04 May 2010

Scone Palace: The Stone of Scone

(Scone, by the way, is pronounced "skoon" by the guides at Edinburgh Castle but "scohn" by my Shetlander friend - see here for more on accents)

Scone Palace, which I briefly mentioned before, belongs to the Earl of Mansfield. It's a 19th century building on the site of the old Scone Abbey. General rule of thumb when dealing with British architecture: if it looks the way you think something medieval should look, it's 19th century (and usually Victorian). Genuinely medieval things are, for the most part, ruins.

The interior at the Palace (technically more of a manor house, but that doesn't draw the tourists) is quite interesting and a fun visit. You can see the chamber where Queen Victoria slept, a remarkable collection of ivories and porcelains, and pictures of the family past and present. You can't take photographs inside, however, so we just have some shots of the grounds.

The kings of Scotland were traditionally crowned at the former Abbey while seated on the Stone of Scone, reputed to be Jacob's pillow from the Bible. It's also called the Stone of Destiny, which I always hear in my mind in the same squeaky voice as the pigs from Babe saying "PIG..... OF..... DESSTINYYYYY." But we already know I have problems.

"Stone of Destiny" is "Lia Fail" in Gaelic, and, as many Scottish icons do, has a beer named after it. (Justin's verdict for said beer. which he sampled last fall - "Meh.")

In any case, in 1296, the English King Edward I (the bad guy from Braveheart) pilfered the Stone and took it back to England as part of his campaign to subdue the Scots. No crowning stone, no crowned king, as the logic went.

According to my grandfather's genealogy research, my family is vaguely descended from Edward I. Blood, as they say, will out, and overcome by family tradition, I attempted to make off with the replica Stone.

I may have been more authentic than I knew, as my great-great-whatever-grandfather may also have targeted a replica. It is said that Edward's stolen Stone was a substitute, sneaked into Scone by Scottish subversives, while Scone Abbey monks secretly submerged the original in the River Tay.

The Stone generally believed to be the original resides today at Edinburgh Castle, but it has been a bit of a circuitous journey. It was lodged in a chair used in the English coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey, thereby integrating (or coopting, depending on your point of view) the Scottish tradition for the joint monarch of England and Scotland after the 1707 Act of Union. It remained there until the 1950s, when radical students stole it, but eventually gave it back. There's a move about this called Stone of Destiny; for trivia buffs, it stars not only Billy Boyd, but also Kate Mara, descended from the American families which own the Steelers and the New York Giants.

The Stone finally made it back to Scotland in 1996 in what the Edinburgh Castle tour guides describe as a failed attempt by the Conservative Party to buy off Scottish voters. The agreement states that the stone will be loaned back to Westminster for the next royal coronation; Scots like to joke that they will send it back tied to a string.

Here in the cafe beneath the palace, Justin consumes a scone. A Scone of Scone. (Justin's verdict: "6.5/10. I prefer crumbly. The jam was good, though.")

We're pretty sure this means that Justin is now the king of Scotland.

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