Legend of the Stone of Scone

Scotland is in all the news this week, so in an 1866 letter from the Joseph Robertson, of the Register House, Edinburgh we’re covering one of the old legends ‘The Stone of Scone’ – popularly also known as the Coronation Stone and the Stone of Destiny – which today rests in Edinburgh Castle.  It was returned to Scotland on St Andrews Day in 1996 after seven centuries in England.  Whenever there is a coronation in England the stone will travel from Scotland to England and back to Scotland again.

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Excerpt from Historical Memorial of Westminster Abbey by Arthur Penrhyn Stanley – 1869

Legend of the Stone of Scone

Letter from the late Joseph Robertson, of the Register House, Edinburgh, July 7, 1866.

Progress of the Legend of the Stone of Scone.

Stone of SconeWe have a few Scottish Chronicles, written at various periods from the tenth to the middle or latter part of the thirteenth century; but in no one of these is there notice of the Stone of Scone. Their silence is remarkable, as, although they are for the most part brief, they mention things of less mark.  They show, at the same time, that at least as early as A.D. 906, Scone was a royal city, the meeting-place of a national council or assembly.  We have proof of its being the acknowledged capital of the realm in royal charters of the twelfth and fourteenth centuries.  Thus, King Malcolm the Maiden (A.D. 1163-1164), in a charter to the Abbey of Scone, describes it as ‘in principali sede regni nostri fondate.’  So, again, King Robert Bruce (in A.D. 1325), in a charter to the Abbey of Scone, sets forth, as the cause of his bounty to it. ‘pro eo ‘quod Beges regni ibidem dignitates suas recipiunt et honores.’

Footnote from the Author: I have a melancholy pleasure in printing this letter, which was written (apparently currente calamo) in answer to some questions arising out of a long conversation in 1864.  Even in its present rough state, it is an instance of the extraordinary readiness with which he met every question relating to Scottish  history. 

It is sufficiently certain that, from the beginning of our historical record, about the year 1100, the Scottish Kings were inaugurated at Scone by being placed in the Royal Chair of Stone.

‘in Regiam Sedera,’ ‘in Cathedra Regali,’ ‘in Sede Regali,’ ‘super Cathedram’ ‘Regalem lapideam,’ etc.

But these brief records of inauguration are silent as to the history of the Stone.  So far as I see at this moment, the oldest writer who tells the legend of the Royal Stone is William of Rishanger, who appears to have lived until after A.D. 1327.  Under A.D. 1292, he thus describes the coronation of King John Balliol at Scone.

“Johannes de Balliolo, in festo Sancti Andreae sequenti, collocatus super lapidem Regalem, quem Jacob supposuerat capiti suo, dum iret de Bersabee et pergeret Aran, in ecclesia Canonicorum Regularium de Scone solemniter coronatur.”

The passage is repeated, word for word, in Thomas Walsingham’s ‘ Historia Anglicana,’ and probably in other English Chronicles.

The next writer, in point of antiquity, who speaks of the history of the Stone of Scone, is John of Fordun, a canon of the Church of Aberdeen, who was alive in 1386.  He tells two stories about it.  One is that Milo, King of the Scots in Spain, gave it to his favourite son, Simon Brek, the first King of the Scots in Ireland and that Simon Brek placed it in Tara, where it remained until it was brought to Scotland by Fergus, the son of Erch or Ferchard.

He adds that, according to some, Gathelus, the founder of the race of the Scots (so named from his wife Scots, daughter of King Pharaoh), brought the Stone from Egypt to Spain.  The other story is, that Simon Brek dragged it up from the bottom of the sea, along with the anchor of his ship, during a gale on the Irish coast.  Both stories speak of the Stone as of marble hewn into the form of a chair.

Excerpt from Historical memorial of Westminster Abbey by  Arthur Penrhyn Stanley – 1869


Further Reading and External Links

Edinburgh Castle – Home to Stone of Scone 

Encyclopaedia Britannica – Stone of Scone