Romancing the Stone

In a few months time the Scots go to the polls to decide if they wish to break with England. Should they make this historic break we can only hope the split is amicable and they let us borrow a chunk of coarse-grained red sandstone to enable us to crown our next Monarch. To be fair the Stone of Destiny was originally theirs kept for safe keeping at Scone Abbey until in 1296 King Edward I stole it and brought it back to England.

[D]ifferent theories of its provenance existed. Was it Pharaoh’s Stone a sacred relic of the Egyptians, or the Tanist Stone, one of the four great treasures used in the coronation of Irish kings?

Far from looking like the touchstone of Scottish nationhood, this lump of stone with iron rings at each end bears an uncanny resemblance to the cover of an ancient cess-pit.

Installed in Westminster Abbey ensconced in an oak throne – King Edward’s Chair – some 30 Royal posteriors have sat upon it for their respective coronations.

For centuries the Scots gave up on having their own Monarch or self-rule and in theory had no need for the Stone of Destiny. But on Christmas Day 1950 a gang of burglars set off from Edinburgh to recapture their national symbol and pride, George Clooney in Ocean’s 11 it was not.

After crow barring their way into Westminster Abbey and forcing the Stone from its resting place they then dropped all 150kg of it and broke the Stone in two.

With the stone out of the building, the ringleader discovered he’d lost his car keys so had to break back into the dark Abbey to hunt for them. By the time he returned, his accomplices and half the stone were nowhere to be seen. Driving off, he found them lugging the lump down a nearby street.

After lying low for a while, despite police roadblocks across the border, the gang smuggled the stone into Scotland. Then on 11th April 1950 draped in a blue and white Saltire it was left it at the ruined Arbroath Abbey. The choice of location was deliberate for it was here that the famous Declaration of Arbroath had been signed in 1320. In it the lords, commons and clergy of Scotland reaffirmed the right of the Scots to live in freedom.

Once the Stone had been found the Scots claimed that the recovered stone was indeed a fake copy made of the original possible fake, or indeed a medieval toilet seat. The damaged stone had been taken to a Glasgow stonemason for repair. Were copies made? To this day one acknowledged copy is on public display at Scone Palace.

For 40 years we retained this symbol of self-rule until 1996 the Stone of Destiny was returned to North of the Border and installed in Edinburgh Castle.

As part of the agreement the Stone – or the toilet seat lid – will be returned on loan to Westminster Abbey for the Coronation of the next British monarch. Or will an independent Nation keep a promise made when they were part of the Union, or will they wish to crown the first king of Scotland for over 300 years?

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