One could not have imagined that an ancient block of red sandstone would become such a symbolic part of life in the modern British Constitution.
But again, the Stone of Destiny, which was the subject of an infamous attack by a student quartet on Christmas Day 1950, has been used for centuries at the coronation of Scotland’s monarchs and is more than 200 years old when the Battle of Hastings or the Bayeux Tapestry came into being.
From then on it was used at the coronation ceremonies of English monarchs.
In 1996 the British government decided to return the stone to Scotland when it was not being used at coronations and the precious relic was transported to Edinburgh Castle where it is currently safely kept alongside the Scottish Crown Jewels.
However, following the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the artefact has of course reappeared in the public eye, and although the former Prince Charles became king on Thursday 8 September, it remains a tradition to allow ample time for mourning before a new monarch takes over is formally crowned.
A date for the latter event has not yet been officially announced, but some sources have reported that the coronation will likely take place in “spring or summer of next year”.
In accordance with coronation traditions, the Stone of Destiny will once again leave Scotland for the coronation of King Charles III. travel to Westminster Abbey.
If that happens, a feverish political climate could ignite once again over how long the stone should remain in England, or whether it should be removed at all.
Stone of Destiny – Life and Times
Historically the artefact was kept in the now ruined Scone Abbey in Scone, having been brought there from Iona by Kenneth MacAlpin around 841 AD.
However, it was seized from Scone by the forces of Edward I during the English invasion of Scotland in 1296 and used at the coronation of the monarchs of England and the monarchs of Great Britain and the United Kingdom under the Treaty of Union of 1707.
Still, not everyone agrees that it should have a double link to both countries, as it has been a strong piece of Scottish heritage for hundreds of years.
The stone was last used for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, but prior to that ceremony the item made headlines after it was removed from Westminster Abbey.
Stealing the Stone of Destiny
The theft of the Stone of Destiny over the Christmas period 72 years ago forced the border between Scotland and England to close for the first time in 400 years.
Frantic checks were carried out at countless hotels and boarding houses on both sides of the Cheviots, as authorities responded to criticism of their lack of security, primarily to determine the whereabouts of the historical relic and the identity of the perpetrators.
Eventually, the unlikely group of self-proclaimed patriots turned out to consist of 22-year-old home economics teacher Kay Matheson, 25-year-old Glasgow University law student Ian Hamilton and two of his fellow students, Alan Stuart and Gavin Vernon.
The theft, reminiscent of an Ealing comedy, sparked a nationwide cat-and-mouse hunt that saw the quartet elude authorities for several months.
Many people in Scotland were proud of the night robbers’ boldness, but the establishment regretted the incident and questions were asked in Parliament about how a student prank had left so many dignitaries red-faced.
But thereafter, due to intensified police searches, the stone was stored in various locations before the group finally placed it on the altar at the iconic site of Arbroath Abbey, draped in a saltire…that was manna from heaven for the tabloids and supporters of the nascent Scottish national party
It was left behind by those who hid it on the altar of Arbroath Abbey on 11 April 1951. After London Police were informed of its whereabouts, the stone was returned to Westminster four months after its removal.
However, as was typical of the political storm brewing behind the scenes, rumors soon began to circulate that a copy of the stone had been made and that the artifact returned to London was not the original version.
Stone of Destiny return to Scotland
The whole thing was a bold escapade that garnered a staggering amount of international newspaper coverage, and James Chuter Ede, then Home Secretary, said it was not in the public interest to prosecute the students.
It was a victimless crime in the eyes of many, and unsurprisingly there have been several films and shows about the theft, most notably the 2008 Canadian-Scottish feature film Stone of Destiny, starring Charlie Cox and Robert Carlyle.
More than a decade earlier, on St Andrew’s Day 1996, the stone was returned to Scotland on the understanding that it could be ‘on loan’ for coronations in Westminster.
Which will put it back in the spotlight in the coming months.
Stone of Destiny for use during the coronation of King Charles III
Historic Environment Scotland, the organization that manages Edinburgh Castle, announced after the Queen’s death that the stone would be used at the coronation of King Charles III. used before being returned to the castle’s Crown Room.
HES said on September 12: “The stone will only leave Scotland for a coronation at Westminster Abbey.”
But there were no further details on when and how and for how long this coarse-grained, pink-colored sandstone will be hauled from Edinburgh 500 miles south.
And when something is settled, it will undoubtedly lead to renewed arguments on both sides of the independence debate.
Not bad for an item that David Dickinson might have described as “cheap as chips” at an antiques fair.
But even here it is almost 1,300 years old.
Or is it?
More like this:
Was Dundee’s true stone of destiny hidden in plain sight?
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[The Stone of Destiny Role in the Coronation of British Monarchs]