Stone of Destiny © Historic Environment Scotland

A Great Stone, on which the Kings of Scotland Used to be Crowned

The Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, is an ancient symbol of Scotland’s monarchy, probably used since the 10th century in the inauguration of its kings. As such, the stone is unique owing its preservation to Edward I, who seized the symbolically charged Scottish symbol in 1296.

The Stone at Scone. A replica. © ID 268854797 Lachris77
The Stone at Scone. A replica. © ID 268854797 Lachris77

The Stone of Scone – later known as the Stone of Destiny – is an object of ritual and symbolic importance, likely reaching back into the Early Scottish Kingdom. The name “The Stone of Scone” was first mentioned in the mid-fourteenth-century chronicle of Lanercost. Earlier, it may just have been called the “Stone”. The English sources concerning the construction of the Coronation Chair from the end of the 13th century called it “A great stone, on which the kings of Scotland used to be crowned”. A year later, a chronicle named it “tribunal”, meaning a dais, platform or seat of authority. During its history, the stone has also been called the Fatal Stone. Finally, the name “Stone of Destiny” was coined in the 19th century.

Today, the stone measures 0.67m x 0,44m x 0.27 m and weighs 152.5 kg. It is made of a pale, pinkish sandstone sourced from the bedrock near Perth and the ancient place for assembly or meeting at Scone, Moot Hill. At each end, iron lifting rings were fitted. Perhaps, this fitting was carried out around 1328, when the Abbey vigorously tried to hinder the stone’s return to the Scots. It has been suggested that the Dean and prelates wanted to chain the stone to the floor. However, new interpretations by Caldwell point out that the stone appears to be weathered in such a way that while it may have started as a stone fitted as a step or a threshold, the stone was later selected to be used as an inauguration seat. Placed outside for this purpose, the stone was fitted with iron rings not to be stolen from Moot Hill. Later, someone worked to create a hollow to fit with relics indicating the stone was moved inside. Also, the weathering marks indicate the stone was protected in some manner. Perhaps it started outside but was later moved inside, near the altar in the abbey church at Scone. While Alexander III was seated outside near the cross, the ceremonial seating of King John in 1292 was said to take place inside the church primarily to accommodate the English guests.

Coronation Chair Photo c. 1886. Westminster Abbey. Source: Wikipedia
Coronation Chair Photo c. 1886. Westminster Abbey. Source: Wikipedia

However, another chronicler, William Rishanger (1249/50-1312), told how the royal stone on which King John was seated in 1292 was the true stone on which Jacob rested his head when he went from Beersheba to Haran (Genesis 28:10-22). More likely, though, is the identification of the stone as the “Lapis Pergrandis” set up by Joshua as a witness to the covenant between God and his people. Anyway, when Edward confiscated the stone, it appeared to have figured prominently as an important relic. Whichever biblical reference, the Scots later identified the stone as primarily a secular artefact imbuing Scots with a grounded “history of the land”. Also, they warmed to the idea that they would reign where the stone was placed – meaning Westminster!

The biblical references may have been why Edward I gifted the stone to Westminster instead of keeping it in the royal palace as a secular artefact.

After the Scottish defeat in 1296, King Edward I of England seized the stone from the Scots, transported it to London, and gifted it to Westminster Abbey. In the next three years, his craftsmen and jewellers were paid to create a chair that might hold the stone, probably carefully cut to be part of a seat. At this point, the top was perhaps smoothed, indicating that the wooden seat was not installed until the 17th century. Fitted into the coronation chair, the stone of Scone was from now on used as the seat of coronation for the English kings. Likely, the first such occasion took place in 1307 at the coronation of Edward II.

Stone of destiny © Historic Environment Scotland
Stone of destiny © Historic Environment Scotland

New Physical study

In 1996, when the stone was officially returned to Scotland, a team of scientists X-rayed it and studied it under microscopes exploring the geology, the cuts and the manhandling to which the stone bears witness.

Once more, in preparing for the coronation in May in London, the stone has been probed, turned and investigated. As part of this procedure, a new digital 3D model of the stone has been made, allowing the stone to be viewed from different perspectives and in greater detail than ever before. This has revealed previously unrecorded markings on the stone’s surface, which appear like Roman numerals.

More important, though, are the geological features of the stone, such as cross-bedding, which is indicative of the geological conditions in which the sandstone was formed and which is characteristic of sandstone of the Scone Sandstone Formation.

Finally, the study of the many tooling marks shows how different stonemasons had been at work through the centuries, perhaps confirming that the stone had indeed been worked on before the reworking, which likely was undertaken at Westminster during the actual design of the chair. It may even be used to imagine whether the stone had been encased in a rock- or wooden chair at Scone Abbey before its removal to London (such as Caldwell suggests in the latest publication on the stone).

A Unique Stone?

The stone of destiny is not unique. Such stones were used elsewhere in Northern Europe, for instance, at Mora in Sweden. However, the Stone of Scone is unique in having been preserved. Of the ancient stone at Mora, only fragments are preserved. Earlier examples of stone thrones are the Carolingian throne erected by Charlemagne at Aachen ca. 800 and the chair used to inaugurate the dukes at Carinthia in Austria from the 9th century. While Charlemagne’s throne was placed inside, the Duke’s seat at Zollfeld was outside, feeding our imagination as to what the royal throne chair at Scone might have looked like.

Perhaps, though, it never was much more than just a stone?


PRESS RELEASE: Research shines new light on the Stone of Destiny
Innovative methods have revealed new information, including previously unrecorded markings and further evidence of the Stone’s provenance

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) – who care for the Stone of Destiny on behalf of the Commissioners for the Safeguarding of the Regalia – have been carrying out the work at the Engine Shed, Scotland’s national building conservation centre. This is part of their role to prepare the Stone for the Coronation of King Charles III at Westminster Abbey in May, where it will be placed in the Coronation Chair for the ceremony.


Cover: the Stone of destinyEdinburgh Castle Research: The Stone of Destiny. Updating the Scholarship
By David Caldwell
Edinburgh Castle Research Reports 2018



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