Scone Palace

Scone Palace

Western façade
Location Perth, Perth and Kinross Scotland
Coordinates 56°25′22″N 03°26′18″W / 56.42278°N 3.43833°W / 56.42278; -3.43833Coordinates: 56°25′22″N 03°26′18″W / 56.42278°N 3.43833°W / 56.42278; -3.43833
Built 12th century
Rebuilt 1802-1812
Architect William Atkinson
Architectural style(s) Gothic

Scone Palace /ˈskn/ is a Category A listed historic house and 5 star tourism attraction near the village of Scone and the city of Perth, Scotland. Built of red sandstone with a castellated roof, it is one of the finest examples of late Georgian Gothic style in the United Kingdom.

A place steeped in history, Scone was originally the site of an early Christian church, and later an Augustinian priory. In the 12th century, Scone Priory was granted abbey status and as a result an Abbot's residence - an Abbot's Palace - was constructed. It is for this reason (Scone's status as an abbey) that the current structure retains the name "Palace". Scone Abbey was severely damaged in 1559 during the Scottish Reformation after a mob whipped up by the famous reformer, John Knox, came to Scone from Dundee. Having survived the Reformation, the Abbey in 1600 became a secular Lordship (and home) within the parish of Scone, Scotland. The Palace has thus been home to the Earls of Mansfield for over 400 years. During the early 19th century the Palace was enlarged by the architect William Atkinson. In 1802, David William Murray, 3rd Earl of Mansfield, commissioned Atkinson to extend the Palace, recasting the late 16th-century Palace of Scone. The 3rd Earl tasked Atkinson with updating the old Palace whilst maintaining characteristics of the medieval Gothic abbey buildings it was built upon, with the majority of work finished by 1808.

Landscaping work around the Palace was undertaken by John Claudius Loudon. Loudon was, similarly to Atkinson, tasked with designing a landscape to remain in keeping with, as well as highlighting, the historic significance of Scone. Scone was for nearly 1000 years the crowning-place of Scottish kings and the home of the Stone of Scone. It is a site of immense historic significance. Further work was undertaken in 1842 to make Scone Palace ready for the visit of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.[1] The vast majority of this work was to the interior decor although did include the provision of running water a huge cost to the Earl. Many of the original early 19th century interior designs survive, including several ornately carved and vaulted ceilings.

Scone Palace is a 5 star tourism attraction. The State Rooms are open each year from April till the end of September. It is possible for groups to organize visits during the winter months. The Palace grounds are also open to the public. The gardens include the famous David Douglas Pinetum plus a star-shaped maze. The Palace also hosts multiple outdoor events including the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust's Scottish Game Fair, Rewind Festival, and the Farming of Yesteryear among many others.

History of Scone

Scone Palace Front side
Main article: Scone, Scotland

Prehistory and Tradition

The history of Scone is shrouded in myth and legend. Scotland, sitting on the edge of Europe, was one of the last Kingdoms to adopt and benefit from the written word and the legal system it upheld. In fact it was only at the end of the 11th century that Scotland saw a growth of record keeping, with property rights logged via legal charter and royal government practice routinely noted in writing.[2] It is likely that there were a few documents written before the 11th century, however, Scotland's particularly turbulent history is likely to have been witness to the loss or destruction of many documents. The first piece of hard evidence that we have relating to Scone is a charter dating to 906. This date could represent the period in which Scone first came to prominence as a center of power and government, or it could simply be the first concrete date we have in what is actually a much longer history. Many historians writing previously to the 20th century have suggested without any (unless it was subsequently lost) decent evidence that Scone's history was not just "post" but in some cases even "pre-Roman". Modern historians for this very reason are very non-committal regarding the early history of Scone as there is simply too much doubt and very little evidence.

The Naming of Scone

It is not known why exactly the area is called "Scone" (pronounced "Scoon"). The search for a meaning to the word has not been helped by the fact that throughout the last 10 centuries, Scone has been written as Scon, Scoon, Scoan, Scoine, Schone, Skoon, Skune, Skuyn, Skuyne, Sgoin, Sgàin and Sgoinde. It is difficult thus to know where to start in terms of the etymology of Scone. We know that Scone was at the heart of the ancient Pictish kingdom and thus one would think that the name would derive from the Pictish language. The existence of a distinct Pictish language during the Early Middle Ages is attested clearly in Blessed Bede's early 8th century Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, which names Pictish as a language distinct from that spoken by the Britons, the Irish, and the English.[3] Bede states that Columba, a Gael, used an interpreter during his mission to the Picts. The problem is that no record of written Pictish has ever been found. Given Bede's description of Columba's encounter with the Picts; for many years it was thought that the Picts spoke an ancient Pre-Indo-European language, a relic of the Bronze Age. Contemporary historians, however, believe that the Pictish language in fact had Celtic origins. The inhabitants of Britain that the Romans fought, and in part subjugated, spoke various dialects of Celtic: P-Celtic Brittonic and Q-Celtic Goidelic. Scottish Gaelic, a language still spoken by thousands of people in the west of Scotland, stems from the Q-Celtic language. It is easy to mistakenly conclude that Scottish Gaelic and Pictish must have both derived singularly from the ancient Q-Celtic language and thus that the place name "Scone" has Gaelic origins. This theory was popularized by 19th century historians and through persistent folklore. Many contemporary historians, however, now believe that Pictish was a northerly dialect of the P-Celtic Brittonic languages and thus related to the Cumbric (Cumbrian) and Welsh languages, and less so to the Irish Q-Celtic language. The mistaken 19th century historians may have been led astray by the fact that Scottish Gaelic, a Q-Celtic dialect, adopted many Pictish (Brittonic) words and much of the P-Celtic syntax and grammar. It is likely that Scone came to prominence prior to the gaelicization of Pictavia, the ancient Pictish kingdom, in the 9th century. Scone's pre-Gaelic prominence suggests that the name "Scone" has evolved out of a Brittonic influenced Pictish language.

It was thus believed that "Scone" derives from the P-Celtic word "Sken" meaning "cut" or "cutting". This has been gaelicized as "Sgàin" (pronounced "Skene"). And may be a fine example of the amalgamation of the Pictish and Gaelic cultures and languages. The Brittonic origin of the place name "Scone" is of great importance regarding the history and status of the place, and may explain why the famous Kenneth MacAlpin, first King of Scots, chose Scone as his capital. If the place name, "Scone", was indeed Gaelic in origin and thus post-dating Kenneth MacAlpin's seizure of power in 843; then it would be safe to say that Scone's rise to prominence was from 843 onwards. Given that the origin of the name "Scone" is most likely not Gaelic, then it suggests that both the origin of the place and name of "Scone" is Pictish

The meaning "cutting" could relate to what is now known as "the Friars Den".[4] The Gaelic origin of the place name "Scone", if not entirely discredited, is rendered more unlikely by modern analysis of place names in the east of Scotland where Scone is situated. Such analysis supports the above argument that an Insular Celtic language related to the more southerly P-Celtic Brittonic languages was formerly spoken in Pictavia (and thus not a Q-Celtic language).[5]

The Ancient Kingdom of Scone

Scone was from at least the 9th century the crowning-place of the Kings of Scots and home to the Stone of Scone, more commonly referred to as the Stone of Destiny. Kenneth MacAlpin (traditionally known as the first King of Scots), Shakespeare's Macbeth, Robert the Bruce, and Charles II number amongst the 38 Kings of Scots inaugurated and crowned at Scone. It was believed that no king had a right to reign as King of Scots unless he had first been crowned at Scone upon the Stone of Scone. In the Middle Ages, the land was the site of a major Augustinian abbey, Scone Abbey, nothing of which now remains above ground level except detached architectural fragments. Scone was also the site of the first Parliament of Scotland, or Council/Assembly. King Constantine II in 906 called for an assembly to meet at Scone. The assembly was recorded in the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba; Alba being the early name for the early medieval Kingdom of Scotland. The Chronicle records that:

King Constantine and Bishop Cellach met at the Hill of Belief near the Royal City of Scone and pledged themselves that the laws and disciplines of the faith, and the laws of churches and gospels, should be kept pariter cum Scottis.[6]

Scone was thus the centre of power in the ancient Kingdom of Alba, doubling up as the site of both Scottish coronations and parliaments. Further to this in medieval times Scone acted as a royal residence and hunting ground. Robert II would have spent most of his life calling Scone home. He was eventually laid to rest in the Abbey itself, although his grave has never been located. A popular old saying suggests the significance of Scone's status in the ancient Kingdom of Alba's, and later Scotland's, governance and rule:

As the Bell of Scone rang, So mote it be.[7]

This saying has often been re-quoted as "When the Bell of Scone tolls, the law of the land has been made". It is a statement of the great significance of the ceremonies held at Scone, and the judgments made from a top the Moot Hill. It is old sayings like this which frustrated historians, as the sayings clearly detail Scone's important role in Scottish history, and most interestingly in the early formation of the Scottish nation. The primary source of much of Scone's early history and modern reputation is reliant upon Scottish folklore. An example of another piece of Scottish folklore which reminds us of Scone's position as the premier seat of power in the evolving early medieval Scottish nation is the Gaelic:

Comhairle clag Sgàin: An rud nach buin duit na bean dà.[8]
"Counsel of the bell of Scone, Touch not what is not thine own."

In Gaelic poetry Scone's association more specifically with kings and king-making gave it various poetic epithets, for instance, Scoine sciath-airde, meaning "Scone of the High Shields", and Scoine sciath-bhinne, meaning "Scone of the Noisy Shields".[9] The "Noisy Shields" here refer to a folkloric ceremony in which magnates would gather at Scone for a Council. As they entered the Great Hall each magnate in turn would hang their shield displaying their Coats of Arms on the walls before beating their weapons against them.

The mons placiti or Scone Moot Hill is the inauguration site of the Scottish Kings. It is also called 'Boot Hill', possibly from an ancient tradition whereby nobles swore fealty to their king whilst wearing the earth of their own lands in their foot-bindings or boots, or even by standing upon the earth that they had brought with them from their respective homelands (carrying the soil in their boots). The tradition being that the Moot Hill, or rather 'Boot Hill', came into being as a result of this tradition of nobles bring a piece of their own lands to Scone. The Kings of Scots, themselves inaugurated upon the Moot Hill, were thus making during these ceremonies a hugely symbolic commitment to the people of Scotland, the Scots. This commitment was made from atop a hill which, if one believes the tradition, represented all parts of the kingdom of Scots and thus allowed the King to make his oaths whilst standing symbolically upon all of Scotland.[10]

The Moot Hill and chapel at Scone, perhaps the Hill of Belief of 906[11]

Scone Abbey

Main article: Scone Abbey

Scone was an ancient gathering place of the Picts, and was probably the site of an early Christian church. The place of coronation was called Caislean Credi, 'Hill of Credulity', which survives as the present Moot Hill. In the Middle Ages the mound was marked with a stone cross, but this disappeared probably during the Scottish Reformation in 1559, when the Abbey buildings were sacked by a mob from Dundee and led by John Knox.

From 1114 to 1559, Scone was one of Scotland's major monasteries and later abbeys. It is often said to have been founded by King Alexander I. It is more likely the case that the monastery's status was 'formalised' as a result of King Alexander I's charter. A representation of the church on the Abbey's seal, and some surviving architectural fragments, show that it was built in the Romanesque style, with a central tower crowned with a spire. Between 1284 and 1402 Scone Abbey (sometimes referred to as the Palace of the Abbots) often served to house the Parliament of Scotland.

Crowning of Bruce, 1306

Alexander II and Alexander III, both crowned at Scone, ruled from 1214 to 1286. For centuries the greatest treasure at Scone was the Stone of Scone upon which the early Kings of Scotland were crowned. When Edward I of England carried off the alleged Stone of Scone to Westminster Abbey in 1296, the Coronation Chair that still stands in the abbey was specially made to fit over it. Robert the Bruce was crowned at Scone in 1306 and the last coronation was of Charles II, when he accepted the Scottish crown in 1651. The alleged Stone of Scone is now in Edinburgh Castle (Historic Scotland) along with the Scottish regalia.

Scone Abbey flourished for over four hundred years. In 1559, it fell victim to a mob from Dundee during the early days of the Reformation and was largely destroyed. In 1580 the abbey estates were granted to Lord Ruthven, later the Earl of Gowrie, who held estates around what is now called Huntingtower Castle. The Ruthvens rebuilt the Abbot's Palace of the old abbey as a grand residence. In 1600, James VI charged the family with treason and their estates at Scone were passed to Sir David Murray of Gospetrie, 1st Lord Scone, one of James' most loyal followers.

In 1604, the Palace of Scone was the family seat of the Murrays of Scone and the 1st Lord Scone. These Murrays were a branch of the Murrays of Tullibardine (later Atholl), whose original family seat was Balvaird Castle in Fife.

Maze at Scone Palace

The Modern Palace

Neo-gothic in style, the Palace that can be visited today was finished in 1808.

Presently on view in the State Rooms of Scone Palace are fine collections of furniture, ceramics, ivories, and clocks. Some of the prized contents of Scone Palace are Rococo chairs by Pierre Bara, further items by Robert Adam and Chippendale, Dresden and Sèvres porcelains, as well as the truly unique collection of Vernee Martin vases and a Reisener writing desk given to David Murray, 2nd Earl of Mansfield by Marie-Antoinette. The collection at Scone Palace also includes a fantastic range of Scottish and British portraiture including works by Reynolds, Ramsay, and de Lazlo. There is also the famous piece of Scottish art by Sir David Wilkie called the Village Politicians which was commissioned and bought by David Murray, 3rd Earl of Mansfield. There are further pictures by David Teniers and the famous Zoffany depicting the mulatto Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray; both great niece's of the famous judge, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield.

The Lennox Room, named after the Duke of Lennox, is rich in pieces with Royal connections including the bed-hanging made by Mary Queen of Scots during her imprisonment in Loch Leven Castle, a gateleg oak table said to have belonged to King James VI, and an oak armchair used by Charles II for his coronation. Plus a portrait of the Rev. Andrew Murray, 1st Lord Balvaird.

The fabulous collection of large European ivories came from Bavaria, Italy and France. They were carved in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries in elephant and walrus tusk, and collected mainly by William David Murray, 4th Earl of Mansfield. They are arranged around the Dining Room of the Palace.

The gardens and grounds are also open to the public. The grounds of Scone Palace feature the Moot Hill, the crowning place of the Kings of Scots. A replica of the Stone of Scone sits upon the Moot Hill in front of a 17th-century chapel containing a fine monument dedicated to David Murray of Gospertie, 1st Lord Scone by the Flemish sculpture Maximilian Colt. Another attraction in the grounds and gardens is the Murray Star shaped maze. The maze was inspired by the heraldic arms of the Murrays of Scone - an azure (blue) background with three stars argent (sliver).

There are fine woodlands in the grounds and policies of Scone Palace, some of the fir trees being at least 250 years old. The grounds of the Palace were the first place of introduction to Britain of the Douglas fir tree species,[12] after being introduced by David Douglas. Douglas was a son of Scone and worked as a gardener and forester for the Earl of Mansfield before embarking upon his botanical career. The first Douglas fir still stands in the grounds today. Scone has a special relationship with trees due to the life of the famous botanist David Douglas. Douglas introduced the Douglas Fir to Europe and Scotland.

A number of peacocks roam the grounds, including several albino males.


  1. Grant, John (1842). Her majesty queen Victoria's visit to Scotland. London, United Kingdom: E. Jones. p. 55.
  3. Bede HE I.1; references to Pictish also at several other points in that text.
  4. Perth, the Ancient Capital of Scotland. The Story of Perth from the Invasion of Agricola to the Passing of the Reform Bill by Samuel Cowan J.P. (1904).
  5. Watson 1926; Jackson 1955; Koch 1983; Smyth 1984; Forsyth 1997; Price 2000; Forsyth 2006; Woolf 2007; Fraser 2009
  6. After Anderson, Early Sources, p. 445.
  7. After Cowan, Perth, the Ancient Capital of Scotland, p. 85.
  9. Skene (1867), pp. 84, 97.
  10. Scone and the Moot Hill.
  11. Bannerman, "Scottish Takeover", p. 79.
  12. Trust Walks: "Dunkeld and The Hermitage," a podcast by the National Trust for Scotland; 27 June 2009
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