Scone Palace stands in its extensive estates on the east bank of the River Tay a little under two miles north of the centre of Perth and a mile west of the modern village of Scone. Scone is a name that has a deep resonance for anyone with any interest in Scottish history. With a story that dates back the better part of 2,000 years, Scone has served as the capital of a Pictish Kingdom, a religious centre, and the site of the coronation of a series of Scottish monarchs. Scotland's story is an incredibly turbulent one, and much of that story featured Scone in one way or another.
Today's visitors to Scone Palace can enjoy the experience on many different levels. For some, this is simply a great day out in a superb parkland setting complete with a range of interesting features and a maze. For others it is an opportunity to visit one of the finest grand houses of its type to survive, complete with some of the friendliest and most helpful staff you are likely to meet anywhere. Others still will come to Scone for the deep sense of history that is almost tangible here.
The story of Scone can be viewed as having several separate but intertwined strands. The most recent involves Scone Palace itself. The building you see today was built in the years from 1803 by the 3rd Earl of Mansfield and has been largely unaltered since its completion, £60,000 and nine years later. Today it is considered to be one of the most important Gothic houses to have survived from the Georgian era.
Visitors to Scone Palace tour all the magnificent formal rooms and galleries on its the ground floor: probably more than half the whole interior of the palace. Guides in each room are happy to explain to you the significance of the fixtures, fittings and artworks on view. What emerges is a family home on a truly grand scale, but one with a surprisingly comfortable feel. You could never, perhaps, imagine yourself actually living here; but it is easy to understand that the family of the Earl of Mansfield still does.
The tour of the palace includes the Dining Room, in which Queen Victoria and Prince Albert dined in September 1842 and the opulent Drawing Room. Other highlights include the magnificent Library, whose shelves are now home to the family's collection of porcelain rather than books.
Later on in your tour you come to the Long Gallery, which at 150ft or 45 metres long is the longest room of any house in Scotland. Here Queen Victoria and Prince Albert witnessed a demonstration of the sport of curling, with the polished wooden floor standing in for ice. Following the demonstration, Prince Albert accepted an invitation to become the first President of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. The far end of the gallery is home to an impressive organ, still used during the weddings performed here. Also included on the public tour of Scone is Queen Victoria's Suite, three rooms, on the ground floor at her request, prepared for Queen Victoria's stay at Scone
Scone Palace is also home to a restaurant and gift and food shops. Beyond the palace itself, the most obvious feature is the chapel. The building you see today largely dates back to 1807, when an earlier chapel built on the site in 1604 was remodelled. It serves as a mausoleum for the Murrays, the family of the Earls of Mansfield. Not far away is what is described as the archway to the City of Scone, beyond which stands the mercat cross of Old Scone. Nearby is Scone's ancient burial ground. The archway and the mercat cross are all that survive of the village of Old Scone. In 1805, as part of the landscaping of the grounds of the new Scone Palace, the old village was simply removed and its residents resettled in a new village over a mile to the east, originally known as New Scone, but now simply called Scone.
The chapel stands on what is known as Moot Hill, and in front of it a stone block in which two rings are set rests on two uprights, forming a stone bench. The stone block is a replica of the Stone of Scone, one of the emblems of Scottish nationhood, and its presence here is the key to unlocking the story of Scone and explaining why this place is so important to the story of Scotland.
Legend relates that Scotland is named after an Egyptian princess, Scota, who was exiled from Egypt in about 1400BC and whose descendents settled in north-west Spain, then in Ireland. There they became known as the Scoti before migrating to what is now Argyll in Western Scotland and establishing the dark age kingdom of Dalriada. Among the possessions Scota took from Egypt was a 152kg sandstone block which had been used as a pillow by Jacob when he had the dream reported in Genesis about Jacob's Ladder. This found a later use as the seat on which the Kings of Dalriada were enthroned and became known as the Stone of Destiny.
The last King of the Scots of Dalriada was Kenneth I or Kenneth Mac Alpin, who lived from 810 to 858. At the time much of north and eastern Scotland was ruled by the Picts. After they suffered a severe defeat at the hands of the Vikings in 839, Kenneth pressed his own claim through his mother's side to add the crown of the Picts to the crown of the Scots he already held. Scone had been an important Pictish centre for centuries, and the Picts and the Scots met here to discuss the Pictish succession in 843. The story goes that after much alcohol had flowed, Kenneth's Scots turned on their Pictish hosts and killed them, and Kenneth was subsequently crowned King of the Picts and the Scots at Scone, using the Stone of Destiny to legitimise the coronation.
Scone, and what became known as the Stone of Scone, became key features in the coronation of many succeeding Kings of Alba and later of Scotland. As William Shakespeare put it in "Macbeth": "So, thanks to all at once, and to each one, Whom we invite to see us crown’d at Scone." Scone's role as a focal point for the spiritual and ceremonial life of the kingdom grew further when Alexander I founded an Augustinian priory here in 1114. Fifty years later the priory became an abbey, and in 1210, Scone's status was further enhanced when the Parliament of Scotland met here for the first time. It would continue to do so until 1450.
In 1296, Edward I of England invaded Scotland and stripped the country of many of its symbols of nationhood. The Stone of Scone was removed to Westminster Abbey, where, apart from during an 8 month period following its removal by Scottish Nationalist students on Christmas Day 1950, it formed part of the throne used during the coronation of English, and later British, monarchs up to and including Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. In 1996 the Stone of Scone was returned to Scotland, and it now resides in Edinburgh Castle.
Scottish Monarchs, and those seeking to become Scottish Monarchs, continued to come to Scone to be crowned, including Robert the Bruce in 1306, James IV in 1488 and Charles II in 1651, before his defeat at the battle of Worcester and subsequent exile. James Francis Edward Stuart, the "The Old Pretender", came to Scone during the Jacobite uprising in 1716 in the hope of being crowned King of Scotland, but had to flee in on hearing of Government troops in the area. His son, Bonnie Prince Charlie or "The Young Pretender", also visited during the 1745 Jacobite uprising.
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, one of James' loyal followers.
This was the start of over four centuries of residence by the Murray family at Scone, which continues today. Sir David was later made Lord Scone and Viscount Stormont, and in 1776 a descendent, William Murray, was created Earl of Mansfield while serving as Lord Chief Justice for England. In 1803 the 3rd Earl of Mansfield commissioned the architect William Atkinson to rebuild the 1580s Abbot's Palace, and what emerged was the Scone Palace you still see today.