"The Scots shall govern, and the sceptre sway,
Where'er this Stone, they find, and its dread sound obey"
So wrote Hector Boece, a native of Dundee, during the first quarter of the sixteenth century. Raphael Holinshed, in his "Historie of Scotland," which he dedicated to Queen Elizabeth's favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, also wrote of the Stone of Fate, now enclosed in the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey. His story is a strange mixture of fact and legend. He begins in Egypt with Gathelus, son of Cecrops, said to have been the first King of Attica and the founder of Athens.
Gathelus took to wife Scota, the famous daughter of Pharaoh who discovered the infant Moses in the bulrushes. To escape the plague in Egypt, Gathelus and Scota decided to emigrate to Spain. The Egyptian Princess, who had been deeply impressed by the teachings of Moses, took with her to her new country the very stone on which Jacob had rested his head while he saw the vision of the Heavenly Ladder at Bethel. Moses had prophesied that victory should follow Jacob's Pillow.
Gathelus prospered in Spain, where he built the town of Brigantia, afterwards known as Santiagode Compostela. In Brigantia he delivered justice seated on a marble throne, which contained Jacob's Pillow.
Gathelus's and Scota's son also sought a new country. He established himself in Ireland. Here Jacob's Pillow became known as "Lia Fail," the Stone of Fate. It was placed upon Tara's Hill and all the Celtic Kings sat upon it for their Coronations. From Tara's Hill it was taken to Iona, "as a bond of union with the Scots of the mainland", by King Fergus.
In the Holy Isle, St. Columba drew his last breath with his head resting upon it. It was next discovered at Dunstaffnage, on Loch Etive, by King Kenneth, who bore it to Scone, in Perthshire, and enclosed it in a wooden chair.
If a false ruler intruded himself the Stone of Fate remained silent, but it greeted a rightful monarch with a groaning sound. The stone's removal to England was accomplished by Edward I., "beside many other cruelties." Edward took it to Westminster Abbey and ordered a new chair to enclose it. This chair is the one still to be seen in the Abbey, and used at every Coronation, draped in cloth of gold. Edward, delighted at his capture of a relic on which the Scots held to be so important, took great pains over its installation in its new home. Details of the price and workmanship of the Coronation Chair made for the Scottish Stone - of its carved and gilded leopards, its step, and its cover - are extant.
Robert Bruce vainly attempted to recover the stone from Edward II., and not until the crowns of England and Scotland were united by the accession of James I. and VI. did a Scottish King sit again on the Scottish Stone. The only Sovereigns of England since its capture who had failed to be crowned seated upon it had been Edward V. and Mary Tudor.
At the Coronation of William III. and Mary II., joint Sovereigns, the King occupied the Chair enclosing the historic stone, while his wife sat in a duplicate made for the occasion. Elizabeth used it, and after her, every Sovereign.
"Jacob's Pillow", "Lia Fail", "The Scottish Stone" or "The Stone of Scone" is declared by geologists to be a reddish sandstone bearing a close resemblance to the stones of the doorway of Dunstaffnage Castle. No similar stratum has been found in Egypt, nor is it at all like the surrounding rocks at Tara's Hill, or on St. Columba's Isle.