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What was the London Stone’s original purpose? And who erected it…?

London Stone from street

These days, the London Stone (also called the Brutus Stone) is set into the wall of the Bank of China on the south side of Cannon Street, EC4. Well, part of it is. Just the tip. The entire Stone stood originally in Candlewick Street (Cannon Street) on the south side near the gutter, facing the door of St Swithin’s church on the north side of the street.*

London Stone map

Made from Clipsham limestone, the displayed portion is roughly shaped and round-topped, with two grooves worn in the top. Its origin and purpose are no longer known, but it was always of some importance to Londoners, who, as far back as 1198, referred to it as the Lonenstane. What we see today is only a fraction of the original Stone, the rest of which still lies beneath Cannon Street. There must surely be something of great interest awaiting discovery. Starting with how tall the Stone was in the beginning.

One suggestion put forward is that the Stone was of Druidic origin. The most popular theory is that it is Roman. Oh, dear, isn’t everything linked to the Romans these days? It’s as if no one in Britain had a clue about anything before they were invaded and taught how to breathe and set aside the woad. A present-day rising against those pesky Romans might not go amiss! Where is Boudicca/Boadicea when we need her?

boadicea

However, I digress. One of the Roman theories is that perhaps it was a central milestone, one from which all mileage measurements in the province of Britannia were taken. A sort of Greenwich Meridian for the length of journeys. Maybe it was, we may never know. Unless they dig up the rest of it, which is still deep underground.

Excavations at Cannon Street Station have revealed the remains of the governor’s palace, which may have some bearing on the Stone. Or not. The same goes for it being the top of a Roman wayside funerary monument. Without examining the rest of the Stone, we aren’t going to know.

Stones have always been of importance in our history. For instance, there is the Stone of Scone, or Stone of Destiny, which many believe to be the stone that Jacob raised to bear witness to his covenant with God. Whatever that particular stone’s original history, it was for centuries fixed into the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. Our kings were crowned upon it. As had been Scottish kings before them. It has, of course, now been returned north of the border.

Another stone, less factual perhaps, is the one from which Arthur drew Excalibur, but this story is best approached with caution. Why? Because we have no idea if it is fact or fiction. As is the case with so much where Arthur is concerned. But swords and stones have an ancient connection. In his 1450 rebellion against the corrupt government of Henry VI, Jack Cade struck the London Stone with his sword, and declared that he was now the Lord of the City.

Jack Cade strikes the London Stone

London was not founded by the Romans, they merely expanded on what was there already. A favourite myth these days is that London was actually commenced by Brutus and the Trojans, who left their own land to find somewhere to found a New Troy. They did, the name was confused into Trinovantum, and then the Romans happened along. It is wondered if the London Stone was the foundation stone of New Troy.

Brutus of Troy

An exciting fact is that excavations at St Swithin’s Church revealed Roman levels some 4’-6’ below the surface. But also revealed massive stone walls some 15’ below the surface, therefore considerably predating the Romans. So, who is to say that the London Stone wasn’t from this earlier period? Just how far back might it go? Just how sacred might it have been? And to whom? Whatever, it should not be left, forgotten, in its underground tomb. Liberate it, and it may have important things to tell us.

To learn more on the London Stone, I recommend reading Appendix I of The Holy Kingdom by Adrian Gilbert, Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett. It is from this that I have taken much of the above article. 

*This is how I understood its perambulations, but there are slightly differing accounts and new developments. All I can say is that as far as I now know, the top of it was in the wall of the Bank of China, but is now temporarily in the Museum of London. I think. It is a very mobile object!

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When Robert Curthose Sat On The Throne

It is perhaps not a well-known fact that during World War II, many priceless historical treasures were crated up and shipped out of London for safe storage. At least, I wasn’t particularly aware of something that now makes perfect sense. I found out about this whilst visiting Gloucester Cathedral and touring the amazing crypt beneath the main body of the building. It’s a place well worth going to and the crypt is fascinating to look around, particularly with the knowledgeable and helpful guides.

 

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Gloucester Cathedral Crypt

 

The fact that grabbed my attention was that during the war, St Edward’s Chair, or the Coronation Chair, the traditional coronation throne from Westminster Abbey that dates from the reign of Edward I. It was commissioned in 1300-1 to house the Stone of Scone Edward took from Scotland in 1296. The chair has been used in every monarch’s coronation ceremony from 1308 onwards, amounting to 38 coronations with an additional 14 queen consorts being crowned in ceremonies using the chair too. It is usually kept in the Chapel of St Edward the Confessor; hence it is sometimes referred to as St Edward’s Chair.

 

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The Coronation Chair at Gloucester Cathedral

 

During the war, Gloucester Cathedral also packed up some of its own important moveable items and stored them in crates in the crypt along with the Coronation Chair. One of the monuments that made its way to the crypt was the tomb effigy of Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, the oldest son of William the Conqueror who was destined never to become King of England. William left his duchy to Robert and the kingdom to Robert’s younger brother William Rufus. When William II died in a hunting ‘accident’, their youngest brother Henry snatched the royal treasury and then the crown before Curthose knew what was happening.

 

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Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy

 

The two siblings ended up in a bitter rivalry that was concluded on the battlefield. Henry invaded Normandy and at the Battle of Tinchebray on 28 September 1106, Henry captured his older brother. Robert spent the rest of his life as Henry’s prisoner, firstly in Devizes Castle and then at Cardiff Castle where he died in 1134. Robert was buried at Gloucester Cathedral, though the location of his grave is not known. The wooden effigy does not mark the spot in which he was buried.

 

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The wooden effigy of Robert Curthose

 

Anyway, according to cathedral legend, Robert’s effigy was crated up and stored in the crypt on top of the crate containing the Coronation Chair, which would make the that the closest Robert Curthose ever got to the throne of England, just over 800 years after his death. I’m not sure how true the story is, but I like to think Robert might have sat on the throne for a while.

 

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Gloucester Cathedral Crypt

 

The Coronation Chair and Stone of Scone

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As we reminded you yesterday, Richard and Anne were crowned on the 6th July 1483,  a crucial part of the ceremony being when Richard was crowned with St Edward’s crown and invested with  the royal regalia while sitting on the Coronation chair also known as St Edward’s chair, named after Edward the Confessor.  It is this glorious chair that I want to focus upon now.

In 1296 when  Edward I,  aka Longshanks, returned from Scotland he brought with him the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny,  symbolic of Scotland’s sovereignty,   which he had removed from Scone Abbey, giving it into the care of the Abbott of Westminster Abbey.  Edward, not for nothing known as the Hammer of the Scots, and wishing to hammer it home in no uncertain terms that from now on it would be English and not Scottish monarchs who would now be crowned whilst sitting on this stone, a large block of red Perthshire sandstone, instructed that a chair be constructed to house it and thus was this wonderful chair created.  Master Walter of Durham, King’s Painter, whose skills also included carpentry, was commissioned  to build and decorate the chair for which he was duly paid 100 shillings.

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The Chair with the Stone of Scone intact 

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The Stone of Scone also known as the Stone of Destiny.

Since 1308 every royal derrière has sat on the chair while being  crowned except for Edward V, Mary II and Edward VIII.  Made of oak, gilded and inlaid with glass mosaics, traces of which can still be found today, while faint images or birds, flowers and foliage still survive  on the back.  Up until the 17th century the monarch would sit on the actual stone with presumably a cushion for comfort until a wooden platform was then added .  The four gilt lions were made in 1727 to replace the originals which themselves were not added until the 16th century.

The stone itself has in recent times undergone several adventures.  It was stolen, or rescued, depending upon which way you look at it,  by Scottish Nationalists on Christmas Day 1950 – in the process of which they managed to break it in half.  It was later discovered in April 1951 and after being kept in a vault for some time, eventually returned to Westminster Abbey and replaced in the chair in February 1952.  This was not the end of the stone’s travels for in July 1966, Prime Minister John Major, announced that it was to be returned to Scotland.  This was duly done and the stone now rests in Edinburgh Castle.

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The chair as it is today minus the Stone of Scone

This  wonderful and irreplaceable chair has been disgracefully abused in comparatively recent times, from the numerous graffiti mostly carved in the 18th and 19th centuries by the pupils of Westminster School – its baffling how this systematic graffiti carving  was allowed to carry on –  one graffito could perhaps be forgiven but on such a large scale? – were they simply allowed to just carry on?..but I digress – to the dark  brown varnish applied in 1887 for Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, a suffragette bomb in 1914 to the damaged caused when the Scottish Nationals wrenched the stone from the chair.  However I’m sure should the shade of Richard,  who would have seen the chair in pristine condition, ever return to the Abbey, he would still be able to recognise it and that it would bring back memories, for him,  of that most glorious day, when he and his ‘beloved consort’ were both crowned King and Queen of England.

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