Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Everybody Let's Get Stoned

Guest Post by Jeri Westerson

Holly's note: Welcome to the my first guest post of 2016. It's rather appropriate that it's Jeri Westerson, author of the Crispin Guest medieval mysteries (and several other novels as well) since she's been kind of a mentor to me in my own career. Her latest Guest book comes out on February 1 from Severn House buy you can buy now on Amazon.

I'll let Jeri take it from here.

Medievally speaking, we aren’t talking about what Bob Dylan expected, or, to be more literal, getting a good stoning for some infraction. I am, however, talking about an actual stone, the “Stone of Destiny” to be exact, that features in my newest Crispin Guest Medieval Mystery, THE SILENCE OF STONES.

What is the Stone and why is it important to my medieval tale of murder and mayhem? It happened in the later part of the 13th century. In the time of Robert the Bruce and William Wallace (yes, that William Wallace, but the less said about the movie “Braveheart” the better), when all the heirs to the Scottish throne seemed to die off one after the other. At one time there were fourteen claimants, but the two that had the best or at least loudest claims, were Robert the Bruce and John Baliol.

So they turned to Kind Edward I of England. He was known as Edward Longshanks because he was very tall. Later, he was to be known as “Hammer of the Scots” and not in a good way. They figured Edward was a king and a gracious knight and he could be relied upon to arbitrate. Edward said, “Sure I’ll arbitrate. But if I do this for you, you name me Overlord of Scotland.”

They kind of rolled their eyes, said sure, whatevs. Then the Scots ended up choosing John Baliol anyway.
Edward just wouldn’t seem to go away. He’s like the last guy to leave the party even when the hosts are starting to clean up. So he asked the Scots to provide troops for his war with France and they’re like, “Are you still here?” They’re so pissed off, in fact, that they allied themselves with France.

Now Edward is pissed off. And in 1296 he invaded Scotland and that’s when he captures the Stone of Destiny.

Just what the heck is the Stone of Destiny? The Stone of Scone? Jacob’s Pillow?

In Genesis 28, Jacob travels to Bethel, gets tired, grabs a stone, and uses it as a pillow—as one does—and dreams of a Stairway to Heaven. And it is this Stone that is taken into Egypt by Jacob’s sons. The pharaoh’s daughter, named Scota, where people believed the name of Scotland derived—except it didn’t because it comes from Latin, Scoti which means the “Gaelic regions”—supposedly took the stone into Spain, and then it ended up, somehow in Ireland where Irish kings were crowned. It seemed to be the thing to do to sit on the stone and be crowned. In Ireland, the stone was supposed to groan if you had the right to be king when you sat on it, and stay silent if you didn’t. That would mean a lot of instances where no one was king—until the smart guy hid someone in the bushes to groan at the appropriate time. And if that were the case, then he deserves to be king!

In the 6th century, Fergus Mor Mac Earca, King of the Picts, brought it to Scotland. Cinaed Mac Ailpin, 1st King of the Scots, left it at Scone (pronounced “scoon”) Abbey.

It’s grey sandstone, 27 inches long, 17 inches wide, and 11 inches high. With iron rings embedded on either side.

It’s stolen in my book THE SILENCE OF STONES, but it WAS never stolen…until young Scottish nationalists stole it in 1950. In 1996 Prime Minister John Major returned it to Scotland to appease the Scottish Independence movement. So now the stone lives in Edinburgh Castle with the proviso that it come back to England when a new monarch needs to be crowned. 

By the way, tests done on the stone in 1996 proved that the stone’s provenance was around Scone Abbey. So much for Bethel and Egypt and Spain. 

HOWEVER…did the monks of Scone Abbey really give Edward the real Stone of Destiny or did they pull a fast one? Rumor had it that they hid the Stone and gave Edward a lid to a cesspit, with rings and all. Even Edward wasn't sure and he returned to Scone to demand an answer--but everyone said that, yes, that is the real stone. So is it the REAL stone of destiny? Is the real stone still hidden somewhere in the abbey? No one will ever likely know.

All this talk of the Stone naturally leads us to the Coronation Chair that sits in Westminster Abbey. 

Now this is not a throne. This chair was strictly created for the purpose of crowning the monarch of England. Edward originally commissioned a bronze chair and it was always designed to house the Stone of Destiny beneath the seat as a symbol of England’s supremacy over Scotland. But the bronze chair was going to be too expensive so he settled for wood.

It is believed Edward II, Edward III and Richard II (the king who reigns in the Crispin books) were crowned sitting in this chair, but we aren’t certain. The first monarch we are sure of that sat in the Coronation Chair was Henry Bolingbroke, Henry IV.

There are exceptions as to who sat in the chair for their crown. None of these did so:
Edward V (one of the princes in the Tower). Richard III already took the throne before his nephew could be crowned.
Lady Jane Grey was only pronounced Queen and that only lasted 9 days.
Mary I, Bloody Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter. She sat in the chair but took another for the actual crowning.
Mary II. She ruled with her husband William of Orange, so she let him have the chair and they made another one just for her.
Edward VIII abdicated to marry Wallace Simpson before he could be crowned.
Even Oliver Cromwell used the chair to become Lord Protector after the English Civil War.

Symbols. They can hold people together or divide them. The Stone in the Coronation Chair was designed to cleave England and Scotland together but really only served to divide. The medieval world was chock full of symbols of royalty and nobility, of the divine and the humble. Castles, cathedrals, crowns, badges of office. Crispin’s sword is the symbol not only of his past but—yes—of virility, an important aspect of the medieval man’s place in society. It’s the symbols that fascinate us about this period. That’s what draws us back again and again. And it’s what I hope draws you to the Crispin books.


You can find out more about Jeri, her books, see a series book trailer, use book discussion guides, and see some keen maps by going to Jeri’s website at


Jeri Westerson said...

Thanks for hosting me, Holly!

Holly West said...

Any time! Wishing you much success with The Silence of the Stones.