British Royalty Gives Up the Goods After 700 Years

A 336-pound lump of yellow sandstone - an ancient symbol of Scottish kingship - is going back home after 700 years in England.

However, the decision, ordered by Queen Elizabeth II on the advice of Prime Minister John Major, to return the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny, to its rightful owners is getting mixed reviews.

Scots are predictably over the moon that the chunk of rock that has sat beneath the Coronation Chair in London's Westminster Abbey for most of the past seven centuries will soon enjoy a place of honor in Edinburgh, their national capital.

Sir Hector Munro, a Scottish Conservative member of the British Parliament, said the Stone's return would be "unanimously and warmly welcomed." But Michael Mayne, the dean of Westminster and official custodian of the Stone, is not delighted to know that one of the Abbey's main tourist attractions is about to disappear.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of people come to the Abbey, file past the Stone of Scone, and hear guides tell them about its long, colorful history. Few objects can boast the romantic associations the Stone of Scone has attracted before and after the day in 1296 when England's King Edward I, known as the Hammer of the Scots, stole it.

Edward wanted to show the rebellious Scots who was boss, so he took the Stone to London and placed it in a niche under his own throne - today's Coronation Chair.

Since then all British monarchs have been crowned sitting atop the Stone of Scone.

According to legend, in biblical times the Stone was used by Jacob as a pillow, and it later travelled to Ireland via Egypt and Spain. In Ireland it is said to have been the coronation throne of the High Kings of Tara.

In the 9th Century it was taken to Scotland, and in 839 AD Kenneth Mac Alpin was the first Scottish king to be crowned on the Stone of Scone - named for a village which for a time served as Scotland's capital.

The thought that what historian Thomas Smout calls "a genuine Dark Age relic that lies at the very heart of the Scottish kingdom" should remain in English hands has long rankled with the proud people from whom it was pinched.

At dawn on Christmas morning in 1950 three Scottish students entered Westminster Abbey and began lugging the Stone of Scone to their borrowed Ford car. They drove with it to Scotland.

Somewhere along the way they dropped the Stone, which broke in two, so they had it repaired.

Police later found in a churchyard what they assumed to be the piece of purloined masonry.

But ever since, there have been claims that the stone taken back to London was a replica, and that the real Stone of Scone has been in the care of Scottish nationalists ever since.

To allay these doubts, the government ordered scientific tests, and last week Prime Minister Major released what his officials said was "conclusive proof" that the Stone soon to make the return journey to Scotland is the genuine article.

Major believes that returning the Stone will demonstrate that Scotland does not need independence from the United Kingdom to celebrate its distinctive identity.

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