The Coronation Chair

The Coronation Chair containing the Stone of Scotland, 1859 illustration from The History of England by D. Hume


On May 6, when Charles Philip Arthur George is crowned King Charles III in Westminster Abbey, he’ll have the best seat in the house – the Coronation Chair.

During the ceremony, both Charles and Camilla will sit on thrones especially made for them. But only Charles gets to sit on the centuries-old wooden throne.

At first glance the Coronation Chair isn’t very impressive. It’s beyond old – it’s ancient – and it’s scarred, nicked, marked with nail holes, and scribbled upon. Once gilded, painted, and inlaid with mosaics, the chair now bears only traces of its former glory.

The Coronation Chair as it looks today

When there isn’t a coronation taking place, the Coronation Chair sits behind glass near the Great West Door of Westminster Abbey. Well-guarded now, for many years it wasn’t as protected. In the 1800s tourists could sit in the chair by paying the verger a small fee. Souvenir hunters damaged the chairs’ posts, and visitors etched their initials into the wood.

There’s even a bit of Regency-era graffiti: “P. Abbott slept in this chair 5-6 July 1800” is carved into the seat.

But what makes this old chair special isn’t its appearance but rather its historical significance. It holds a unique place not just in English history, but Scottish history as well.

Since the 14th century, 27 British monarchs have sat in this chair while being crowned, including Queen Elizabeth I in 1559 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Built of sturdy Baltic oak, the six-foot-nine Coronation Chair was commissioned by King Edward I in 1296 to hold the Stone of Scotland. The stone was Edward’s trophy, seized when his army invaded Scotland.

The Stone of Scotland (also called the Stone of Scone and the Stone of Destiny) had previously been used for centuries at the coronations of Scottish monarchs. Now in England’s possession, the stone would henceforth be used at the coronations of English kings and queens, showing that the Scottish were under English rule.

Photo of the Stone of Scone in the Coronation Chair, taken circa 1875-1885

At first, English kings would just sit on the stone, placed on the seat of the chair, as they were being crowned. In the 17th century, a wooden platform was installed under the seat to hold the stone – a much more comfortable arrangement.

Understandably, the Scots resented having their precious symbol built into England’s Coronation Chair. And in 1950 a group of Scottish nationalists decided to do something about it.

That year four University of Glasgow students traveled to London on Christmas Day with a daring plan to break into Westminster Abbey and take back their national symbol. It was no easy task, since the massive piece of red sandstone stone isn’t exactly portable – it weighs about 335 pounds.

Though the stone broke apart during the heist, the students still managed to make it all the way back to Scotland with their prize. They hid the stone successfully for several months.

The bold students were celebrated as heroes by the Scottish, but the UK  government was not amused. British officials scoured Scotland for the stone.

The stone was finally found in April of 1951. It had been hidden on the altar of Abroath Abbey, which is where  the Declaration of Abroath was drafted in 1320, asserting Scotland’s identity as an independent,  sovereign kingdom.

The stone stayed in Scotland for repairs, but not for long. In February 1952, following the death of King George V, the stone was taken back to Westminster Abbey, in preparation for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation.

Although the stone ended up back in London, the students, who were never prosecuted, had effectively made their point. After another couple of decades, in 1996 the Stone of Destiny was officially returned to its native land, 700 years after it had been captured.

Scotland got their prized national symbol back with one condition – that the stone must be returned to London and placed in the Coronation Chair for the coronations of British monarchs.

A couple of films have been made about this adventure, most recently 2008’s Stone of Destiny. Currently, you can rent or buy this film on Amazon or stream it on Google Play or Vudu. You can also watch it for free on Plex. I found the DVD in my local library.

In September 2022, after Queen Elizabeth died, the Scottish Government announced the stone would make a temporary return to England for the coronation of King Charles III.  With the Stone of Scotland firmly in place, on May 6 Charles will become the 28th monarch to be crowned in Westminster Abbey.

And if you’d like to view the Stone of Destiny in person and can’t make it to Charles’ invitation-only event, you can plan a trip to Edinburgh Castle, where the stone is on display along with Scotland’s crown jewels in the Royal Palace’s Crown Room.


For additional more information about the Coronation Chair, see:

  • “The Coronation Chair,”  Westminster
  •  “The Grand History of Westminster Abbey” by Peter Ross in the Smithsonian Magazine, April/May 2023. (You can also read this article online .)
  • “King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla will sit on brand new thrones at the King’s coronation in May,” by Kate Mansy for The Daily Mail, February 24, 2023.

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  1. Maureen,
    Thank you for your enlightening blogpost. Like many of us I knew the basic Stone of Scone history. I didn’t know about the theft in 1950. gotta love college boys! So glad the boys weren’t punished. Also glad Edinburgh Castle is the Stone’s permanent home.

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