Stone of Destiny and Ian Hamilton

For U.S. students there is an uncomfortable nexus between mythology of the Arthurian style legend, Biblical mythology and history, and British history that fascinates me. The Stone of Destiny has a provenance stretching back 5,000 years to the Jewish patriarch Jacob, and which features a blog by one of the last men to steal the stone — with several stops along the way to open the story to trickery, hoaxes and uncertainty. It’s a fabulous story that too few people know.

Ian Hamilton, as pictured in his blog's masthead

And, as I noted, one of the last men to steal the thing is blogging away on politics today — on the topic of Iraq and how we treat our veterans, for example. Is history great, or what?

This is a long way of getting to recommending Ian Hamilton’s blog for an interesting read, which we’ll do below the fold, after a bit of history.

British monarchs’ coronations require the Stone of Scone, or the Stone of Destiny; it’s a tradition from Scotland, a tradition taken to London with the stone itself when the English subdued some Scots, in 1296 (remember William Wallace? No? Remember Mel Gibson in Braveheart?). The stone is placed in a special compartment under the seat of the throne upon which the monarch is crowned.

Stone of Scone, or Coronation StoneWhy is this stone so revered? (Photo: The Stone of Scone; unknown photographer)

Tradition, our dubious expert in this story, says it is the stone Jacob used as a pillow the night he wrestled with God (Genesis 28:10-18).

How did the stone get to Scotland? Tradition says it was carried from what is now Syria to Egypt, perhaps by the prophet Jeremiah. But it departed from there to Spain via Sicily (with Gathelus?) to escape a plague. The stone was taken to Ireland after Gathelus conquered the island, where it was used as a coronation stone at least from the time of Kenneth I (c. 810-858). Some centuries later the ruling monarch moved the capital to Scotland, eventually to Scone, from whence the English took it in 1296. Somewhere along the line a chunk of it may have been chipped off as a reward by Robert the Bruce to Cormac McCarthy for McCarthy’s aid at the Battle of Bannockburn, and then installed at the Castle Blarney in Cork: The Blarney Stone.

Who the heck was Gathelus, and why did he take it from Syria? When did that really happen? How does Jeremiah get into the story? Why would anyone send it from Egypt to Spain, via Sicily? Why take it from Spain to Ireland? In the great form of tradition, there is much in this story which is simply unknown. Little real evidence corroborates the stone’s story until the coronation of Kenneth I, the 36th King of Dalriada, in Ireland; then in 850 Kenneth moved his capital to Perth, Scotland, and took the stone along.

Even after that date, there are several opportunities for the stone to have been hidden and another substituted for it. In a day without photographs or other means of corroboration of an object like a stone, who could say?

Which brings us to date on my story: I recently found an article on non-U.S. blog, Alastair’s heart monitor (to which we give a tip of the old scrub brush), explaining Ian Hamilton’s involvement in the story of the Stone of Destiny:

On Christmas Eve 1950, a group of Scottish students, led by Ian Hamilton, removed (stole/recovered) the Stone from Westminster Abbey, and in a daring and dazzling way returned it to Scotland, despite border checkpoints and a massive police operation to track the culprits. Eventually Hamilton and Co left the stone on the altar of Arbroath Abbey, on 11 April 1951, in the safekeeping of the Church of Scotland. The Church notified the police and the Stone was returned to Westminster.

It remained there until in 1996 the British Government decided that the Stone should be kept in Scotland when not in use at coronations, and on 15 November 1996, after a handover ceremony at the border between representatives of the Home Office and of the Scottish Office, it was returned to Scotland and transported to Edinburgh Castle where it remains. Provision has been made to transport the stone to Westminster Abbey when it is required there for future coronation ceremonies.

Although it was patently obvious that Hamilton was one of the culprits, he was never prosecuted, the English authorities being fearful of the defence which this brilliant young lawyer would undoubtedly mount – namely that to convict of theft it would have to be proved that the object had been taken from its rightful owner.

Could you make this stuff up? If you wrote this as fiction, would any publisher not complain that it’s all so implausible?

And why would you read Hamilton? You can count on his writing to be inflammatory. Sometimes you can count on his politics — always for Scotland, for example. It’s not writing for the weak of heart, it’s “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” sort of stuff. In his post about Iraq, for example:

When I volunteered for the forces all those years ago I did so because I believed the fight was just. Soldiers do not fight in cynicism. They fight for something they value. In the Iraq war we sent our youngsters to defend ourselves against weapons of mass destruction, or so they told us. They told us lies. There were none. These youngsters in Iraq are not defending their Scottish homes. This war is the last dying twitch of imperialism and our soldiers out there know it. That is why I, an old man, rage for them.

Can you imagine a U.S. politician, even a retired one, saying such a thing? Would anyone listen to him or her if they did?

But then, America doesn’t have a stone stolen from Jacob’s monument, from the place where Jacob dreamed and wrestled with God after stealing the birthright from his brother, a stone steeped in the politics and intrigue of more than a millennium of conflict between people who honor tradition and place; and America doesn’t have many politicians bold enough to steal a national symbol and dare the government to prosecute.

Hamilton explains it best, and briefest: “I prefer to be known as a troublemaker. There are times when our country needs troublemakers. This is one.”

16 Responses to Stone of Destiny and Ian Hamilton

  1. Catriona Thomson says:

    thanks for the info!!


  2. Kent Macfarlane says:

    ‘Stone of Destiny’ – as good a film to strike sparks of Scottish pride as ‘Braveheart’ – with a lot more accuract and a lot less blood.


  3. Mary Watson says:

    CT –

    I saw the film last evening with the director and producer in attendance, plus Alan’s sister! She remembers the stone being kept in their garage for a couple of months on its return to Scotland! At any rate, I looked on this morning to see if I could find Ian Hamilton’s book. That website lists a number of copies available for sale, mostly in the UK, with a few from American booksellers and one Canadian. Prices range range from the eminently reasonable to heights that amaze. I’ll wait for the reprint I think! But it would make a lovely gift for your father, I’m sure. Good luck.


  4. Catriona Thomson says:

    I have a question. Is it possible to get a copy of the original book ‘No Stone Unturned; The story of the Stone of Destiny’ by Ian Hamilton? I have searched and searched.

    The story of the Stone has always been a popular one in our family, partly because my Dad was at Glasgow University at the time of the event but mainly because he loves nothing better than stirring up good patriotic, nationalist spirit in my sister and I!
    Years ago, my Mum and Dad had a copy of this book signed by the author but unfortunately it was lost after being lent to a friend. This was a real source of regret for my Mum every time the Stone of Destiny was mentioned and although she died a couple of years ago, my dad turns 80 in May 2009 and I would love to replace the copy for him as we have just been to see the new film and been reminded what a marvellous bit of Scottish history the event was.

    I really amn’t sure if this is the right place to post this question, but here’s hoping!

    Thanks, CT


  5. […] Ian Hamilton’s blog is back; “Stone of Destiny” is on the screen We need good news from any quarter:  Ian Hamilton’s blog is back in action.  You remember Hamilton, one of the more recent heroes in the saga of the Stone of Destiny. […]


  6. Sally Graham says:

    My late father was a friend of Ian Hamilton’s and although very young I still remember some very raucous nights in our home in Edinburgh. Ian (and my father) liked a few jars as I recall and he could be very entertaining, although my mother didn’t take too kindly at being awakened by my sister’s and I and our inability to sleep due to the late night partying!


  7. A friend of mine and I were traveling in Scotland in October 2001 and met Mr. Hamilton in a hotel bar in Durnoch. What a fun couple of hours of conversation that was; and afterward, what a pleasure it was to learn more of these surprising (to an American) things about him. Cheers!

    The movie should be fascinating.


  8. Peter Warren says:

    My Dear Mr, Hamilton,
    as a boy growing up in Glasgow in the early fifties the Taking of the stone has always thrilled me with “I wish I had done that passion” and remains to this day even after making Canada my home thirty five years ago. It wasn,t till reading your book in the early ninties”The taking of the Stone of Destiny” that the facts of your (and others) exploits was known to me in a better light after years of stories which had no basis on reality or truth. I read it again last week and as the story unfolds my palms still sweat with anticapation for the next part of the adventure.
    I would like to thank you for being a formative part of my youth and from an early age the story once told to me has never left .
    “Who dare meddle wi me”
    Yours truly.
    Peter L Warren……….A time served Glasgow boilermaker


  9. George Ellis says:

    Hello Ian

    What was the full story of Archie P Lee’s interview with Johhnie Rollo’s on his involvement in the secretion of the Stone at his St Andrew’s Works in Bonnybridge until moved again to Arbroath




  10. Ed Darrell says:

    We’ll agitate to see if we can get the film released in the U.S., too. Thank you for letting us know about the film.


  11. Ian Hamilton says:

    I don’t speak about the Stone. I have had to carry it through a long and exciting life. I wrote a book about it called The taking of the Stone of Destiny presently out of print, but an exciting all star film of it was shot this summer and will be released under the name Stone of Destiny in the Spring of 2008.

    Ian Hamilton


  12. Ed Darrell says:

    Or, to put a pleasant (and probably inaccurate) spin on it, they failed to prosecute out of respect for Scotland. One may remain hopeful.

    Thank you for dropping by, Mr. Hamilton. Have you ever spoken before to the issue of whether the Stone the British recovered is the correct one?

    Any way one slices it, the Stone of Destiny is quite unlike any historic artifact we have here in America. There is a difference between history and genuine legend, and the Stone spans that gap, don’t you think?


  13. Ian Hamilton says:

    The reason the English did not prosecute me had nothing to do with being unable to prove ownership of the Stone. This reason was invented to save their face.

    The real reason was they were frightened of the reaction in Scotland.

    Ian Hamilton


  14. Bug Girl says:

    Hey! You’re a wordpress featured blog today! :)


  15. Winslie Gomez says:

    Thanks really enjoyed out all these fascinating facts.
    I saw a site in Perth, Scotland once where it was claimed the stone had been laid for a period. Don’t know the accuracy.


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