THE first time I spoke to the remarkable man behind the equally remarkable 1950 rescue of the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey, he took a look at my plans to prevent another forced removal of the Stone before the next coronation. It was 2011 and it didn’t go well. He no longer had any interest in the stone, he told me, and doubted if many people did. Ian Hamilton KC politely asked me to never trouble him again about the stone. He was 85, he said, and “at 85, I want some peace”.

This was understandable, but I nervously persevered. I’m glad I did.

The campaign wasn’t really about the stone, I hesitantly told him. The UK (and its considerably less engaged public) in 2011 was already enduring its own cost of living crisis, a stagnating economy and constitution, and a resigned certainty that major change wasn’t coming any time soon. It was a grey or grim time for many. And a bit dull.

The David Cameron/Defiled Pig Head story (“Piggate”) hadn’t broken yet. Brexit wasn’t a thing. Chip shops were affordable. Ferries weren’t needlessly demonised every seven-and-a-half minutes, and Great British racism wasn’t strutting about like a champ. Yet.

Twelve years ago, a peaceful mission to protect Scotland’s royal throne was (in my mind) definitely worth one night in a cell, a hero’s welcome, and a lifetime supply of Irn-Bru, but in 2023, I’d either get mistaken for a climate protester or shot at by a convoy of armed British troops.

The campaign (to keep the stone on Scottish soil) has been forced to adapt, and the easily Googled “Stone of Destiny Petition” has attracted more than 4000 signatures since Sept. 2022. Britain’s cyber-randoms say our signatures cannot possibly stop the stone’s removal. Maybe that’s true, but surely that’s the point?

When the unelected leader of Britain’s ruling class starts rubbing his heavily perfumed bottom on Scotland’s most precious national artefactlater this Spring, at least 4000 people can yell: “That’s just weird” (or “thief!”) the moment he does. If an archaic and obscenely expensive (largely Victorian) ritual has to take place this May, it won’t take place in my/our name.

Throne-stealing isn’t an English or British coronation tradition anyway. The stone was stolen once, 727 years ago, then reused by various medieval English kings to pretend they were kings of then-independent medieval Scotland. Transporting the stone to London from Scotland before every British or English coronation is a completely new tradition originating solely with agreements drawn up in 1996. It’s still never been done. This so-called tradition hasn’t even happened. Yet.

When the stone arrived in London in the closing years of the 13th century, nobody knew what to do with the thing. Throne theft wasn’t a tradition then either. The stone was placed in the Shrine of Edward the Confessor in Westminster Abbey.

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A clever decision; objects formally placed inside shrines were not permitted to be moved or removed from the shrine. A bronze throne weighing three-quarters of a tonne was forged around 1300 AD to enclose the Scottish stone, but the absurdly heavy chair was abandoned and substituted for highly decorated oak – the Coronation Chair we know today.

It was originally covered with gold, coloured glass, and sharp woodwork. Skill, care, and reverence are expressed in every part of its construction, but the Stone of Destiny didn’t get the same treatment.

According to one leading study, the (now familiar/iconic) iron rings and chains were probably attached to the stone at Westminster in the 1320s. When the altered stone was lowered and lifted from the oak chair, the scratchy rock and protruding ironwork posed a threat to the delicate oak panels of the throne.

To avoid a minor rebuild of the chair, the Stone of Destiny was (according to a consultant archaeologist to Westminster Abbey) deeply mutilated again, this time to create artificial channels for the chains and hoops to rest in.

A rough rectilinear formation was later cut into the stone’s upper surface, possibly in the 16th century, possibly for an early information plaque, possibly for a cushion. We’ve no idea. This is why we should collectively welcome the findings of the new digital survey of the stone performed by Historic Environment Scotland earlier this year.

The stone’s exterior surfaces and well-defined edges were chiselled away during its extended stay in London, probably to make removal and insertion into the chair easier.

At some point, the base of the stone suffered at least half a dozen heavy hammer blows. On the lower surface alone, there are (at least) 10 missing pieces. We’ve no idea why or when this damage occurred. Even a brief or minor rubbing of carved sandstone will gently obliterate older stonework. In later centuries, tourists would gently scrape exposed areas of the stone to relieve the block of several thousand grains of sand, which could then be taken away and enjoyed as a private relic.

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When Ian Hamilton processed my pestering rhetoric one more time, he read not about the stone, but about Scotland’s worrying life expectancy and Britain’s disastrous decision-led child poverty levels, especially in Ian’s home regions in the west.

If I could stop the stone’s removal, I would, but failing to prevent the unpreventable would still deliver a powerful message about Scotland’s strained relationship with the Union. Failure would also mean I get to unlock the full potential of my carefully cultivated cryptic side-lark with Cyninges S. Tamisiam. Watch that space. Or follow my antics on Facebook (at AJ Morton – History Detective) to find out more.

Ian quickly responded with a single now-historic remark. He said: “It’s your generation’s fight now. Go ahead and good luck.”

This was music to my ears in 2011. When a new independence campaign blossomed a few months later, Ian Hamilton’s heart and soul returned to the fight.

Getting his blessing meant the world to me, but watching him shake off the apathy of 2011 meant even more. We mustn’t let him down.