April 11, 1951: The Stone of Scone is found in Scotland after theft from London

·Christy Karras

 

The Stone of Scone has more than a funny name going for it: The shoebox-shaped chunk of mottled red sandstone occupies a major place in the history of both Scotland and England — as well as in a famous 1950 heist.

The “Stone of Destiny” called Scone Abbey near Perth, Scotland, home for hundreds of years, and generations of Scottish kings used it in their coronation ceremonies. In 1296, King Edward I of England took it to London as spoils of an ongoing war against the Scots. The 330-pound rock was fitted into King Edward’s Chair in Westminster Abbey, where it’s been used ever since as the coronation chair for British monarchs.

England and Scotland had their ups and downs over the ensuing centuries, to put it mildly, with Scotland rising up again and again to fight for independence. The fact that the Stone of Scone was in English hands — and in a location that reinforced the idea that British monarchs ruled Scotland — always riled Scottish nationalists.

In 1950, four Scottish students tried to set that right by stealing the stone from its Westminster Abbey throne and returning it to Scotland. The British government launched a search, but its forces weren’t able to find the stone — until it turned up at Arbroath Abbey, on Scotland’s east coast, on April 11, 1951. Those who had the stone had apparently assumed that the Church of Scotland would keep the secret. Instead, someone called the police, and the stone returned to England. 

By 1996, Scottish nationalism was once again at a fever pitch, with Scotland demanding its own parliament. As a conciliatory gesture, the House of Commons voted to send the Stone of Scone back to Scotland. Since then, it’s rested near the Scottish crown jewels at Edinburgh Castle, although the British royal family reserves the right to borrow it for coronation ceremonies.

During its long sojourn in London, the stone was one of Westminster Abbey’s many draws for tourists. You can still visit King Edward’s Chair as well as other historic places associated with the stone. Although a Reformation-era mob destroyed Scone Abbey long ago, nearby Scone Palace was recently restored. Arbroath Abbey and Edinburgh Castle (both now managed by the nonprofit Historic Scotland) are popular tourist destinations open to the public.