbolic heritage.  It had, after all, been part of enthronement rituals of both lands for a long time – from out of the mists of history to being seen on TV during the 20th century.

   A look at the use of the Stone of Scone in the ceremonies: According to one of the sources used here, the candidate entered the Abbey of Scone dressed in white for integrity.  He was escorted by a bishop and seven priests; he then placed his hand on the Stone of Scone, also called the Stone of Fealty.  His oath of fealty was a vow to be faithful and loyal “as the peoples’ champion.”  He was anointed and set upon either a “Larger Coronation Stone” or the Stone of Destiny as others have written.  Seven earls witnessed the Earl of Fife place a crown upon the King’s head; after receiving Sceptre and Sword, his pedigree was recited by a Senachie – like Today’s Lord Lyon.  A religious ceremony followed and than a banquet of celebration.  It was obviously meant to be an inspirational service with deep roots in history and myth for everyone there and for ALL Scots. (This paragraph is based on page 78, The Forgotten Monarchy of Scotland, by HRH Prince Michael of Albany.)

   Over the years since the Stone was taken away from Scotland, a theory has persisted that Edward I had plundered a fake and that, says the theory, it is the reason the Scots have never pressed for its return.

   Some say the Abbot of Scone buried the real Stone and cut another piece of sandstone which Edward I took off to London.  Another says the fake stone was the cover for the Abbey cesspool.

   We come now to an “interlude” in the remarkable journey; On Christmas in 1950, the Stone was stolen from Westminster Abbey by four young Scots.  The description of the way it was done – and almost not done – sounds like a version of the Three Stooges.  There was no persecution after it was placed in Arbroath Abbey, April 11, 1951, wrapped in Scotland’s saltire flag.  It was quickly returned to London where, in 1953, it was used in the Coronation Chair for Queen Elizabeth II.

   After this episode, the feelings in Parliament returned to where they had been; namely; Those who wished the union of nations to remain as it was and some where pushing for at least some home rule north of the Tweed.  Home rule and independence were and are not necessarily synonymous; for some Scots there were and are; others seem to prefer tinkering with the way the union works.

   There matters stood until in July of 1996, a rather profound decision was made regarding the Stone of Scone/Destiny.  An official pronouncement declared the Stone was to be returned.  And plans were set in motion to do this.

  Since the Stone “had been away” so much has changed that some real deliberations ensued about where to place it in Scotland.  The decision was to put it in Edinburgh Castle’s Crown Room along with the Honours of Scotland.  Those are the Scottish Regalia; Crown, Sceptre, Sword, Scabbard and Sword Belt.  (Those precious items were saved from Cromwell, who was in an “Edward I mode.”  They were buried in the dirt under the floor of Kinneff Church in 1651.  That is another story.

   Therefore, on November 15, 1996, the Secretary of State for Scotland received the Stone on the middle of the bridge over the Tweed.

   It was blessed by a Special Service at St. Giles, Edinburgh, on November 30th.  From there it was taken to the Crown Room of the Castle after a remarkable journey which began in 1296.

   Magnus Magnusson, however, writes that the Service was “rather flat.”  That the Stone seemed to have lost its mystique and “its potency as a symbol.”  And, he wondered if it would be better displayed in the new National Museum of Scotland.” (Scotland, pages 690-691.)

   The Crown Room is part of the castle tour and the Regalia is well displayed.  I do wonder whether the Stone is overshadow4ed to those unfamiliar with its story.  Speaking of that, I was very surprised to see the caption under a photograph of the Coronation Chair and Stone in Westminster found in The Oxford Illustrated History of Britain: “The Oak Coronation Chair made for Edward I to encase the Stone of Scone which the king seized in 1297 symbolizes the claims of English kings to superiority over Scotland.” (Page 172) Rather an unfortunate observation for such a prestigious book, given its history and symbolism.  But such is life and the use we humans make of armed force.  And memories run deep and long in our hearts.

   Quite a number of books and articles were consulted in preparation for this article.  In addition the writer wrote to some friends in Scotland for input and their thoughts are represented or, at least my interpretation of them.  I was fascinated to find that one friend’s father had been involved on the sidelines of the 1950 heist of the Stone from Westminster.  It’s a small world.  He believed the Stone Edward I took was a fake – a rather common belief in the literature, by the way.  Secondly, the real Stone is hidden until the day Scotland is a nation once again.  That feeling is obviously still very much alive beneath the surface of many daily lives.

   The power of the Stone, although muted by time and history, can still stir hearts.  Its remarkable journey apparently has more miles to go.

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