Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Stone of Scone

The Stone of Scone [Scone pronounced as if it rhymed with spoon or dune] , also known as the Stone of Destiny and often referred to in England as The Coronation Stone, is an oblong block of red sandstone, used for centuries in the coronation of the monarchs of Scotland and later the monarchs of England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom. Historically, the artifact was kept at the now-ruined Scone Abbey in Scone, near Perth, Scotland. It is also known as Jacob’s Pillow Stone and the Tanist Stone, and in Scottish Gaelic clach-na-cinneamhain. Its size is about 26 inches (660 mm) by 16.75 inches (425 mm) by 10.5 inches (270 mm) and its weight is approximately 336 pounds (152 kg). The top bears chisel-marks. At each end of the stone is an iron ring, apparently intended to make transport easier.

Westminster Abbey

In 1296 the Stone was captured by Edward I as spoils of war. and taken to Westminster Abbey, where it was fitted into a wooden chair, known as King Edward’s Chair, on which most subsequent English sovereigns have been crowned. Doubtless by this he intended to symbolize his claim to be "Lord Paramount" of Scotland with right to oversee its King.

Some doubt exists over the stone captured by Edward I. TheWestminster Stone theory posits that the monks at Scone Palace 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. Some proponents of the theory claim that historic descriptions of the stone do not match the present stone. If the monks did hide the stone, they hid it well; no other stone fitting its description has ever been found.

In The Treaty of Northampton 1328, between the Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England, England agreed to return the captured Stone to Scotland. However, riotous crowds prevented it from being removed from Westminster Abbey. It was to remain in England for another six centuries. In the course of time James VI of Scotland came to the English throne as James I of England but the stone remained in London; for the next century, the Stuart Kings and Queens of Scotland once again sat on the stone — but at their coronation as Kings and Queens of England and Scotland.

                       The Stone of Scone under the Coronation Chair, about 1855  

Removal and damage

On Christmas Day 1950, a group of four Scottish students (Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Kay Matheson, and Alan Stuart) took the Stone from Westminster Abbey for return to Scotland. In the process of removing it from the Abbey the stone broke into two pieces. After hiding the greater part of the stone with travellers in Kent for a few days, they risked the road blocks on the border and returned to Scotland with this piece, which they had hidden in the back of a borrowed car, along with a new accomplice John Josselyn. Although an Englishman, Josselyn, then a student at Glasgow University, was a Scottish Nationalist. And rather ironically and probably unknown to him at the time, Edward I (who captured the Stone in 1296 and took it to Westminster Abbey) was his 21st great grandfather. The smaller piece was similarly brought north a little while later. This journey involved a break in Leeds, where a group of sympathetic students and graduates took the fragment to Ilkley Moor for an overnight stay, accompanied by renditions of "On Ilka Moor Baht ‘at. The Stone was then passed to a senior Glasgow politician who arranged for it to be professionally repaired by Glasgow stonemason Robert Gray.

A major search for the stone had been ordered by the British Government, but this proved unsuccessful. Perhaps assuming that the Church would not return it to England, the stone's custodians left it on the altar of Arbroath Abbey, on 11 April 1951, in the safekeeping of the Church of Scotland. Once the London police were informed of its whereabouts, the Stone was returned to Westminster. Afterwards, rumours circulated that copies had been made of the Stone, and that the returned Stone was not in fact the original.

Return to Scotland

In 1996, in a symbolic response to growing dissatisfaction among Scots at the prevailing constitutional settlement, the British Conservative Government decided that the Stone should be kept in Scotland when not in use at coronations. On 3 July 1996 it was announced in the House of Commons that the Stone would be returned to Scotland, and on 15 November 1996, after a handover ceremony at the border between representatives of the Home Office and of the Scottish Office, it was transported to Edinburgh Castle, arriving on 30 November 1996, where it remains along with the crown jewels of Scotland (the Honours of Scotland) in the Crown Room. The handover was done on St. Andrew’s Day (patron Saint of Scotland); the Queen sent as her representative Prince Andrew. Provision has been made to transport the stone to Westminster Abbey when it is required there for future coronation ceremonies.

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