Question: What Scottish prized possession was stolen by the British and sat upon by all of their monarchs?
Answer: The Stone of Scone
While it might sound like the name of a Scottish pastry, the Stone of Scone is in fact not a teatime dish, but an ancient symbol of Scotland’s royalty. Also known as the Stone of Destiny or The Coronation Stone, this block of yellow sandstone was used in the royal coronation ceremonies of Scottish monarchs since the 7th century.
According to legend, the stone was once used by the biblical figure Jacob as a pillow but was carried from Egypt, Sicily, and Spain, finally landing in Ireland in 700 BCE. From there it was taken by Celtic Scots and brought to the village of Scone in Scotland. But in 1296, England’s King Edward I seized the stone from Scotland’s Scone Abbey and brought it home with him to England. He had it fitted to the base of his coronation chair and from then on, every British monarch sat upon the stone during their coronation.
During World War II, the Stone of Scone was secretly buried under Westminster Abbey for protection. However, before it could be recovered after the war, four University of Glasgow students broke in on Christmas Eve of 1950 and stole it for themselves. The 400-pound stone was split in two and brought back to Scotland in the trunk of a car. A major search was ordered by the British government, and four months later the repaired stone was transported back to Westminster Abbey draped in the Scottish National Flag.
Finally, 700 years after the stone was first taken, British Prime Minister John Major unexpectedly announced that it would be returned to its rightful home of Scotland. On St. Andrews’s Day, November 30, 1996, the Stone of Scone completed a 400-mile journey by police escort from Westminster Abbey to Edinburgh Castle.
To this day the stone remains at Edinburgh Castle, but some still believe that the stone stolen from Scotland in 1296 was merely a replica and that monks hid the real stone in a river for safekeeping. Shrouded in thousands of years of mystery and myth, no one truly knows the complete story of the stone—or where it will end up next.
10 Facts about the Stone of Scone’s Return to Scotland:
- Before the stone’s official return to Scotland, a Glasgow pub was one of the more unusual places suggested as the new home for the stone
- The entire operation of the stone’s return from England was conducted under secrecy, and the arrangements of the stone’s move from Westminster Abbey to its display at Edinburgh Castle were known to very few.
- The van that drove from Edinburgh to collect the stone contained St Andrews Sarcophagus, a Pictish monument dating from the 8th century. Before picking up the stone, the van transported this monument to be loaned to the British Museum as a centerpiece for the new exhibit.
- To remove the 330-pound stone from the chair without being damaged, a specially designed scaffold was built over the Coronation Chair with a running pulley mounted above it. The procedure of removing the stone was rehearsed many times at Edinburgh Castle to ensure the equipment would be able to handle the stone.
- The removal of the stone from the chair occurred under the cover of darkness and took six hours to complete, beginning at 8pm and lasting until 2am.
- The specialist team who worked to remove the stone was escorted by armed guards throughout the entire operation. After they removed it from the chair, they used a wood hand barrow based on those used by medieval stonemasons to carry the stone out of the abbey.
- On its arrival in Scotland, the stone was immediately taken to a secret location to be prepared for its first public appearance at Edinburgh Castle on St. Andrews Day. There, the stone was studied and documented for the first time in history.
- The stone, covered in decades of dust and debris, was gently cleaned using steam. Surface details including an assortment of tool marks were discovered which are still not understood today.
- The stone was privately exhibited at the Palace of Holyroodhouse the night before St Andrews Day. As it was transported from the Palace of Holyroodhouse to Edinburgh Castle, nearly 10,000 people lined the roads to cheer and catch a glimpse of the Stone of Scone.
- Scotland’s Commissioners of the Regalia are now responsible for ensuring the safekeeping of the stone as well as its safe return to Westminster Abbey for all future coronations of Great British monarchs.
Visit Edinburgh Castle and discover the ancient history of Scotland when you travel on our New! Scotland Revealed: Legends, Lochs & Highland Landscapes adventure .