Greetings from iainthepict. This blog of mine is meant to be like a 'Book of Days' or a kind of 'Scottish Year Book' if you will. The idea was to present an event for each day of the year. Somewhere in here, you can find out what happened, affecting Scotland and the Scots, on any given day of the year. Your comments and observations are very welcome.
The photograph is by Sam Perkins (check him out on Facebook at Sam Perkins Photography) and was taken near Oban.

Monday, 8 August 2011

The Scottish Coronation Stone

On the 8th of August in 1296, the Scottish Coronation Stone, the Stone of Destiny, was taken by force from Scone Abbey, by King Edward I of England.

The Stone of Scone, a.k.a. the Stone of Destiny or the Coronation Stone or Jacob’s Pillow or the Tanist Stone or the Lia(th) Fàil, the coronation stone of the kings of Tara or, in Scottish Gaelic, clach-na-cinneamhain or clach Sgàin, is hugely significant to the nation of the Scots. It was the seat on which generations of Kings of Scots and the immigrant Scotii Kings of Dalriada for centuries before them, were crowned. It was kept in the custody of Monks at the now-ruined Scone Abbey, near Perth, until 1296. The last King to be crowned on the stone in Scone, was John Balliol. Kings weren’t crowned sitting on the Stone of Scone, it was too cold for that, so they stood with one foot on it, whilst the ceremony took place. Later, when crowns became a little heavier, the King had a chair erected over the stone, so he could sit down in comfort and look a bit more Regal in the process.

On the 8th of August, 1296, Edward Plantagenet, King Edward I of England, stripped Scotland of all its emblems of nationhood; that is, the ones he could get his thieving hands on. In so doing, he took what he believed to be the Stone of Destiny to a new resting place. It was transported to Westminster Abbey, where it was installed in a specially constructed, wooden coronation chair, known as King Edward's Chair. Doubtless his intention was to symbolise his claim to be ‘Lord Paramount’ of Scotland, with right to homage from its ‘Toom Tabard’ of a King. Emphasising that symbolism, Edward is on record as once having referred to the Stone contemptuously as a “turd”; not the sort of language you’d expect from a King. From that time and for the next seven hundred years or so, most of the Kings and Queens of England and Great Britain (after the Union of the Crowns in 1707 that was) were crowned sitting above Scotland’s Stone of Destiny.

Of course, some doubt exists over the stone captured by Edward I being the real stone. However, if you believe it to have been originally a pillow of stone used by Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, when he had the dream reported in Genesis about Jacob's Ladder, how real could it be. The ‘Westminster Stone’ theory suggests that the Monks at Scone hid the real stone in the River Tay or buried it on Dunsinane Hill, and that the English troops were fooled into taking a substitute. That theory is given some weight by claims that historic descriptions of the stone don’t match the present stone. For example, it is said to have been black and shiny and have a recess in the top, which was reputedly used by St. Columba as a travelling alter, whereas, today’s stone is just an oblong block of red sandstone. Another theory is that Robert the Bruce gave it to the MacDonalds to hide away somewhere in the Hebrides. Anyway, if the Monks or anyone else did hide the stone, they hid it well as no alternative has ever been found.

On 15 November 1996, as a result of an initiative by the Conservative Prime Minister, John Major, the Stone of Destiny was returned to Scotland. Under military escort, just as it was back in 1296, seven hundred years earlier, this time it was brought back to Scotland, crossing the River Tweed at Coldstream. It is now kept alongside the Honours of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle, although it is to be returned to Westminster Abbey if needed for a future coronation. On that, we’ll have tae wait and see, eh? Many saw its return as a political stunt to bolster failing support for the Conservatives in Scotland. It didnae work as the 1997 General Election saw the election of the messianic Tony Blair, whereas the Tory de’il failed to win a single Scottish seat in Parliament.

Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, seems convinced that the stone is likely to be no more than a worthless lump of Perthshire sandstone and is a fan of the ‘Westminster Stone’ theory. Oor Alec was quoted as suggesting, "If you're the abbot of Scone and the strongest and most ruthless king in Christendom is charging toward you in 1296 to steal Scotland's most sacred object and probably put you and half of your cohorts to death, do you do nothing and wait until he arrives or do you hide yourself and the stone somewhere convenient in the Perthshire hillside? I think the second myself." Notwithstanding those comments, he is not convinced that the ‘fake’ stone plundered from Scone in 1296 was even the same one that was returned to Scotland by Michael Forsyth, the then Scottish Secretary, in 1996.

That’s because of events that took place in 1950. On Christmas Day that year, the Stone of Destiny was recovered from below the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey by a group of radical, nationalist students. Rumours persist that a Glasgow stonemason, Baillie Robert Gray, made copies of the stone when he was asked to repair it after it broke in two during its liberation. It was subsequently handed over to the Police at Arbroath Abbey, the place where the Declaration of Arbroath was created, and returned to Westminster – mibbees aye! "There's no question that Bertie Gray made copies," said Alec Salmond, so was there a ‘replica’ returned to England in February, 1952, or the original ‘fake’? Another view is put forward by a man who should know. Ian Hamilton, QC, was one of the four students who stole the relic in 1950 and he remains convinced it was the real thing. "Had it been a substitute for Edward to carry off it would have been produced when the king (Robert the Bruce) regained his kingdom. It wasn't," said Ian Hamilton.

Whatever truth there is in the legend of the Stone of Destiny, the stone taken to Westminster and which is now in Edinburgh Castle, has been confirmed by geologists to be a "lower Old Red Sandstone" quarried in the vicinity of Scone. So, that particular stone never originated elsewhere in Scotland or in Ireland or the Holy Land.

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