If putting your shoe on something sacred or revered is a sign of disrespect, then what are we to make of the present location of the London Stone, upon which the safety of the City was once believed to rest? It now sits between a rusty iron grille and a piece of glass in the wall of a sporting goods store on Cannon Street, right by the cricket shoes.
You have probably heard of the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny, the coronation stone of the British monarchy. It was brought down from Scotland (where it now sits in-between coronations), and before that Ireland (as well as, possibly, ancient Egypt and Israel). However, you are much less likely to have heard of that stone’s evil twin, the London Stone. This could possibly be due to the implication that it represents a power rival to that of the Crown, and over which the Queen legally has no claim: the Corporation of London.
As I detailed in my essay “Corporate Frankenstein” last year, the mile-square area originally termed “Londinium” by the Romans is what is now known as the “City of London” or the “Corporation of London.” This is a separate legal and political entity from the surrounding “Greater London,” and indeed, from the rest of the kingdom as well. In that essay I wrote:
This had been a Saxon merchant city before the island was conquered by the Romans in 43 AD, and had been ruled by an “ealdorman” or “underking.” When the Normans took over, William the Conqueror promised to respect the city’s sovereignty, and basically built his kingdom around London, in cooperation with it, but not subduing it. Because of this, London became known as “the Sovereign City”, and is headed by its own “Lord Mayor” to this very day.
The City of London is now Greater London’s financial district. It represents the power of banking and commerce, as a counterbalance to the rule of genetic aristocracy represented by the crown in Westminster. Historically, the City has not been shy about letting the monarchy know its place, and at times has been a bulwark against royal autocracy. As I wrote in “Corporate Frankenstein”:
In London, a symbiotic relationship formed between the City Corporation and the Crown of England. Indeed, to this day, the monarch observes the custom of obtaining permission from the Lord Mayor before entering the one-mile-square City. The City became the prime influence on English politics, and gained a reputation as the maker of kings. The City would always support the Crown, as long as the support was mutual. If not, the City would make sure that someone more cooperative took over.
The London Stone is a talismanic representation of this corporate sovereignty. When Jack Cade, leader of the peasants’ rebellion of 1450, tool control of London in that same year, he struck his sword upon this stone as a sign that a new authority was seizing control of that sovereignty. When Shakespeare dramatized this story in Henry VI, he showed John Cade sitting on this stone as if it were his throne.
Like any sacred stone in any culture, the London Stone was at one point thought of as the symbolic “center of the world.” It was used as the central point from which the grid lines of the new city streets were laid out in 886, during the reign of King Alfred, after Vikings had sacked the old city. It is now essentially in the center of the City of London financial district, not far from its original location in front of what was once the Roman provincial governor’s palace.
According to legends as old as at least the sixteenth century, all of the important landmarks in Roman Britain had been placed in specific spots measured in radius from this central point. As the center of the realm, it was also the central “pole” that upheld the strength and virtue of Londinium, like Atlas holding up the Earth. Perhaps this is why the stone has never been moved far from this central point, because, according to the proverb associated with the relic:
So long as the stone of Brutus is safe, so long shall London flourish.
The term “stone of Brutus” is its other alias, and reveals its legendary origin. In the twelfth century, Geoffrey of Monmouth published History of the Kings of Britain, in which he claimed that London had been originally founded as “New Troy” by Brutus, the grandson of Aeneas, after Troy’s defeat in the war with the Greeks. Supposedly, Brutus brought the London Stone from Troy and used it as the foundation stone of a new kingdom, and as an altar of sacrifice in a temple to Diana.
Britain was subsequently named after Brutus, according to Geoffrey, and divided amongst his sons into England, Ireland, and Britain. Geoffrey wrote that the stone came to be used by the kings of Britain to swear their oaths upon it. According to a 2002 BBC documentary, the London Stone was also an object of fascination to Queen Elizabeth I’s court soothsayer and warlock, John Dee, who allegedly believed that it possessed magical powers.
The 1857 book Britons of Cambria by Reverend Richard Williams Morgan says that the stone was originally part of the Palladium, the statue of Pallas Athena that allegedly protected Troy from destruction. It was stolen by the Greeks towards the end of the war, which was supposedly part of what finally allowed Troy’s defeat. This may explain why people have always thought that the London Stone played a similar protective role in the “New Troy” of the City of London.
Of particular interest are these traditions stating that those challenging the power of the monarch would strike their swords upon it. This brings to mind the image of the sword of Excalibur buried in the regal stone in Arthurian legends. According to these tales (many of them promulgated by Geoffrey of Monmouth as well) the sword could only be removed by the “rightful heir” to the throne of the kingdom. In all of the legends, drawing the sword is considered a sign of the re-institution of a dynasty that has been defunct or in exile for a long time.
If the stone represents the source of sovereignty, a sword buried within it that cannot be removed is the subjugation of that sovereignty to a martial, perhaps mercenary force that is holding it hostage through threat of violence. This is the concept of the fallen kingdom of the Holy Grail romances, which in those stories has become “the Wasteland” after the king was severely wounded by a one of his enemies with a spear.
There would seem to me to be a very strong identity between the London Stone and that which the sword of Excalibur was drawn from. Many other authors have made the same connection as well. It was apparently strong enough to be included in the Disney animated film The Sword in the Stone, where the artifact in question is shown on display outside the courtyard of a church in London.
So what does it mean that it is now relegated to a hole in the wall of a sporting goods store? Also, what cosmic order will be disrupted when it is moved to the Museum of London so that the building can be demolished, as is soon to occur? With the government, the currency, and the whole economy already on shaky ground, perhaps its best to prepare for the worst.