As British and Commonwealth subjects and assorted Anglophiles across the world watch the coronation of Charles III this weekend, they will see plenty of historic pomp and circumstance. One part of the ceremony involves the new monarch sitting on the seven-hundred-year-old coronation chair, built to house the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny. But is this stone really an ancient symbol of Scottish kingship, or perhaps something else–like a medieval privy cover?
According to legend, the Stone of Scone was the stone upon which ancient Scottish kings were crowned. It was supposed to whisper the name of the rightful king. Its origin is shrouded in myth, with various stories claiming it came from different early kings or even that it was the stone upon which the Biblical Jacob rested his head, later conveyed to Ireland and then Scotland. Whatever its origin, it was an important symbol of Scottish sovereignty.
During the Middle Ages, the stone was housed at the monastery at Scone, near Perth, Scotland. Then in 1296, Edward I (Longshanks, of Braveheart fame, oppressor of Celtic peoples across the British Isles) stole it and brought it back to England. But many stories claim that the monks traded out the real stone and hid it, replacing it with a fake one. Some even say the fake stone was the cover of a privy–a fantastic medieval practical joke if true. Various medieval descriptions of the stone don’t seem to match the current stone, which lends some weight to this theory. Geologists say that the stone in Westminster Abbey came from the vicinity of Scone, while most old legends about the original stone say it came from somewhere farther afield.
The controversies and conspiracies around the Stone of Scone don’t end there. A group of suffragettes protesting for the vote attempted to blow up the stone in 1914. In 1950, a group of Scottish students broke into Westminster Abbey and stole the Stone of Scone. At that time, it was found to be broken in two, either by the students or by the suffragettes’ earlier bombing attempt. The students later returned the repaired stone to an abbey in Scotland, but there have been rumors ever since that the stone they returned was not the one they stole. The stone was sent back to Westminster Abbey but later moved officially to Scotland, where it has been residing until brought to London for the coronation this weekend.
At this point, no one knows if the stone King Charles III will perch upon at his coronation is the real one, though perhaps if one sat on it, they would be able to hear it whisper the name of the true king.