Illustration of the London Stone from 'London: a Pilgrimage'
Blanchard Jerrold and Gustave Doré, 1872; ID no. NN23607(12).
By the end of the 18th century romantic writers were
beginning to suggest a relationship between the survival of London Stone and
the well-being of London itself. This recalled the legendary ‘palladium’ of
Greek mythology, the statue of Pallas Athene that protected the city of Troy.
So Thomas Pennant, in a history of London published in the 1790s, commented ‘it
seems preserved like the Palladium of the city…’.
This concept received a great boost from the apparent
discovery of an ‘ancient saying’ – ‘So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so
long will London flourish’. This first appeared in print in an article in the
periodical Notes and Queries in 1862
– apparently no previous writer was aware of it. Where did this ‘ancient saying’
come from, and why had it been forgotten until 1862? And why ‘the Stone of
The article retails a supposed legend that London Stone was set
up by Brutus of Troy, the first king of Britain. This notion is rooted in a
much older piece of made-up history: the legend that London was first founded by
Brutus, leader of a group of Trojan colonists, as Troia Nova, or ‘New Troy’.
This story derived ultimately from the 12th-century History of the Kings of Britain by Geoffrey of Monmouth, a pseudo-historian
and arch-inventor of legends. The author of the Notes and Queries article claims that Brutus had brought the base
of the original statue of Pallas Athena from Troy and erected it as an altar in
a temple of Diana in ‘New Troy’, and that the ancient kings of Britain had
sworn their oaths upon it. Again, no other writer had claimed to know this tradition.
The article was written (under a pseudonym) by the Revd
Richard Williams Morgan, Anglican priest, Welsh patriot, bard, and later the founder
of his own Ancient British Church. For Morgan the Welsh, who were superior to
the English in every way, were directly descended from Brutus and the Trojan
immigrants. There can be no doubt that the idea that legendary Brutus brought the
Stone from Troy and the saying about London’s fate if the Stone is lost or
damaged are both his own inventions. Sadly, Morgan’s fantasy is still quoted as
if it were an authentic ’medieval proverb’.