Scotlands History

Stone of Destiny taken from Westminster Abbey

The Coronation Stone is a large block of red sandstone, with chisel marks on top, thought by some to be the Stone of Destiny.

The Stone of Destiny was linked to St Columba, who was said to have used it as a travelling altar. For centuries Scottish kings sat upon the Stone to be crowned.

The Stone was stolen from Scone Abbey in 1296 by the English King Edward I, ‘Hammer of the Scots’, it is unclear if this was the genuine Stone of Destiny. Geologically, it resembles the local Scone sandstone. The Stone was fitted into a wooden seat called St Edward’s Chair, and placed in Westminster Abbey, London.

During a resurgence of Scottish nationalism in 1950, four Scots students travelled to London, entered the Abbey in the small hours of Christmas Day and nabbed the Stone from beneath the coronation throne. They dropped it by accident and it broke in two. They loaded the Stone into their car boot and brought it back to Scotland – despite road blocks and police searches.

Sacrilege at Westminster! A coarse and vulgar crime

The Times, Dec 1950

A futile police hunt for the Stone led to a compromise: it was to be left at Arbroath Abbey, site of the famous Declaration of 1320, draped in a Saltire. The Home Secretary stated that it was not in the public interest to prosecute the four Glasgow University students who had stolen the Stone; Ian Hamilton, Alan Stuart, Gavin Vernon and Kay Matheson.

The Dean o’ Westminster was a powerful man
He held a’ the strings o’ the State in his hand
But wi’ a’ his great business it flustered him nane
When some rogues ran away wi’ his wee magic stane
Wi’ a too-ra-li-oo-ra-li-oo-ra-li-ay...

Extract from 'The Wee Magic Stane', Johnny McAvoy

The Stone was returned to Westminster Abbey in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953. On St Andrew’s Day 1996 it was returned to Scotland, but it may be ‘borrowed’ for any future coronations at Westminster. It is now on display, alongside the Honours of Scotland, in Edinburgh Castle.

  • Photo of the Stone of Destiny in position under the seat of the Coronation Chair

Click on the image to view a larger version.