Scott Uncovers the Honours of Scotland
Walter Scott’s life contained moments of high romance and drama to match anything in his novels. His courtship was one such, but the single most exciting, an event to rival Carter entering Tutankhamen’s tomb or the Sutton Hoo find, was his uncovering of the Honours of Scotland.
The Honours were and are Scotland’s crown jewels, the three most important elements being the Crown, the Sceptre, and the Sword of State in its gilded scabbard. They were used at the coronations of Mary Queen of Scots , of Charles I , and Charles II when he was crowned in Scotland in 1651, his father having been executed by the victorious Parliamentary side. Cromwell was very keen to recover these symbols of monarchical power, but they slipped through his grasp when the castle where they had in 1652 been sent for safekeeping, Dunnottar near Stonehaven , was under siege – smuggled out in an episode worthy of Scott’s writings in a sack carried by an old woman.
Thereafter buried beneath the pulpit of the Old Kirk at Kinneff in Aberdeenshire until the Restoration they remained secure – Cromwell would almost certainly have melted them down had they been taken.
The crowns having been joined in 1603 in the person of James I and VI, and a joint Parliament created with the Acts of Union in 1707 , the Honours of Scotland were not regarded as relevant or required for subsequent coronations, a slight on Scotland perhaps. It was this perceived denigration of his homeland that spurred Scott to action. The Honours had been kept out of sight for more than a century - as he discovered, they had been locked away in a small strong-room in Edinburgh Castle on March 7 1707, and the key apparently mislaid.
Having obtained royal consent to seek out the treasures from the Prince Regent, Walter Scott and some friends were present on February 4 1818 when workmen broke into the room, then the chest in which the items were presumed to be. Linen was peeled aside to reveal the Honours in excellent condition. They were soon put on display in the castle where they have remained save for a period in the middle of the last century: in 1941 fears of a German invasion saw them hidden once more. They rather belatedly returned from obscurity in 1953, too late for Elizabeth II’s coronation .
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