The stone has a vital role in the new king’s coronation.

September 18, 2022 People's Tonight 261 views

James Felton

A large stone, built into a wooden throne.

Stone1The Stone of Destiny in all its glory. Image credit: No known restrictions via
Cornell University/Flickr

Look, a lot of the traditions that go on in Britain are a bit weird. Every year at the opening of Parliament, a hostage is taken by the monarchy until the ceremony is complete. A search is then carried out for gunpowder under the Houses of Parliament, in case Guy Fawkes has pulled off some sort of comeback 400 years after his death.

Well, to add to this list we now inform you that the “Stone of Destiny” is traveling from Scotland to Westminster Abbey in London, ready for the new King of the United Kingdom’s coronation.

What is the Stone of Destiny?

Yes, there is a piece of rock in the UK that is called the Stone of Destiny (and occasionally the less fun Stone of Scone), and it’s involved in the ceremony of crowning new kings and queens. The big slab of red sandstone was originally used in the coronation of Scottish kings dating back to when it was first brought to Scotland sometime around 841 CE. In the habit of kings, and England generally (see: contents of the British Museum), King Edward I of England seized the stone in 1296 after invading Scotland.

The stone was brought back to England, where it was built into a throne in Westminster. Since then it has remained at Westminster Abbey, and kings and queens of Great Britain and the United Kingdom have been crowned while sitting above the stone, with cushions of course between the stone and the royal butt cheeks. Until 1950, that is, when the stone was briefly stolen on Christmas Day.

The Stone of Destiny Heist

Towards the end of 1950, three students and a young teacher teamed up to take the stone in the name of Scottish independence. The plan was for two of them to hide in Westminster Abbey during closing time and remain inside. They would then prise the stone out of place, and take it to the others outside, waiting in two getaway cars.

The first attempt, on December 23, 1950, ended when one of the hiding students was immediately found by a guard. The second attempt, on Christmas Day, went worse. Opting for simply walking in after hours this time, they managed to jimmy the stone out of position, while also snapping it in two. Just after they had loaded the car with the smaller piece, a policeman became suspicious as the engine started and approached. The two who were in the car pretended to be lovers and were able to charm the officer enough to mollify his suspicions.

The team split up, with one part of the stone going to Scotland and another headed to Oxford. The team heading to Scotland unloaded the stone and buried it in Rochester, England after their car started to sag under the weight of the stone. The other piece was abandoned in Birmingham after the driver realized she may have left a trail for the police by constantly stopping to ask directions to Oxford.

Despite a nationwide hunt, the stones weren’t found for four weeks, during which the four managed to retrieve both pieces of stone and take them to Arbroath Abbey, Forfarshire, Scotland, where they placed them on the altar. All four were later detained, though they were not charged. They did however get the Hollywood treatment in a movie, Stone of Destiny, starring Stardust’s Charlie Cox.

Where is the Stone of Destiny now?

After being back in Westminster Abbey for a few more decades, the stone was returned to Scotland in 1996. However, it is now making its way back to Westminster briefly – in a special display car, similar in design to the Pope’s if he ever decided to drive a Land Rover – where Charles III will sit on it to be made king.

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

James is a published author with four pop-history and science books to his name. He specializes in history, strange science, and anything out of the ordinary