In November 1996 a 200-kilogram sandstone boulder was carried across the River Tweed at Coldstream, to the sound of military bands and cheering. The Stone of Scone had been returned to Scotland, exactly 700 years after it was taken to England by Edward I.
Legend has it that it was on this most talismanic object that Jacob rested his head when he saw the vision of the ladder to heaven. The stone was later taken by a pharaoh’s daughter, Scota, to Spain, where her husband used it as a seat of justice in the colony he governed. Simon Breck, a descendant of Scota and her husband, took it to Ireland and was crowned king there. In time the stone, also called the Stone of Destiny, was moved to Argyll in Scotland, ending up at Dunstaffnage Castle. Scottish kings were installed sitting on it.
The stone may have come from Ireland, where there were several such inauguration stones, believed to transmit sovereignty and the influence of predecessors to a new chieftain. Fergus II Mor may have brought it to Scotland when he conquered Argyll in about AD 495.
Whatever its true origin may be, the stone was placed in a wooden chair in the Abbey of Scone by Kenneth I in AD 846. Thirty-four Scottish kings were crowned on it until 1296, when Edward I captured the stone and took it to Westminster. He set it in a new chair next to the spot most powerfully connected with mystical sovereignty in his kingdom, the shrine of the king-saint Edward the Confessor, then patron of England. In 1324 Robert Bruce appealed to Edward II to return the stone. King Edward agreed, but he never sent it back to Scotland. Tradition says that the people of London would not let him.
The stone is said to have once carried a Latin inscription, which a seventeenth-century author translated:
Fate hath designed
That wheresoe’er this Stone
The Scots shall find,
There they shall hold the Throne.
This prophecy was fulfilled when James IV of Scotland became James I of England.
Even Olive Cromwell respected the sacred stone. Although he signed the death warrant of Charles I and melted down his crown, he himself was installed as Lord Protector sitting on the Stone of Scone.