ANCIENT SCONE, though as a town or village it has ceased to exist, teems with interest as to at once its antiquities, its historical associations, and the modern objects which occupy or environ its site. It stood close by the present noble mansion of the Earl of Mansfield, in a hollow or recess of grounds forming a gentle acclivity from the Tay, and looked out upon the river and upon the vale of Perth. Its distance from ‘the fair city’ was little more than a mile; very advantageously qualifying it, amid the inconveniences and the cumbrous movements of a rude age, to hold a similar relation to Perth – then the frequent meeting-place of parliaments, and the residence of courtiers and nobles – to that which Windsor now holds to London. During the middle ages of the Scottish monarchy, it shared with Dunfermline, and other places, the favour of being the residence of Scotland’s kings; and, from an early age till a period succeeding the union of the Scottish and the English crowns, it was first regularly, and afterwards occasionally, the distinguished scene of the royal coronations. A celebrated stone, of many reputed virtues in a dark age, the subject of wildly romantic tales, an object of high antiquarian interest, and still an emblem of royal state, and part of the furnituring of a coronation at Westminster, was – as stated on a preceding page of the present work – brought hither from Dunstaffnage by Kenneth II., and flung a special though imaginary magnificence over the place, till it was carried away to England. All the Scottish princes who mounted the throne in the interval – or all from Kenneth II. till John Baliol – were attracted by this stone to receive their crown at Scone. Charles II., when on his expedition into Scotland, was, on January 1st, 1651, the subject of the last Scone coronation; and he made the occasion memorable by the facility with which he seemed to gulp down ‘the Solemn League and Covenant of Scotland,’ and the cool nonchalance with which he afterwards disgorged it in the face of a fond and confiding people who had hailed him as “a covenanted king.” The Pretender, James, in his short attempt in 1715, fixed his residence here, and held a council on the 16th of January, 1716, when he issued several proclamations, among which was one for his own coronation upon the 23d of the same month. The approach of the royal army, however, prevented that ceremony taking place. Her majesty, Queen Victoria, honoured Scone Palace with a visit during the Royal Progress in Scotland, in the month of September, 1842.
Scone must, previously to the transfer to it of the coronation-stone, have been, for some reason or reasons, a place of note, – sufficiently distinguished by associations of historical interest, or reputed sanctity, or urban importance, to win for itself a preference to all other localities as the retreat of kings, and the place of deposit for the state’s most highly prized relic. It is spoken of by some writers as the ancient capital of the Picts: but, whether called so in sheer fable, or in the way of fiction founded on fact, it most probably acquired its pristine fame as the seat of a Culdee establishment. An abbey, which rose on the ruins of the Culdee college, was founded in 1114 by Alexander I., and dedicated to the Holy Trinity and St. Michael. This abbey enclosed the famous Stone of Coronation, and witnessed the crowning of the later Scoto-Saxon kings. Both the abbey and the ancient palace were spoiled and burned on Monday, June 27th, 1559, by a motley mob from Perth and Dundee, actuated, some by aversion to Popery, some by private resentment, and some by the hope of booty. The abbey-wall is supposed, from traces which have been observed of its foundations, to have enclosed an area of twelve acres. A spot about one hundred yards due east from the south-east corner of the present palace, is the site of the abbey-church, now umbrageously covered with a clump of trees; and between sixty and seventy yards north of this spot is a mound or hillock, vulgarly called the Boot-hill, and more learnedly denominated Omnis Terra, or Every-man’s-land. The common tradition concerning this eminence is, that, at the coronation of a king, all the barons or landowners who assisted, brought, in their boots, as much earth from their property as enabled every man, while standing on his own land, to see the king crowned; and that, after the ceremony, they emptied the earth from their boots on one spot, and in an increasingly accumulating heap, and this made it both Boot-hill and Omnis Terra. About the year 1624, when what remained of the old abbey-church fell, David, the first Viscount of Stormont, built on the Boot-hill an elegant parish-church. In the latter part of last century, the whole of this building, except the aisle, was taken down, and a new church erected at the village of New Scone, which is situated about two miles north of Perth, on the high road to Cupar-Angus. On the north wall of the aisle of the old parish-church, now the mausoleum of the Mansfield family, is a stately marble monument, representing the interior of a chapel or oratory, and containing three statues, one of them as large as life, to the memory of Sir David Murray of Gospetrie, a cadet of the house of Tullibardine, created Viscount Stormont in 1604; and, on the east wall, is an elegant monument of blue and white marble, containing in a niche a marble urn, with the embalmed heart of the deceased, to the memory of Lady Stormont, the first wife of the second Earl of Mansfield.
On a fine expanse of green, about fifty feet above the level of the Tay – ground which may or may not have been the site of the ancient royal palace, or of part of the buildings of the abbey – stands the modern Palace of Scone, the seat of the Earl of Mansfield, who represents the old family of Stormont. The original edifice was begun by the Earl of Gowrie, and completed by Sir David Murray, about the year 1606; but a very great portion of this early structure was taken down in 1803-6, to give place to the present building. The principal part of the old walls is on the south side. Its length is 210 feet, and its breadth 105. The gallery, situated on the east side, and nearly on the site of the old one, ceiled with timber and arched, and decorated over the whole of one side with paintings representing the successive stages of a stag-hunt, and introducing James VI. into every scene, is 140 feet in length. In a chamber, called the king’s room, off the south end of the gallery, is a bed of light orange-coloured damask satin, said to have belonged to James VI.; and in a chamber called the queen’s room, on the west side of the house, is a bed of flowered crimson velvet, said to have been the work of Queen Mary, when a prisoner in the castle of Loch-Leven. Round the house, except on the south-west, run a shrubbery and a plantation, intersected with serpentine walks, and intermixed with some of the finest and largest old trees in the country. On the spacious green terrace, directly under the drawing-room windows, are two fine plane-trees, – one said to have been planted by Queen Mary, and the other by her son, King James. The view from the house to the west, embracing the gorgeous slope to the Tay on the foreground, the Tay itself, the town and vale, and brilliant environs of Perth in the centre, and the encircling Grampians, at the distance of 15 miles, in the background, is one of the most charming which can well be imagined.