The Stone of Scone has entered myth and legend as one of the most ancient and mysterious artefacts in Scotland. Small and made of sandstone, it was initially part of the crowning ceremonies of the Scots kings of Dalriada, it was later placed beneath the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey.
Following the Union of the Crowns in 1603, the Stone of Scone became a tangible symbol of Scotland and England’s unification; equally, it has been the focus of much political turmoil between the two countries, being forcibly taken to England in 1296 before being returned to Scotland 700 years later.
Today, it is still used as part of the coronation of British monarchs. But where did the Stone of Scone come from, and where is it located today?
1. It goes by many names
The Stone of Scone has been known by many names over the hundreds of years it has passed between Scottish and English hands. It is also known as Jacob’s Pillow Stone, because it has been said to be the coronation stone of the Israelites, and was named Beth-el (house of God) by the patriarch Israel (sometimes called Jacob) in around 2,000 BC. It is also known as the Tanist stone, the Stone of Destiny, and ‘clach-na-cinneamhain’ in Scottish Gaelic.
2. It is sandstone
The Stone of Scone is a rectangular block of pale yellow sandstone that weighs 152kg. Studies have shown that it is almost certainly of Scottish origin. A Latin cross, roughly incised on one surface, is its only decoration, and an iron ring at each end makes it easier to transport.
3. It is said to be thousands of years old
The stone was originally used as part of the crowning ceremonies of the Scots kings of Dalriada in Argyll, north of Glasgow. When Kenneth I, the 36th king of Dalriada under the Scots and Picts moved his capital to Scone in around 840 AD, the stone was moved too. The Stone of Destiny was placed upon Moot Hill at Scone Palace, Perthshire, and then served as the crowning stone for the Scottish kings.
However, Celtic legend also states that the Stone was once the pillow upon which the patriarch Jacob rested at Bethel when he had visions of angels. From the Holy Land it reportedly travelled to Egypt, Sicily and Spain, before reaching Ireland in around 700 BC, where it was put upon the hill of Tara, which is where the ancient kings of Ireland were crowned. It was then taken by the Celtic Scots who invaded and occupied Scotland.
4. It was forcibly moved to England in 1296
When Edward I of England invaded Scotland in 1296, he moved the Stone of Scone (and other Scottish regalia) to London. At Westminster Abbey in 1307, he had the Coronation Chair built, which had the stone fitted underneath it. It served as a symbol that the kings of England were to be crowned kings of Scotland too following the Treaty of Union of 1707.
5. It has a prophecy attached
It is said that in ancient times, a now-lost piece of metal was attached to the stone that, when translated by Sir Walter Scott, read:
Unless the fates be faulty grown
And prophet’s voice be vain
Where’er is found this sacred stone
The Scottish race shall reign.
When Elizabeth I died without issue in 1603, she was succeeded by King James VI of Scotland who then became James I of England (or Great Britain). Since James was crowned on the Stone of Scone, it was said that the legend had been fulfilled, since a Scotsman ruled where the Stone of Scone was.
6. There are doubts as to its authenticity
In spite of the many legends that swirl around the stone’s history, geologists have proven that the stone taken by Edward I of England to Westminster is a ‘lower Old Red Sandstone’ which was quarried near to Scone. The stone at Westminster has long been subject to debate about its authenticity, with rumours persisting in Scotland that the rock taken by King Edward I was a replica, and the monks at Scone Abbey hid the real stone in a river or buried it for safekeeping.
7. It was hidden during World War Two
With the risk of damage by German air raids during World War Two, the Coronation Chair was moved to Gloucester Cathedral. Meanwhile, the propaganda implications of the stone falling into German hands caused concern, so the stone was hidden beneath some lead coffins in a burial vault under Abbot Islip’s Chapel. Only a tiny handful of people knew about its real hiding place.
Peers drew up three maps to show its location in the event that all of those who knew of its hiding place were killed. Two were sent in sealed envelopes to Canada, and upon receiving word that both had been received, the third in London was destroyed.
8. It was stolen by university students
On Christmas morning 1950, the stone was stolen by four Scottish nationalist University of Glasgow students who had broken into Westminster Abbey on Christmas Eve. The stone split in two as they dislodged it from the chair and brought it back to Scotland in the trunk of a car. Four months after its disappearance, a repaired stone was discovered draped in the Scottish flag on the high altar of the ruined Arbroath Abbey. No charges were brought against the students, and the stone was returned to Westminster Abbey.
9. It was returned to Scotland in 1996
700 years after it was first taken from Scotland, it was announced that the British Government would return the stone to Scotland. On St Andrews Day of 1996, the stone was transported to Edinburgh Castle via police escort, where it is now kept with the Scottish Crown Jewels.
10. It is still used for coronations today
In keeping with tradition, following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022 it was announced that the stone would be temporarily returned to Westminster Abbey for the coronation of King Charles III.