The True Origins of the Legend of Brutus of Troy and the London Stone

The True Origins of the Legend of Brutus of Troy and the London Stone

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Until very recently, the London Stone was set into a shop wall in Cannon Street, nearly opposite the entrance to the railway station, but a few weeks ago it was removed and on 13 May this year [2016] it went on display in the Museum of London. 

London Stone, seen through its protective grille.

London Stone, seen through its protective grille. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

The London Stone is widely associated with Brutus of Troy, the subject of my biography Brutus of Troy and the Quest for the Ancestry of the British . The myth of Brutus has no basis in real history but was invented in the Dark Ages to provide Britain with a noble origin linked to the great mythologies of Rome and Greece, and in about 1135 Geoffrey of Monmouth developed his story and asserted that he founded London as Trinovantum, the new Troy in the West. He wrote nothing about the London Stone, and indeed it was to take a long process of myth-making after his death for the stone to become embedded in Brutus’s myth.

A 1553 representation of Brutus of Troy, a legendary descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas, was known in medieval British legend as the eponymous founder and first king of Britain, and the one who set the stone in its place.

A 1553 representation of Brutus of Troy, a legendary descendant of the Trojan hero Aeneas, was known in medieval British legend as the eponymous founder and first king of Britain, and the one who set the stone in its place. ( Public Domain )

So what is this mysterious stone, and how did it come to be linked to the myth of Britain’s ancient, mythological founding hero?

Mysterious Stone of Power

The stone used to be much bigger but centuries of wear and tear, and souvenir hunters chipping bits off it, have reduced it in size. It is a piece of oolite limestone, which is not local to London. It had either been brought up from Dorset or the Cotswolds or, more likely, down from the north side of the Chilterns. It has been there, and known as the London Stone, since at least 1108, when ‘ Eadwaker aet lundene stane ’ was mentioned in a list of tenants of Canterbury Cathedral’s properties in London. If it dates back as far as Roman times, it may be a Roman milliarium, one of a set of stones set up in Roman cities for the purpose of measuring the distances between them. Or it could have been there much longer.

In 1450, Jack Cade struck his sword on the London Stone and proclaimed himself mayor of London, a scene elaborated by Shakespeare in Henry VI, Part Two and used by some writers to argue that the stone had some ancient significance as a place for receiving power. Any hard evidence for this aside from the Cade story, however, is lacking. When William Camden wrote about the stone in the sixteenth century he knew of no such tradition. But it was known in medieval London as a place for settling deals and making announcements. Like Totnes’s stone, it may even have been called a ‘ bruiters [announcements] stone’. If so, it created a link between Brutus and a part of London that was palpably ancient, but there is no written evidence for that term being used for the London Stone.

Jack Cade on London Stone, 1881

Jack Cade on London Stone, 1881 ( Public Domain )

The ‘Brutus’ or ‘bruiters’ Stone in Totnes, England.

The ‘Brutus’ or ‘bruiters’ Stone in Totnes, England. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Geoffrey of Monmouth may have known about the West Country custom and assumed a link with the London Stone, but again, if he thought this, he did not write it (and nor did he mention the London Stone at all).

This all suggests that the London Stone’s entry into the Brutus myth came much later.

The Evolution of a Legend

As awareness of ancient monuments increased, John Strype, in his 1720 edition of Stow’s Survey of London , wondered if the stone had been ‘a Monument, of Heathen Worship’. This, and Hildebrand Jacob’s description of bloody druidical sacrifices in Gaul in his 1735 epic about Brutus, fed the imagination of the London visionary poet, William Blake.

In Jerusalem (circa 1804–1820), Blake imagined the victims of the druids of ancient London who ‘groan’d aloud on London Stone’ and the murder of Albion ‘in Stone-henge & on London Stone & in the Oak Groves of Malden, I have Slain him in my Sleep with the Knife of the Druid.’


Is this the same stone refereed to as the Coronation stone? If so I've read articles that claim this stone is actual stone that Jacob's head was resting on when he had his dream.

Anthony Adolph's picture

The Coronation Stone is a fascinating object, with many myths attached to it as you indicate, but it is completely different to the London Stone. But it’s an interesting point. The British Isles have two major origin myths, one (concerning the arrival of the sons of Milesius) from Gaelic Scotland and Ireland, and the other (concerning Brutus of Troy) from Wales. Both stories include stones – the  Coronation stone in the Gaelic tradition, and the London Stone in the one derived from Wales. It shows how myth-making often involves mirroring what is there already.  

What a pity that stones cannot speak... They could tell us so many wonderful stories.

Anthony Adolph's picture

I agree that it would be wonderful if we could find a way of making stones reveal their secrets, in the way we have found how to use DNA to discover the genetic history hidden in our own bodies. But until that day, we can use only surviving records, and myths: for the London Stone's story, I hope you have enjoyed the article above and that you will enjoy reading my book, "Brutus of Troy, and the quest for the ancestry of the British" which provides the wider context and background.

Definitely worth a look at.

The Chronicle of the Early Britons


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