Historic Places

An armchair tour of Scone Palace

Come with us on an armchair tour of this splendid stately home whose grounds include the ancient coronation site of Scotland’s kings

Words: Roddy Martine

If you want to step into the very heart of Scotland’s momentous history, then Scone (pronounced ‘Skoon’) is the place to start. It was to Scone that the Lia Fáil, the Stone of Destiny, was taken from Dunaad in the ancient kingdom of Dalriada, by Kenneth MacAlpin when he was declared King of Picts and Scots in 843 AD. From thenceforth it was tradition that the incoming monarch should be declared King of Scots at Scone – Macbeth was crowned here, Robert the Bruce was too, even Charles II accepted his crown as King of Scotland here in 1651.

However, both Bruce and Charles were crowned without the Stone of Destiny present, which had been removed by King Edward I of England when he invaded Scotland in 1296, taking the stone back to Westminster Abbey where it remained until eventually being re-patriated to Edinburgh Castle in 1996. Or did it? There is no certainty that the stone in Westminster Abbey (now in Edinburgh Castle) is the original one. There are those who believe it is a lump of sandstone hastily substituted by one of the monks – the late Nigel Tranter wrote a very compelling book, The Stone, suggesting the real stone is hidden in a cave somewhere in the Hebrides.

Scone Palace. Credit: Shutterstock

Nevertheless, a replica of the Stone of Destiny – a rather unprepossessing lump of sandstone with two handles – is displayed on Scone’s Moot Hill, the ancient crowning place, in front of the decorative Presbyterian mausoleum chapel, which dates from the 19th century.

As early as the sixth century, there were holy men on Moot Hill – first the Culdees, an ancient group of monks who lived in cells, then Augustinian monks who built a monastery, later upgraded to an Abbey. Once one of Scotland’s most important abbeys, this was sacked and burned in 1559 after John Knox, Scotland’s Protestant reformer, preached a sermon in nearby Perth and incited his congregation into action. The Abbot’s House, which survived this event, forms the main part of the Palace of Scone that stands today.

Scone is called a ‘palace’ because it continued to provide accommodation for Scottish monarchs at their coronation ceremonies. Therefore, the current building, enlarged and ‘Gothicized’ at the beginning of the 19th century, incorporates ‘palaces’ from the 16th century and earlier and in doing so, has become a five-star tourism attraction.
For a short time the estate was owned by the Ruthven family, but in 1604 King James VI granted the lands to Sir David Murray, who had saved the King’s life in the Gowrie Conspiracy. Thus began the fortunes of this scion of the powerful Clan Murray of Flemish noble origin.

Sir David was appointed the King’s Ceremonial Cupbearer, Master of the Horse, Comptroller of Scotland and, having accompanied James to London, Captain of the King’s Guard. For his services to the Crown, he was created Lord Scone and later Viscount Stormont.

Nearly 200 years later, William Murray, brother of the 6th Viscount, was created Earl of Mansfield in recognition of his outstanding contribution as Lord Chief Justice of England. It was he who virtually created the commercial law of Great Britain and the United States of America. In one of those infuriating anomalies which cause so much confusion for those seeking to make sense of Britain’s hereditary peerage system, William was created Earl of Mansfield twice, first in Middlesex (1776) and secondly in Nottingham (1792). At his death, he was succeeded in one earldom by his nephew’s second wife Louise, Viscountess Stormont, and in the other, by her husband David, 7th Viscount Stormont. Thus, the present Earl is correctly titled Mansfield and Mansfield.

The 1st Earl, however, was far too busy to spend time at Scone and when his townhouse in Bloomsbury, London, was set on fire in the Gordon Riots of 1780, he created a splendid out-of-town house for himself and his family to live in at Kenwood, in Hampshire. However, when the third Earl inherited Scone at the age of 19, he made Scone his Scottish home and commissioned the architect William Atkinson to rebuild the 1580s Abbot’s Palace. At the same time, he commissioned the Scottish garden designer and botanist John Claudius Loudon to landscape the grounds.

The Ambassador’s Room. Credit: Massimo Borchi/4Corners

It was the 2nd Earl, however, who accumulated many of the treasures now on display in this great house. As Viscount Stormont, he was sent to Dresden in 1756 as Envoy of the British Government. He later became Britain’s Envoy Extraordinary to the Imperial Court in Vienna, where he won the confidence of the Empress Marie Theresa, before being sent as Ambassador to France in 1772. As a consequence, alongside the ancestral relics of the Murray Clan, is one of the finest collections of French furniture, porcelain and decorative items in the land. Starting in the south-facing Dining Room, there is a table laid with Chamberlain porcelain and crystal glasses from the 1840s. A fabulous collection of ivories carved in the 17th and 18th centuries, amassed from France, Bavaria and Italy by the 4th Earl, is also on display. Probably the most appealing is an Italian Cupid and Venus, which was carved entirely from one tusk.

The white, silver and gold anteroom, once the main entrance, was transformed into a bright, Gothic-style room with stained glass windows and niches which display Chinese vases from the Chien Lung period (1736-95).

The palace boasts a vast collection of porcelain, ivories and French furniture. Credit: Albert Knapp/Alamy

In the beautiful Drawing Room hangs a portrait of the 1st Earl of Mansfield by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Two other magnificent portraits dominate; those of King George III and Queen Charlotte, both by Sir Henry Raeburn. There is a large and important set of fauteuils by Pierre Bara, dating from 1756 and covered in fine needlework showing medieval and oriental scenes on yellow ground. Two splendid boulle commodes stand on either side of the fireplace.

Instead of books, the Library houses cabinets filled with fine china and rare porcelain pieces – Meissen, Sèvres, Ludwigsburg, Chelsea, Derby and Worcester. Over the fireplace hangs a portrait of the 1st Earl by John Martin. The Ambassador’s Room is furnished with a regal four-poster bed presented to the 2nd Earl while he was Ambassador to the French Court. A remarkable restoration of the embroidered silk Ambassadorial Canopy has been completed over 10 years by the Scottish branch of the National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS).

As they say, every picture tells a story. A painting by Zoffany (1733-1810) shows two pretty girls, the 2nd Earl’s daughter, Lady Elizabeth Murray, and also Dido Elizabeth Belle. Dido was the mixed-race daughter of an African slave girl in the British West Indies and Rear Admiral Sir John Lindsay, nephew of the 1st Earl. When her mother died, when she was just six-years-old, Dido was taken in by her great uncle and raised as a member of his family. The story was told in the 2013 film Belle, starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw.

A replica of the Stone of Destiny. Credit: Visit Scotland/Kenny Lam

In the Inner Hall, there are two 17th-century carved oak fireplaces and two enormous stuffed Brown European Bears shot in Russia by the present Earl’s great grandfather, the Hon. Lancelot Carnegie. From here, a charming little hall known as the Octagon brings visitors to the 142ft (43 metres) Royal Long Gallery.

When Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited Scone in 1842, they were given a demonstration of curling on the floor of the gallery. The marks of the stones on the highly polished surface of the Scottish oak inset with bog oak are still visible. In glass cases here can be seen the Mansfields’ celebrated collection of papier mâché objets d’art, mostly created by the Martin family for Louise XV of France. In 1730, these Martin brothers had patented a process for painting decorative objects with coloured varnishes and some 70 pieces of their work are to be found at Scone.

At the far end, there is an organ built in 1813 by Thomas Elliott. Off the Royal Long Gallery is the Slip Gallery, where family photographs are on display. The current Mansfield family is headed up by the 9th Earl of Mansfield & Mansfield, who succeeded his father in 2015. He read law at Cambridge before working in the auction world for both Christie’s and Sotheby’s, and he now sits on the committees of the Tay District Salmon Fisheries Board, the Timber Growers Association and the Scottish Council of Historic Houses.

He and the Countess Sophie have four children – William, Viscount Stormont, Lady Iona, Lady Louisa and Lady Isabella. Viscount Stormont has been closely involved in the management of the 30,000-acre estate and its annual influx of 100,000 visitors since he was 16.

The final public room on the tour is named after the Duke of Lennox, friend of James VI of Scotland. Here are James’s table and there are bed hangings worked on by Mary, Queen of Scots and her ladies. Two wall hangings depict ‘Justice and Mercy’ in a landscape showing Moses with the Tablets of Law and Crucifixion.

Credit: Peacocks strut through the 30,000-acre estate

During the summer months (though uncertain for this year), the gardens at Scone are a joy for a family day out. The Pinetum, created with the planting of coniferous trees in 1848, is a great attraction. In recent years, the estate has regularly hosted polo matches, carriage driving, and most notably, the annual Scottish Game Fair in October. There is the Old Kitchen restaurant, the Murray Rooms for exclusive private use, a Scone Palace Gift Shop and the Palace Food Shop offers homemade shortbread, Scottish heather honey and a range of over 40 Scotch whiskies.

You can even arrange to stay at Scone Palace in the Balvaird Wing, much as kings of old would have done prior to their crowning, which accommodates up to six guests.

Plan your future visit

Though it is currently closed, Scone Palace’s normal season runs from Easter to October. The Balvaird Wing offers luxurious self-catering accommodation for six people (in three bedrooms) in the North West aspect of the palace itself. +44(0)1738 552300; scone-palace.co.uk

MORE FROM SCOTLAND MAGAZINE

SCOTLAND MAGAZINE

Published six times a year, every issue of Scotland showcases its stunning landscapes and natural  beauty, and delves deep into Scottish history. From mysterious clans and famous Scots (both past and present), to the hidden histories of the country’s greatest castles and houses, Scotland‘s pages brim with the soul and secrets of the country.
Scotland magazine captures the spirit of this wild and wonderful nation, explores its history and heritage and recommends great places to visit, so you feel at home here, wherever you are in the world.

Menu