On This Day

stone of scone, stone of destiny, stone of scone westminster, westminster coronation chair
Jacqueline Arzt/AP
The Stone of Scone lies beneath the
Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey.

On This Day: Stone of Scone Found in Arbroath Abbey

April 11, 2011 05:00 AM
by Denis Cummings
On April 11, 1951, the Stone of Scone, upon which Scottish monarchs were traditionally crowned, was found on the site of the altar of Arbroath Abbey. It had been taken from Westminster Abbey by Scottish nationalist students.

Scottish Nationalists Reclaim Stone of Destiny

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The Stone of Scone, or the Stone of Destiny, was used in the coronation of Scottish monarchs since the 9th century. In 1296 it was taken by English King Edward I during war with the Scots. For the next 654 years, it remained in London, serving as the coronation stone for British kings and queens.

On Christmas Eve 1950, a group of four Scottish nationalist students reclaimed the stone for Scotland by breaking into Westminster Abbey and stealing it. In doing so, however, they cracked the stone in two.

“I seized one of the iron rings, and pulled strongly. It came easily—too easily for its weight, and I felt something uncanny had happened,” described Ian Hamilton, one of the four students, in “No Stone Unturned.” “‘Stop!’ I said and shone my torch. I shall not forget what the faint light revealed, for I had pulled a section of the Stone away from the main part, and it lay in terrifying separation from its parent.”

The following day, the stone was discovered missing. Authorities found “absolutely no trace” of it, though it was “taken for granted that the stone has been stolen by Scottish Nationalists,” wrote The Guardian.

The students brought the stone to Arbroath Abbey, where the Declaration of Arbroath—which pronounced Scottish independence from England—was drafted in 1320. The stone was left with two unsigned letters, one addressed to the King of England.

It reasoned that the stone belonged to Scotland and that by “removing the Stone of Destiny they were restoring to the people of Scotland the most ancient and most honourable part of the Scottish regalia.”

The Abbey’s custodian alerted authorities to the whereabouts of the stone and it was taken back to Westminster Abbey.

Stone Returned to Scotland

In 1996, 700 years after it was taken by Edward I, England agreed to return the Stone of Scone to Scotland. On St. Andrew’s day, a Scottish holiday, the stone was brought to Edinburgh and installed at Edinburgh Castle.

Historical Context: The Stone of Scone and Arbroath

Stone of Scone
The Stone of Scone has been used in coronation ceremonies since Kenneth Mac Alpin became the first King of Scots in 847. The stone’s origins are mysterious; it has been reputed to be the pillow of the Bible’s Jacob or blessed by St. Patrick, among other legends.

After the stone was returned to Westminster Abbey, rumors arose that it was actually a copy and the real stone remained somewhere in Arbroath. Furthermore, some scholars believe that the stone never left Scotland in the first place, which is why the Scots didn’t insist on its return in the Treaty of Northampton. Due to its age and tumultuous history, it is almost impossible to know with certainty where the genuine stone lies today.

Arbroath Abbey

The Arbroath Abbey dates back to the 12th century, when it was founded by William I, King of Scots. The church ceased to be used following the Scottish Reformation in 1560 and fell into ruin.

Declaration of Arbroath
The Declaration of Arbroath was a letter to the Pope, most likely written by Bernard of Kilwinning, Abbot of Arbroath. Signed by Scottish nobles, it declared Scottish independence from England.

Reference: Viewing the Stone of Scone

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