Whatever will the Scots want next?

Click to follow
The Independent Online
The return of the Stone of Scone, Scotland's historic symbol of sovereignty, 700 years after it was plundered by King Edward I highlights the auctioning of Scotland's history. Over the years, trunkloads of treasures and objects of historical value have been stolen or sold to the highest bidder.

So, if John Major's seemingly generous gesture with a piece of sandstone heralded the start of the return of Scotland's heritage, what else should be handed back?

Topping the list might be the Holy Rood of St Margaret, a small wooden cross carted off at the same time as the stone of Scone. It belonged to Margaret, Queen of Scotland, an Anglo-Saxon who married Malcolm III. She died in 1098 and was canonised in 1250.

"She is seen as the mother of the Scottish dynasty," said Dr Fiona Watson, a lecturer in Scottish history at Stirling University. "It is a very significant piece because it showed that the royal line was directly descended from a saint." The biggest difficulty for those wanting St Margaret's cross back is that no one is sure where it is, although technically it remains part of the Crown properties.

Also difficult to bring home would be the jewels of Mary, Queen of Scots, which were scattered throughout Royal collections across Europe, and the Holy Rood lectern that ended up in a Hertfordshire church before disappearing - allegedly into hiding in Scotland - in 1985.

We do, on the other hand, know where to find the Lewis chess pieces - 78 magnificent medieval figures which now reside in the British Museum in London. There is already pressure from islanders to have some or all of them returned.

Literary treasures which could be returned include the half of Sir Walter Scott's manuscripts, which ended up in the United States, while the others reside in the Scottish national library; Robert Burns's original manuscripts which are in several collections including the J P Morgan library in New York; and James Boswell's papers - the work of Samuel Johnson's biographer is housed at Yale.

A portrait by Blanchet of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his brother George, which hangs in London's National Portrait Gallery, might be another candidate for transfer to a Scottish home. "It was painted in 1798. It's a full length portrait and is very grand," said Dr Duncan Thomson, the Keeper of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. "Sometimes when I look at it I think, why isn't that in Scotland?"

Neal Ascherson, page 17