The Stone of Destiny will return to England for the first time in more than a quarter of a century to play a key part in King Charles’ coronation.
On its first outing south of the border since it was officially returned to Scotland after 700 years by then prime minister John Major in 1996, it will be transported under tight security before being placed beneath the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey.
It has become the symbol of Scottish nationhood but for 700 years, with the exception of just a few short months, it remained hundreds of miles away in London.
Also known as the Stone of Scone, it is a 125kg slab of pinkish sandstone that carries with it an enormous amount of symbolism, history and legend.
Removed by King Edward I of England in 1296, it was brought back to Scotland by a gang of four Scottish nationalists in a daring Christmas Day raid in 1950, returned to Westminster Abbey months later, and then in 1996 sent back to Edinburgh.
Charles will be the latest royal to be crowned on the stone. Before it was looted in the Wars of Independence it was used in the coronation of Scottish kings for hundreds of years.
Professor Ewen Cameron, Sir William Fraser professor of Scottish history at the University of Edinburgh, said of its initial removal: “Edward was making a statement about the status of Scotland. One chronicler stated that its removal to London was ‘in recognition of a kingdom surrendered and conquered’.”
The Stone of Destiny first entered recorded history in 1057 when Macbeth’s stepson Lulach was proclaimed King at Scone, and the stone is rumoured to have been used in this way since the fourth century.
But since the 14th century it has been used by English monarchs, and then British ones when James VI of Scotland ascended to the English throne upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603.
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The last time it featured in a ceremony was for Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.
Just three years earlier, University of Glasgow students Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon, Kay Matheson and Alan Stuart stole the stone from Westminster Abbey.
The border between Scotland and England was subsequently closed for the first time in 400 years and a team of detectives from Scotland Yard was sent north to investigate.
It was later found on the site of the High Altar at Arbroath Abbey where, in 1320, Scottish nationhood was declared in the Declaration of Arbroath.
On 11 April 1951 it was taken back to Westminster Abbey.
Prof Cameron said: “The students were not prosecuted to avoid giving publicity to the Scottish nationalist movement.”
The stone would remain in Westminster for the next four decades until 1996 when, towards the end of John Major’s time in Number 10, he said it would be returned.
In July that year the Conservative politician told the House of Commons: “The Stone of Destiny holds a special place in the hearts of Scots. On this, the 700th anniversary of its removal from Scotland, it is appropriate to return it to its historic homeland.”
On St Andrew’s Day the centuries-old stone returned and was put on display at Edinburgh Castle.