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Stone of Destiny

The death of the Maid of Norway, granddaughter of Alexander III, in the Orkneys in the year 1290, left Scotland with the difficulties of an uncertain succession. The King of England, Edward I, was quick to take advantage of the situation. He offered himself as arbitrator among the claimants to the Scottish throne, and, as a preliminary, he asked that he should be acknowledged “Lord Paramount of Scotland,” and that all the strong places of the Scottish kingdom should be delivered into his hands. In 1291 he led an army into Scotland, “to receive the requisite homage.”

In Perth, in the church of the Friars Preachers, the local dignitaries took an oath imposed on them: “I will be feal and leal and never for anyone will I bear either arms or be of consent or aid against him . . . or against his heirs, in any case that may happen.”

Having thus established his authority, Edward proceeded to choose John Balliol “to have seison of the kingdom of Scotland, with reservation always of the right of the King of England.“

But soon Edward’s high-handed treatment of Balliol forced the Scots and their King into rebellion: Balliol renounced all homage to Edward, and a Scottish Parliament, assembled at Scone, dismissed all Englishmen from the Scottish Court. Furiously angry, Edward marched his army into Scotland. He took Berwick, where it is said that he made the streets of that city run red with blood. There is little wonder that this ruthless English king earned for himself the title: “Hammer of the Scots.” And yet there was another side to his character. He was devoted to music and it is said he once halted his army so that he might listen to the singing of Scotswomen working in a field.

After a decisive victory over the Scots at Dunbar he went on to Perth. Here he stopped for three days: “to keep the feast of the nativity of John the Baptist.” In the Fair City he spent his time “regaling his friends, creating new knights, and solacing himself.”

On this occasion he spent some time worshipping in St. John’s Church. Meantime many Scots, lords, bishops, knights and burgesses, hastened to record their allegiance to Edward, on a document afterwards known scornfully as the “Ragman’s Roll.”

Resigning his crown, Balliol was sent to the Tower of London and thence to exile on the Continent. On his way south again Edward uplifted the famous Scone coronation stone: He also took the Scottish crown and sceptre. Holinshed says: “He burnt all the chronicles of the Scottish nation, to the end that all memorie of the Scots should perish. . .“

R. James, in Volume I of his “Westminster Abbey,” writes: “The Stone of Destiny which Edward I brought from Scotland is surely the most memorable and mysterious object now to be seen in the Abbey.”

In 1296 the Scottish patriot Wallace laid siege to Perth. He had the moat that surrounded the city filled in with earth and stones and laid trees across gaining entrance to the city at the Turret-Gate, at the junction of High Street and Methven Street. Some 2,000 Englishmen are said to have been slain in this attack.

Two years later, however, Wallace suffered a major defeat at Falkirk, largely due to the startling success of the new English longbow. After the battle both armies made for Perth, the English getting there first.

The historian Cowan noted: “The care of Edward I made Perth a place of great strength. It was now fortified by a high wall defended at intervals by a broad deep moat full of water.”

Marshall comments: “He was thus strengthening Perth at the same time that he was busily engaged in destroying fortifications elsewhere, which indicates how important he felt Perth to be.“

On October 24, 1303, an English army was defeated at Roslin which so roused Edward that he led a huge army into Scotland, an army that was virtually unopposed. State papers inform us that on this occasion a dinner party was held in Perth by the Prince of Wales. “There dined with the Prince the Earls of Lancaster, Warwick, Atholl, Strathearn and others. There were taken from the King’s stores: 8 loaves, 40 lambs, 20 Aberdeens, 11 swans, 2 crows and 5 casks of the King’s wine.” This feast was probably held in Perth Castle.

In 1305 Wallace was betrayed, and taken to London. He was harshly treated, and after a mockery of a trial he was executed. His right leg was sent to be exhibited in Perth and his left leg went to Aberdeen. And so the leadership of the cause of Scottish independence passed to Robert the Bruce. Edward I survived Wallace by only two years. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

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