Scone Palace is a place of incredible importance in Scottish history. The history of the location goes back as far as the time of the Pictish Kingdom but is most known as the place where Scottish kings were crowned. Join us as we head to Perthshire and explore the enigmatic history that surrounds Scone Palace.
The location where the contemporary Scone (pronounced Scoon) Palace sits has seen much change over the centuries. With few written records during ancient times, there is an air of mystery that swirls around the historical landscape. However, historians have some general knowledge about Scone. Historically, Scone is known as the crowning place for Scottish kings and it was also an important religious centre.
Historic Environment Scotland provides further context by pointing out that, “the importance of Scone for the kingdom is highlighted by its interchangeable use in historic documents with Scotland and Alba, as the early Kingdom of Scotland was often referred to as the Kingdom of Scone. This is very similar to the relationship between the royal site of Tara and the Kingdom of Ireland”.
The Stone of Scone/Destiny
Scone is perhaps the most famous for being the crowning place for Scottish Kings. Historians are not exactly sure when this tradition started at Scone, but they do know that it was at least from the middle of the 9th century. Kenneth MacAlpin, King of Scots, famously ousted the Picts in 843. Legend has it that he brought the Stone of Scone, the king-making seat, with him and placed it on Moot Hill.
The Stone of Scone is also known as the Stone of Destiny and has quite a story of its own. For centuries it was the stone on which the Kings of Scotland would be crowned. It was sadly stolen by invading English soldiers in the late 1200s, and subsequently taken to Edward I (King of England) who had it installed at Westminster Abbey.
However, did they steal the real Stone of Scone? There are theories that the monks at Scone Abbey hid the real Stone and Edward had only stolen a copy. Nevertheless, he notoriously put the stone under a chair to be used as the English coronation stone and it has been used as such ever since. However, there is another fascinating plot twist to this story.
In 1950, a group of Scottish university students took the stone from Westminster and brought it back to Scotland. The Stone went on quite a journey, but eventually the students left the stone at Arbroath Abbey. It was then taken back to Westminster Abbey and returned to the coronation chair. However, by the 1990s, Scots were starting to vocalise their displeasure with the fact that their sacred king-making stone was in Westminster Abbey and not in Scotland.
Therefore, the Stone of Scone/Destiny was returned to Scotland in 1996. It is now on display at Edinburgh Castle along with the Honours of Scotland- the Crown jewels. Or is it on display? There are also theories that when the Stone of Destiny was taken by the university students in 1950, a copy was made and that was what was returned to England. Therefore, if this is the case, where is the real Stone of Destiny?!
No one knows the answers to the mysteries that surround the Stone, but we do know that a copy is on display at Scone Palace today. It is situated on Moot Hill in front of a wee Presbyterian chapel that was built in the 1800s. However, the position and religion of Scone within the Kingdom of Scotland was quite different back in medieval times.
The Moot Hill & Scone Abbey
The Moot Hill was an important location within the Kingdom of Scotland. Not only was it the coronation site where the Kings of Scotland would profess their vows to the people of Scotland, but the law of the land was decided there as well. In fact, parliaments were held at Scone from 1210 to 1452.
Part of what further contributed to Scone’s position of power was that it was also an important religious centre. In the 7th century, followers of St Columba were known as the Culdees (servants of God); it is believed that they established a monastic community as Scone that lasted for 500 years.
In 1114, Alexander I founded an Augustinian priory on Moot Hill. Scone Palace highlights how, “in 1169, the priory was elevated to the status of abbey, as befitted a place where kings were made”. Therefore, the Abbey became the place where Scottish Kings were crowned and set up an important connection between the two.
Like other places in Scotland (e.g. St Giles' and St Michael’s next to Linlithgow Palace), Scone Abbey was greatly affected by the Reformation. Tragically, in 1559, the infamous reformer, John Knox, worked up a mob from Dundee into such a frenzy that they stormed Scone Abbey and set it on fire.
Unfortunately, today there are only archaeological remains of Scone Abbey. As I briefly mentioned earlier, there is a wee chapel on the Moot Hill that was built in the 1800s. If you visit Scone, be sure to take a peek inside as it has an exquisite Italian Alabaster monument made in memory of David Murray, 1st Viscount Stormont.
Little is left of the original village that was part of the Palace grounds. According to Scone Palace, there was a village there for centuries, and it had more than 1400 inhabitants by the 1790s. There are a few interesting historical clues of the village that can be found as you wander around. Amazingly, the Mercat Cross still exists, and there are also graves from that time. The 16th century archway is also still standing and provides a dramatic approach to the Palace. The village was eventually moved two miles away and named New Scone.
One person born in the village in 1799, would grow to become quite famous in Scotland and abroad- David Douglas. Douglas was the under-gardener for the palace grounds. He then went on to work at the Botanical Gardens in Glasgow. He was incredibly gifted and was eventually sent to North America as a collector for the Royal Horticultural Society.
Douglas sent back over 200 new species of plants. When walking the grounds at Scone today, you should make a stop at the Douglas Pavilion and follow the Douglas Trail around the gardens. You can see more of his contributions to Scotland in our article on Glamis Castle and the magnificent Pinetum there.
There are some interesting residents that currently inhabit the grounds- peacocks and Highland cows!
Scone Palace Today
In 1600, King James VI gave Scone Palace to the Murray family who continue to reside at the Palace today. Furthermore, in England in 1776, William Murray was created Earl of Mansfield. In 1803, the 3rd Earl set about having the medieval house at Scone rebuilt to the Gothic palace that we see today.
Visitors today can visit the formal rooms at Scone Palace that are filled with incredible objects of art from around the world. Notably, the Drawing Room has walls lined with French silk brocade and exquisite pieces from Versailles. Another favourite area of the Palace for me was the Long Gallery.
According to the Palace, the Long Gallery dates to the medieval house and it “is the longest room of any house in Scotland” as it is nearly 45 metres (150ft). This is where Charles II would have walked in procession along the oak floors (that are still there today and date to 1580) on his way to be crowned at Moot Hill.
Guided tours of the house are available. Unfortunately, the public are not allowed to take pictures or video and that is why we are not able to share interior photos in this article. Therefore, we recommend you visit Scone Palace so that you can see all the splendour in person. Be sure to visit their website to plan accordingly.
I hope you have enjoyed our visit to Scone. Historically, as the crowning place for Scottish Kings, it is a place of national importance here in Scotland. I trust that this article helps you to better understand and appreciate that connection.
Until next time- Explore & Discover!