THE monastery of Scone, a foundation of Culdees of unknown antiquity, was re-formed by King Alexander I., who, with his queen Sibilla, wishing to adorn the house of God and to exalt His habitation, established in it a colony of canons regular of the Order of St. Augustine, brought from the church of St. Oswald at Nastlay near Pontefract in Yorkshire. The church, previously dedicated to the Trinity, was placed under the patronage of the Virgin, St. Michael, St. John, St. Lawrence, and St. Augustine. The era of the new constitution was the year 1114 or 1115. At first the Superiors of Scone, as well as of the mother house of St. Oswald, appear to have been priors, though the new foundation was, from the beginning, declared independent of the English house.
Scone has a mysterious importance in the mythical period of Scotch history. Whether the fatal stone, the Kaiser-stuhl of Scotland, was brought thither by Kenneth MacAlpin or not, it was certainly placed there at a very remote period, and before the light of charter record or authentic history. Malcolm MacKenneth, that “most victorious king over all the nations of England, Wales, Ireland, and Norway,” when he distributed the territory of Scotland among his feudal vassals, reserved only “the moot-hill of Scone” – montem placiti in villa de Scona.1
At Scone, according to Fordun and Wyntown, and Shakspere, his namesake Malcolm Canmore was solemnly crowned after the defeat and death of Macbeth.
His son, Alexander I., had a peculiar connexion with the district:
“In Inwergowry a sesowne
Wyth an honest curt he bade
For thare a maner-plas he hade,
And all the land lyand by
Wes his demayne than halyly.”
After a successful expedition into the North,
“Syne he sped him wyth gret hy
Hame agayne til Inwergowry
And in devotyowne movyd, swne
The Abbay he fowndyd than of Scwne.
Fra Saynt Oswaldis of Ingland
Chanownys he browcht to be serwand
God and Saynt Mychael, regulare
In-til Saynt Awstynys ordyr thare.”2
Malcolm IV., in a remarkable charter of the 11th year of his reign, granting aid for the restoration of the Abbey, recently destroyed by fire, states it to be situate in the chief seat of government – in principali sede regni nostri. Supposing the charter quite genuine, the precise meaning of that expression is very doubtful. Abernethy and Forteviot might be styled the seats of the ancient Pictish monarchs and their court. In later times Perth was a frequent residence of the sovereign; and some of the earliest parliaments on record were held at Scone itself. But it is difficult to understand how Scone could be reckoned the principal seat of government, except, perhaps, from some traditional and half fabulous story of the Moot Hill, joined to the real evidence of the existence of the fatal chair of coronation.
At Scone was crowned Alexander II., and here, at the coronation of his son, the last of that noble dynasty, while the prince was yet seated on the inaugural throne, bearing his crown and sceptre, and the nobles of the land at his feet, stood forth an aged Highlander, dressed after his country guise, and in his native speech, with bended knee, addressed the new-crowned monarch, and hailed him as Alexander, MacAlexander, MacWilliam, MacHenry, MacDavid, MacMalcolm, tracing his lineage up to Fergus, the first king of the Scots in Britain.3
Here, in 1292, the unhappy Balliol assumed the crown.
And here, in 1306, Robert Bruce, a fugitive, and excommunicated, without means or friends in Scotland, raising his arm against the might of Edward and of England, was crowned King of Scots.4
The grant by Alexander I., confirmed by Malcolm IV., of an exclusive jurisdiction, and a court, with trial by duel and ordeal, is unusually minute. Alexander’s charter gives “to the church of the Holy Trinity of Scone and to the Prior and the brethren serving God there, their own Court, to wit in duel, in iron, in water, and in all other liberties pertaining to a Court;” and declared that they should not be obliged to answer any one out of their own court. Malcolm’s confirmation is given below.5 The trial by combat and probably the ordeals of hot iron and water were held in the island in Tay below the Abbey.
An exemption of the latter king furnishes a very early occurrence of the exclusive privileges of burghs in Scotland. The Abbey is allowed to have in their service three craftsmen, a smith, a leather dresser, and a shoemaker, who are to have the same freedom within burgh and without, as the king’s burgesses of Perth.
A grant of a mark of silver, from Harold of the Orkneys, is the first notice of the connexion which Scone had with the northern parts of Scotland. The next s a sort of privilege or pass granted by King Alexander II., for a ship of the Abbot, evidently on a northern adventure, and addressed to the king’s officers of Moray and Caithness. In 1332, we fid the convent proprietors of the church of Kildonane and the lands of Borubol, apparently in Sutherland.
Incidental notices occur of the great inundation which destroyed the city of Perth, and nearly proved fatal to the royal family in 1210; and the local antiquary will find evidence of the town of Dunkeld being first granted to the Bishop by Alexander II.
A curious notice concerning the nativi or serfs, which might otherwise be unintelligible, receives illustration from several entries in the Register of Dunfermline, where the convent scribe has been careful to translate the vernacular terms.6
It would appear, from a grant of Malcolm IV., that the Earldom of Gowry was then of the king’s proper inheritance. The family of Ruthven, which for a short time enjoyed it after the dissolution of religious houses, proves its early pedigree mainly from the chartulary of Scone.7 Their later history comprises, in two generations of Earls, more romance and mystery than have fallen to the lot of any other name in the Scotch peerage. On the forfeiture of John Earl of Gowry, David, first Viscount of Stormont, obtained a grant of the Abbacy of Scone.
Of the buildings of the monastery and ancient palace of Scone, probably very little survived the storm of the Reformation. The house used by the successive commendators was almost entirely removed to make way for the present “palace” of the Earl of Mansfield.