Nigel Tranter, |
(1958; B&W, 1993)
The Stone of Destiny or Lia Fail, also called the Stone of Scone, was for centuries the coronation "throne" of the Celtic kings of Scotland. Nearly 700 years ago, Edward Plantagenet, King of England, supposedly stole the stone in 1296 after his forces defeated John de Balliol's army of Scots at the Battle of Dunbar. Edward carried it back to Westminster Abbey and, in 1301, had a throne built around it for the English monarchs.
But there's a question that has been asked for 700 years: Is this the real Stone of Destiny or a mockery? The drawings of the stone from that period (you can see them on the seals of the Kings) show a taller stone, high enough to be a true chair, with Erse drawings and symbols all around the base. Described as a hard, glassy black stone, it was smooth, slick on the sides -- a far cry from the rough-cut slab of red sandstone Edward the Longshanks dragged back from Scotland. So the questions came. Had the Scots hurriedly made a substitution and hidden the true Stone of Destiny away?
Two years after taking the stone, Edward came back to Scone Abbey and ripped it apart. Was he hunting for the real stone? In another scenario, Edward arrived to find the stone gone and in a bit of perverse humour had a sandstone slab quickly chiseled out and paraded before the Scottish nobility when they arrived to sign the Ragman Roll and take oath of allegiance to an English King. He knew it was fake, knew the Scots knew, but also was aware they could not say so out loud or else risk his Angevin temper when they refused to produce it.
At one point after Edward's death, Edward II made a promise to return the stone to Robert the Bruce. The promise went unfulfilled. Some say the Bruce refused it, knowing it was a fake. This only added fuel to the belief this was not the real Stone.
If this stone sitting in Edinburgh Castle today is not the real Lia Fail, then what happened to it? That is the question Scotland's great writer the late Nigel Tranter turned his attention to when he penned The Stone. This book, written in 1958, has been reprinted several times and again drew a lot of interest in the mid-1990s when the discussion came up about returning it to Scotland. Finding a copy was hard.
Tranter blends myth, fact and speculation into a satisfying tale of a race to discover the hiding place of the real stone and protect it from those bent on using it. He weaves his love for Scotland, its history and legend into one of his best works. For those unfamiliar with the lore of the Stone of Destiny or who have not read Tranter before, I cannot think of a better introduction. Once in a great while, there comes a writer that has the ability to walk in the past, to make you join him on that journey. Tranter was just such a magick talent and this book shines with it.