Scone Palace

Scone Palace


Scone Palace is a Category A listed historic house and 5 star tourism attraction near the village of Scone and the city of Perth, Scotland. Built of red sandstone with a castellated roof, it is one of the finest examples of late Georgian Gothic style in the United Kingdom. A place steeped in history, Scone was originally the site of an early Christian church, and later an Augustinian priory. In the 12th century, Scone Priory was granted abbey status and as a result an Abbot's residence - an Abbot's Palace - was constructed. It is for this reason (Scone's status as an abbey) that the current structure retains the name "Palace". Scone Abbey was severely damaged in 1559 during the Scottish Reformation after a mob whipped up by the famous reformer, John Knox, came to Scone from Dundee. Having survived the Reformation, the Abbey in 1600 became a secular Lordship (and home) within the parish of Scone, Scotland. The Palace has thus been home to the Earls of Mansfield for over 400 years. During the early 19th century the Palace was enlarged by the architect William Atkinson. In 1802, David William Murray, 3rd Earl of Mansfield, commissioned Atkinson to extend the Palace, recasting the late 16th-century Palace of Scone. The 3rd Earl tasked Atkinson with updating the old Palace whilst maintaining characteristics of the medieval Gothic abbey buildings it was built upon, with the majority of work finished by 1808.


The history of Scone is shrouded in myth and legend. Scotland, sitting on the edge of Europe, was one of the last kingdoms to adopt and benefit from the written word and the legal system it upheld. In fact it was only at the end of the 11th century that Scotland saw a growth of record keeping, with property rights logged via legal charter and royal government practice routinely noted in writing. It is likely that there were a few documents written before the 11th century, however, Scotland's particularly turbulent history is likely to have been witness to the loss or destruction of many documents. The first piece of hard evidence that we have relating to Scone is a charter dating to 906. This date could represent the period in which Scone first came to prominence as a center of power and government, or it could simply be the first concrete date we have in what is actually a much longer history. Many historians writing previously to the 20th century have suggested without any (unless it was subsequently lost) decent evidence that Scone's history was not just "post" but in some cases even "pre-Roman". Modern historians for this very reason are very non-committal regarding the early history of Scone as there is simply too much doubt and very little evidence.


It is not known why exactly the area is called "Scone" (pronounced "Scoon"). The search for a meaning to the word has not been helped by the fact that throughout the last 10 centuries, Scone has been written as Scon, Scoon, Scoan, Scoine, Schone, Skoon, Skune, Skuyn, Skuyne, Sgoin, Sgàin and Sgoinde. It is difficult thus to know where to start in terms of the etymology of Scone. We know that Scone was at the heart of the ancient Pictish kingdom and thus one would think that the name would derive from the Pictish language. The existence of a distinct Pictish language during the Early Middle Ages is attested clearly in Blessed Bede's early 8th century Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, which names Pictish as a language distinct from that spoken by the Britons, the Irish, and the English. Bede states that Columba, a Gael, used an interpreter during his mission to the Picts. The problem is that no record of written Pictish has ever been found. Given Bede's description of Columba's encounter with the Picts; for many years it was thought that the Picts spoke an ancient Pre-Indo-European language, a relic of the Bronze Age. Contemporary historians, however, believe that the Pictish language in fact had Celtic origins. The inhabitants of Britain that the Romans fought, and in part subjugated, spoke various dialects of Celtic: P-Celtic Brittonic and Q-Celtic Goidelic. Scottish Gaelic, a language still spoken by thousands of people in the west of Scotland, stems from the Q-Celtic language. It is easy to mistakenly conclude that Scottish Gaelic and Pictish must have both derived singularly from the ancient Q-Celtic language and thus that the place name "Scone" has Gaelic origins. This theory was popularized by 19th century historians and through persistent folklore. Many contemporary historians, however, now believe that Pictish was a northerly dialect of the P-Celtic Brittonic languages and thus related to the Cumbric (Cumbrian) and Welsh languages, and less so to the Irish Q-Celtic language.


It was thus believed that "Scone" derives from the P-Celtic word "Sken" meaning "cut" or "cutting". This has been gaelicized as "Sgàin" (pronounced "Skene"). And may be a fine example of the amalgamation of the Pictish and Gaelic cultures and languages. The Brittonic origin of the place name "Scone" is of great importance regarding the history and status of the place, and may explain why the famous Kenneth MacAlpin, first King of Scots, chose Scone as his capital. If the place name, "Scone", was indeed Gaelic in origin and thus post-dating Kenneth MacAlpin's seizure of power in 843; then it would be safe to say that Scone's rise to prominence was from 843 onwards. Given that the origin of the name "Scone" is most likely not Gaelic, then it suggests that both the origin of the place and name of "Scone" is Pictish. The meaning "cutting" could relate to what is now known as "the Friars Den". The Gaelic origin of the place name "Scone", if not entirely discredited, is rendered more unlikely by modern analysis of place names in the east of Scotland where Scone is situated. Such analysis supports the above argument that an Insular Celtic language related to the more southerly P-Celtic Brittonic languages was formerly spoken in Pictavia (and thus not a Q-Celtic language).


Scone was from at least the 9th century the crowning-place of the Kings of Scots and home to the Stone of Scone, more commonly referred to as the Stone of Destiny. Kenneth MacAlpin (traditionally known as the first King of Scots), Shakespeare's Macbeth, Robert the Bruce, and Charles II number amongst the 38 Kings of Scots inaugurated and crowned at Scone. It was believed that no king had a right to reign as King of Scots unless he had first been crowned at Scone upon the Stone of Scone. In the Middle Ages, the land was the site of a major Augustinian abbey, Scone Abbey, nothing of which now remains above ground level except detached architectural fragments. Scone was also the site of the first Parliament of Scotland, or Council/Assembly. King Constantine II in 906 called for an assembly to meet at Scone. The assembly was recorded in the Chronicle of the Kings of Alba; Alba being the early name for the early medieval Kingdom of Scotland. The Chronicle records that: 'King Constantine and Bishop Cellach met at the Hill of Belief near the Royal City of Scone and pledged themselves that the laws and disciplines of the faith, and the laws of churches and gospels, should be kept pariter cum Scottis.'


Scone was thus the centre of power in the ancient Kingdom of Alba, doubling up as the site of both Scottish coronations and parliaments. Further to this in medieval times Scone acted as a royal residence and hunting ground. Robert II would have spent most of his life calling Scone home. He was eventually laid to rest in the Abbey itself, although his grave has never been located. A popular old saying suggests the significance of Scone's status in the ancient Kingdom of Alba's, and later Scotland's, governance and rule: 'As the Bell of Scone rang, So mote it be.' This saying has often been re-quoted as "When the Bell of Scone tolls, the law of the land has been made". It is a statement of the great significance of the ceremonies held at Scone, and the judgments made from a top the Moot Hill. It is old sayings like this which frustrated historians, as the sayings clearly detail Scone's important role in Scottish history, and most interestingly in the early formation of the Scottish nation. The primary source of much of Scone's early history and modern reputation is reliant upon Scottish folklore. An example of another piece of Scottish folklore which reminds us of Scone's position as the premier seat of power in the evolving early medieval Scottish nation is the Gaelic: "Comhairle clag Sgàin: An rud nach buin duit na bean dà." Translated as "Counsel of the bell of Scone, Touch not what is not thine own."


In Gaelic poetry Scone's association more specifically with kings and king-making gave it various poetic epithets, for instance, Scoine sciath-airde, meaning "Scone of the High Shields", and Scoine sciath-bhinne, meaning "Scone of the Noisy Shields". The "Noisy Shields" here refer to a folkloric ceremony in which magnates would gather at Scone for a Council. As they entered the Great Hall each magnate in turn would hang their shield displaying their Coats of Arms on the walls before beating their weapons against them. The mons placiti or Scone Moot Hill is the inauguration site of the Scottish Kings. It is also called 'Boot Hill', possibly from an ancient tradition whereby nobles swore fealty to their king whilst wearing the earth of their own lands in their foot-bindings or boots, or even by standing upon the earth that they had brought with them from their respective homelands (carrying the soil in their boots). The tradition being that the Moot Hill, or rather 'Boot Hill', came into being as a result of this tradition of nobles bringing a piece of their own lands to Scone. The Kings of Scots, themselves inaugurated upon the Moot Hill, were thus making, during these ceremonies, a hugely symbolic commitment to the people of Scotland, the Scots. This commitment was made from atop a hill which, if one believes the tradition, represented all parts of the kingdom of Scots and thus allowed the King to make his oaths whilst standing symbolically upon all of Scotland.

Moot Hill + Chapel

Moot Hill + Chapel

Scone Palace Maze

Scone Palace Maze

Scone was an ancient gathering place of the Picts, and was probably the site of an early Christian church. The place of coronation was called Caislean Credi, 'Hill of Credulity', which survives as the present Moot Hill. In the Middle Ages the mound was marked with a stone cross, but this disappeared probably during the Scottish Reformation in 1559, when the Abbey buildings were sacked by a mob from Dundee led by John Knox. From 1114 to 1559, Scone was one of Scotland's major monasteries and later abbeys. It is often said to have been founded by King Alexander I. It is more likely the case that the monastery's status was 'formalised' as a result of King Alexander I's charter. A representation of the church on the Abbey's seal, and some surviving architectural fragments, show that it was built in the Romanesque style, with a central tower crowned with a spire. Between 1284 and 1402 Scone Abbey (sometimes referred to as the Palace of the Abbots) often served to house the Parliament of Scotland.


Alexander II and Alexander III, both crowned at Scone, ruled from 1214 to 1286. For centuries the greatest treasure at Scone was the Stone of Scone upon which the early Kings of Scotland were crowned. When Edward I of England carried off the alleged Stone of Scone to Westminster Abbey in 1296, the Coronation Chair that still stands in the abbey was specially made to fit over it. Robert the Bruce was crowned at Scone in 1306 and the last coronation was of Charles II, when he accepted the Scottish crown in 1651. The alleged Stone of Scone is now in Edinburgh Castle along with the Scottish regalia. Scone Abbey flourished for over four hundred years. In 1559, it fell victim to a mob from Dundee during the early days of the Reformation and was largely destroyed. In 1580 the abbey estates were granted to Lord Ruthven, later the Earl of Gowrie, who held estates around what is now called Huntingtower Castle. The Ruthvens rebuilt the Abbot's Palace of the old abbey as a grand residence. In 1600, James VI charged the family with treason and their estates at Scone were passed to Sir David Murray of Gospetrie, 1st Lord Scone, one of James' most loyal followers. In 1604, the Palace of Scone was the family seat of the Murrays of Scone and the 1st Lord Scone. These Murrays were a branch of the Murrays of Tullibardine (later Atholl), whose original family seat was Balvaird Castle in Fife.


The first Lord Scone was Sir David Murray. He was of Flemish noble origin, and was Cup-bearer, Master of the Horse and Captain of the Guard to King James VI of Scotland. The 3rd Lord Stormont held the last coronation in Scotland. This took place at Scone in 1651 when King Charles II was crowned King of Scots upon the Moot Hill. The Earls following the 4th and 5th Earls all suffered imprisonment, mainly in consequence of their support of the Jacobite cause. Born at Scone in 1705, William Murray, son of the 5th Viscount Stormont, rose to become a man of enormous influence, respected as an eminent lawyer. He was created 1st Earl of Mansfield in 1776. The 2nd Earl of Mansfield was a brilliant ambassador and politician. He was Britain’s Envoy in Dresden in 1756, then Envoy-Extraordinary to the Imperial Court of Vienna, where he was much in the confidence of the Empress Maria Theresa. He was Ambassador to France from 1772 until 1778, during which time he became a confidante of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette. He later became Lord Justice General of Scotland and Lord President of the Council in the British Cabinet.


It was David Murray, 3rd Earl of Mansfield, who, at the beginning of the 19th century, instructed much of the restoration work at Scone Palace, resulting in the splendid and enlarged interior we see today. The architect was William Atkinson. The restrained Gothic style which he used was entirely in keeping with the monastic history of Scone. William David Murray, 4th Earl of Mansfield (1806-1898) played an active part in public affairs, becoming Father of the House of Lords. His grandson, also William David Murray, succeeded as 5th Earl of Mansfield. The 6th Earl was the brother of the 5th Earl. His son, Alan David Murray, became the 6th Earl. His son, Mungo David Murray, 7th Earl of Mansfield, was MP for Perth. William Murray rose from the English Bar to become Lord Chief Justice and one of the greatest 18th century British judges. Famous for his oratory, the "silver-tongued" Murray is known for having reformed court procedure and developed commercial law to keep pace with the British empire. He was also known for ground breaking and often unpopular judgements, such as his declaration that slavers had no rights over their slaves on English soil. " Let justice be done though the heavens may fall " - William Murray, 1st of Earl of Mansfield ( d1793 )


Neo-gothic in style, the Palace that can be visited today was finished in 1808. Presently on view in the State Rooms of Scone Palace are fine collections of furniture, ceramics, ivories, and clocks. Some of the prized contents of Scone Palace are Rococo chairs by Pierre Bara, further items by Robert Adam and Chippendale, Dresden and Sèvres porcelains, as well as the truly unique collection of Vernee Martin vases and a Reisener writing desk given to David Murray, 2nd Earl of Mansfield by Marie-Antoinette. The collection at Scone Palace also includes a fantastic range of Scottish and British portraiture including works by Reynolds, Ramsay, and de Lazlo. There is also the famous piece of Scottish art by Sir David Wilkie called the Village Politicians which was commissioned and bought by David Murray, 3rd Earl of Mansfield. There are further pictures by David Teniers and the famous Zoffany depicting the mulatto Dido Elizabeth Belle and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray; both great niece's of the famous judge, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield. The Lennox Room, named after the Duke of Lennox, is rich in pieces with Royal connections including the bed-hanging made by Mary Queen of Scots during her imprisonment in Loch Leven Castle, a gateleg oak table said to have belonged to King James VI, and an oak armchair used by Charles II for his coronation. Plus a portrait of the Rev. Andrew Murray, 1st Lord Balvaird. The fabulous collection of large European ivories came from Bavaria, Italy and France. They were carved in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries in elephant and walrus tusk, and collected mainly by William David Murray, 4th Earl of Mansfield. They are arranged around the Dining Room of the Palace.


There are few paintings which attract as much interest and admiration as the portrait of Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Elizabeth Murray, by Johann Zoffany, which hangs in the Ambassador's Room at Scone Palace. Dido Elizabeth Belle was a girl born into slavery of mixed race, whose mother was a black African woman, Maria Belle and whose father was Rear Admiral Sir John Lindsay, nephew of the 1st Earl of Mansfield. When Dido's mother died, making her an orphan at the age of six, her father came to claim her before returning to his family home at Kenwood House in Hampstead. There he beseeched his uncle, the Earl of Mansfield, to take the child into his care and to raise her alongside her cousin, Elizabeth, in a manner befitting her aristocratic blood line. Up until the 1990s the painting was simply known as The Lady Elizabeth Murray and the identity of Belle was unknown. The painting of Dido Elizabeth Belle and Elizabeth Murray is fascinating and has many unanswered questions attached it, most in regards to the pose which the girls are in. Critics have long been asking why is Dido pointing to her face? And why does she appear to be rushing past Elizabeth? Whatever the answers the fact remains the potrait and high status of Dido Belle remain truly unique for the time and place. Mansfield before his death as Lord Chief Justice took significant steps to abolishing slavery and in 1772 found that slavery had no precedent in common law within Britain. This was seen as the beginning of the end of official slavery in Britain. Many believe Belle would have influenced his views on the matter in some way or another.


A visit to Scone Palace would be incomplete without enjoying the wider estate and Palace grounds including the stunning open gardens, they are as splendid as the Palace itself and together form a great day out in Perthshire. David Douglas was born in the village of Scone in 1799 and worked as a gardener here at Scone Palace for seven years. Douglas went on to become an explorer and a great plant hunter. To discover more about David Douglas, some of his fellow Scottish tree planters and the Pinetum visit the David Douglas Pavilion. Constructed from Douglas Fir, the structure is erected within sight of the towering conifers at Scone and features other timbers sourced from the Estate. Scottish slate, re-cycled from the Estate, was also used in the construction. Stroll at your leisure through the magnificent Pinetum where, amongst others, giant redwoods and Noble Firs tower over you then onto the New Pinetum of less hardy and decorative conifers. Ideal for Horticultural Groups and Gardening Clubs, they offer private tours around their Grounds and Gardens with their Head Gardener Brian Cunningham. Adults £6.00, Seniors/Students £5.30 for groups of 15+.


The maze was designed by international maze designer Adrian Fisher. At the centre of the maze is a bronze statue, sin in a fountain, designed by David William-Ellis. The Statue represents the water nymph, Arethusa. The maze is planted in a mixture of copper and green beech, designed to resemble the Earl of Mansfield’s family tartan, Ancient Murray of Tullibardine, and is in the shape of a five-pointed star which is part the Family’s emblem. The maze was planted in 1991 and covers an area of 1600 square metres. There are 2000 beech trees, and over 800 metres of paths. The shortest way to the centre of the maze means a walk of only about 30 metres; the longest walk is ……. The bridge over the entrance is based on a design from the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988, and is made of timber from the Scone Estate.


Wheelchair users are invited to alight at the Palace Gift Shop entrance where a chairlift makes access into all of the State Rooms possible. There is also wheelchair access to the Restaurant and toilet facilities at the rear of the Palace. Visitors are invited to tour the Palace at their own speed and to take as long as they wish to view all the artefacts. Guides are available in each room to answer questions. Guided tours can be arranged. They will be pleased to allocate one guide to your group for a whole tour of the Palace. There is a charge for this service. French and German speaking guides are also available by prior appointment. The self service Old Servants' Hall Coffee Shop provides visitors with a selection of our firm favourites; homemade shortbread, scones and freshly made sandwiches. A tasty range of freshly prepared hot snacks are also available, including baked potatoes, paninis and heartwarming soups. The Old Kitchen Restaurant has a capacity of 50 and is available for booked lunches, afternoon tea and receptions. Assistance dogs are welcome. FREE admission to the Grounds, Food/Christmas Shop, Children's Playground and Maze each Friday, Saturday and Sunday throughout November & December, February & March.


Location : Scone Palace, Perth, Scotland PH2 6BD

Transport: Perth (National Rail) then bus (58) or taxi. Bus Routes : 3, 58, 58A and 58B stop outside the gates.

Opening Times : 1st April - 31st October, Daily. March, April, October 10:00 to 16:00;  May to September 09:30 to 17:00;  also see above

Tickets Palace + Grounds: Adults £11.00;  Concessions £10.20;  Children (4 - 15) £8.00

Tickets Palace + Grounds: Adults £6.70;  Concessions £6.00;  Children (4 - 15) £4.70

Tel. : 01738 552300