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Issue 13 - At the heart of Scottish history

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 13
March 2004


This article is 14 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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At the heart of Scottish history

Scone Palace has a long link to Scottish monarchy. Charles Douglas reports

The name of Scone resonates in Scotland’s history, associated as it is with the Stone of Destiny upon which monarchs in Scotland and England have been crowned for more than 1000 years.

It was to Scone that the stone was brought in the ninth century by King Kenneth McAlpin, who had conquered the Pictish nation, and from that moment onward, Scotland was ruled by a king of the Picts and Scots.

But the stone, traditionally held to be the Lia-fail, the very stone upon which the biblical Jacob rested his head the night he struggled with the Angel at Bethel, was considered too great a prize.

In 1296, the invading English King Edward I had it removed to Westminster Abbey in London where it remained until St Andrews Day 1996, when it was dramatically returned to Scotland and placed for safekeeping in Edinburgh Castle.

As early as the sixth century there were holy men living on Scone’s Moot Hill – first the Culdees, an ancient group of monks who lived in cells, then Augustinian monks, who built a monastery there.

This was sacked and burned in 1559 after John Knox, Scotland’s great religious reformer, preached a sermon in nearby Perth. The Abbot’s House, which survives to this day, forms the main part of the Palace of Scone which can be seen to this day.

For a short time the estate was owned by the Gowrie Family, but in 1604, King James VI granted the lands and Palace to Sir David Murray who had saved the King’s life during the Gowrie’s conspiracy to murder him.

He created Sir David the first Lord Scone and Viscount Stormont. Nearly 200 years later, William Murray, brother of the 6th Viscount Stormont, was created Earl of Mansfield in recognition of his outstanding contribution to English law.

As Lord Chief Justice of England, he virtually created the Commercial Law of Great Britain and the United States of America as we know it today.

Scone is called a palace because it once provided accommodation for Kings at their coronation ceremonies. The present building enlarged and ‘Gothicised’ at the start of the 19th century incorporates buildings from the 16th century and earlier.

The tour starts in the state dining room where there is a fabulous collection of ivories on display, amassed by the 4th Earl from France, Germany and Italy. The earliest was carved in the 17th century, and possibly the most appealing is an Italian one of Cupid and Venus carved from the tusk.

The dining table is set with Worcester porcelain and crystal glasses. From here, visitors are shown into the anteroom, once the main entrance, but now transformed into a bright Gothic-style room with stained glass windows and niches which display vases of the Chinese Chien Lung period (1736-95).

In the beautiful state drawing room hangs a fine portrait of the 1st Earl of Mansfield by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Considered the most brilliant lawyer of his day, the earl peers down in the robes and wig of the Lord Chief Justice.

Two other magnificent portraits dominate the room, those of King George III and Queen Charlotte, both by Allan Ramsay.

Many of the more sumptuous treasures at Scone were acquired by the 2nd Earl who was first Britain’s envoy in Dresden, then in Vienna, and finally British Ambassador to France (1772-1778).

Much of the porcelain on display in the glazed cabinets in the Library came from his travels in Europe, as did the exquisite writing table made for the doomed Queen Marie Antoinette by Jean-Henri Reisner.

The Earl of Mansfield has the largest private orchid collection in the country and specimens are often displayed on this writing desk.

The dominant feature in the Ambassador’s Room is the state bed presented to him by at the French Court. It carries the coat-of-arms of King George III and the royal cypher.

One painting here immediately catches the attention; a delightful portrait by Zoffany of Lady Elizabeth Murray, the Ambassador’s daughter, with Dido, daughter of the 1st Earl’s housekeeper whom he freed from slavery.

On passing through the inner hall, towering bears shot by the present Earl’s grandfather stand on guard.

Among the treasures here are a pair of gilt-wood console tables featuring swagged garlands richly carved and very similar in execution and design to a table made for the Royal Palace in Warsaw. A pair of marriage coffers in buhl work, displayed on stands in the same medium, are stamped Béfort Père.

A major feature of the palace is the Long Gallery, 168ft from end to end.

The Gothic splendour here is impressive, and when Queen Victoria came to Scone in 1842, the Scottish oak floor inset with bog wood was used for an indoor curling demonstration as there was no ice outside.

The marks of the stones on the highly polished surface are still visible.

Family portraits and Chinese Chippendale chairs line the walls, and in glass cabinets is displayed the extraordinary collection of Vernis Martin – papier maché decorative objects – collected by the 2nd Earl.

There are other marvellous treats in store for the visitor to Scone Palace, and before you depart be sure to visit the Pinetum, a short distance from the main building.

Strutting about on the palace lawns are free-roaming peacocks. The unique Murray star maze, designed by maze designer Adrian Fisher, and the children’s play area provide a more energetic diversion, while a picnic area offers is ideal for summer days.

There are also donkeys, sheep and Highland cattle in adjacent fields. In summer, the gardens at Scone are magical, and with its glorious location on the banks of the River Tay, a joy for all the family.