TODAY is the 725th anniversary of arguably the greatest theft in Scottish history, if you exclude the Act of Union and our removal from the European Union against the will of the Scottish people.

There has been no greater single piece of larceny in Scotland than the purloining of the Stone of Destiny. August 8, 1296, is the traditional date of the removal of the Stone by the English forces of King Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots as he came to be called after his death, or Longshanks as he was generally known in life.

Even after all this time, people continue to debate whether the Stone currently residing in Edinburgh Castle is the original Stone of Scone on which Scottish kings were crowned for centuries before Edward stole it as part of a deliberate campaign of subjugation of the Scots.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the Stone in Edinburgh Castle is the Stone that was removed by four nationalist students at Christmas, 1950. Ian Hamilton was one of the quartet and he believes that it is the Stone he and his colleagues repatriated, albeit briefly. Stories that Bertie Gray, a nationalist councillor and stonemason, carved a copy and sent the original elsewhere cannot be proven.

The National: Coins from the reign of Edward ICoins from the reign of Edward I

Personally I think the mystery lies much further back in time, 725 years ago exactly to the day. The legend is that Fergus Mór mac Eirc brought the Stone, the Lia Fail, supposedly Jacob’s Pillow, with him from Ireland when he arrived to take over the kingdom of Dalriada, based in modern Argyll, in the late fifth century.

The problem is that most early pre-1296 accounts of the Stone do not refer to it as a simple large piece of sandstone. Oral tradition was that it was kept at Dunstaffnage and used as the coronation chair of the Scots rulers of Dalriada before being moved to Scone by Kenneth MacAlpin, first king of the united Scots and Picts from 843 onwards.

That would make sense – such an object of veneration would have been an important symbol in the early days of Scotland, and the fact that king after king came to Scone to be crowned on it at Moot Hill indicates that it was indeed the ancient Stone of Dalriada.

Again we have to rely on legend that the Stone was of a much darker hue than the current version, and was etched with mystical inscriptions. The Stone in Edinburgh has a single cross carved on it. So what happened on this day 725 years ago?

The Augustinian clerics in whose care the Stone had been placed would have been perfectly well aware that Longshanks was in Scotland with a huge all-conquering force which had already razed Berwick to the ground, with thousands of men, women and children slaughtered. On April 27, The Battle of Dunbar was won by an English army led by John de Warenne, sixth Earl of Surrey, with Edward himself arriving the next day to accept the surrender of Dunbar Castle.

Longshanks was intent on destroying all Scottish opposition to his claim that he was the overlord of Great Britain. King John Balliol fled before the English invasion, and we know that he was at Perth, just a few miles from Scone, on June 21. That’s because Longshanks wrote to him to offer peace, albeit peace with drastic consequences for Balliol who was stripped of his robes and titles.

Surely someone in Balliol’s entourage would have realised that the Stone of Scone, a symbol of Scottish nationhood, also lay in the path of Longshanks.

I used to dispel as “wishful thinking” the theory that the monks mocked up a replacement Stone and surrendered it to the knights sent by Longshanks to capture the Stone. Over time, however, I have become convinced that they might just have done so.

The clinching factor for me is that there is no contemporary evidence, of any monks or Scottish soldiers trying to prevent the removal of the Stone. If it truly was the Lia Fail, surely someone would have risked life and limb to preserve it?

Many years ago I spoke at length with the writer and historian Nigel Tranter who believed the item Edward removed to London was “a lump of Scone sandstone”.

Now for the science. This is from Historic Environment Scotland’s website: “Two years after the Stone’s return to Scotland (in 1996), permission was given for British Geological Survey staff to conduct a technical examination of the Stone. The survey team carried out the works locked inside the Crown Room of Edinburgh Castle. The geological results were conclusive and confirmed that the Stone was made from Old Red Sandstone quarried in the vicinity of Scone.”

The Scottish Journal of Geology in 1998 reported that the Stone “resembles that of Lower Devonian sandstones from the Perth area. In particular, the texture, mineral assemblage and colour are similar to those of sandstones from the Scone Formation in the vicinity of Quarry Mill, near Scone Palace itself”.

The National: The statue of Robert the Bruce will be the destination of the All Under One Banner march marking the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn

Towards the end of his life, in 1328 Robert the Bruce signed the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton which promised the return of the Stone. Bruce died in 1329 and no subsequent King of Scots seems to have been to bothered about the return of their supposedly precious artefact.

I leave aside the mystery of the stone found in Dunsinane in 1818 when an excavation of what was supposedly Macbeth’s castle was carried out. The diggers found “a large stone, weighing about 500lbs which is pronounced to be of the meteoric or semi-metallic kind”.

Much worse to my historical mind was Longshanks’ removal of Scotland’s royal records which he put on a boat south to London only for it to sink with the loss of much of Scottish history.

Now that really was a blow to Scotland that can never be repaired.