The True Origins of the Legend of Brutus of Troy and the London Stone
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  it went on display in the Museum of London.
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. ( 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.
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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 ( Public Domain )
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.’
Blake’s poetic association of the London Stone with Stonehenge helped in turn to fuel a wonderful, though completely unproven theory, suggested in E.O. Gordon’s Prehistoric London (1914), that Brutus’s temple on Ludgate Hill had been a stone circle, and the London Stone had been its heel stone. Some stone circles, including Stonehenge, have an outlying ‘heel’ stone, marking the spot from which significant sunrises or sunsets over the circle are best viewed. If the circle was for worshipping the sun god, then here was a further tenuous Brutus link, because the Greek sun god was Apollo, the brother of Diana, Brutus’s divine protectoress.
Gog and Magog being paraded through the streets of London in the Lord Mayor's Show. In myth, they were brought to London as captives by Brutus of Troy. Along with the London Stone, they help keep Lonon's Trojan myth alive in the 21st century. (Photo courtesy Anthony Adolph)
Maybe the name ‘heel’ really did recall Apollo’s Mycenaean alter ego, Helios. But absolutely no archaeological evidence for a stone circle on Ludgate Hill exists, despite the unprovable argument that the old Powle’s Cross, which used to stand in St Paul’s churchyard, had originally been one of its sarsens.
St Paul's Cathedral. Some people believe there was a stone circle on Ludgate Hill, where the cathedral now stands, and that the London Stone was an outlying 'heel' stone, marking a place from which the circle should be viewed. ( Photo courtesy Anthony Adolph)
Meanwhile, in 1798 John Carter referred to the London Stone as ‘the symbol of this great City’s quiet state … “fixed to its everlasting seat”’. Following him, Thomas Pennant said in 1793 that the London Stone was ‘preserved like the Palladium of the City’. That was no more than a metaphor, but in 1828 Edward Brayley elaborated this, commenting that the London Stone was ‘like the Palladium of Troy [and] the fate and safety of the City was argued to be dependent on its preservation’.
Without the Stone, London will Fall
It was only a matter of time now before the London Stone stopped being like the Palladium of Troy and actually became its pedestal.
The London Stone, in its grille in Cannon Street before it was moved recently to the Museum of London. (Photo courtesy Anthony Adolph)
The man who effected the transformation was the Reverend R.W. Morgan in his The British Kymry: or Britons of Cambria (1857)—an amazingly imaginative work which attempted to reclaim London for Welsh culture. Morgan seized on the idea that the London Stone had been the pedestal of the original Palladium. Brutus had brought it with him from Italy and placed it in Diana’s temple, and ‘on it the British kings were sworn to observe the Usages of Britain. It is now known as “London Stone”.’ This presupposes that Aeneas had managed to lug it out of Troy during the city’s destruction, something Virgil does not mention, and that Brutus (who, in the myth, was Aeneas’s great grandson) had been able to take it with him when he was exiled from Italy – which is rather ridiculous – and that it stayed with him throughout his wanderings.
Part of the ruins of Troy in modern Turkey. Some believe that the London Stone's journey began here. (Photo courtesy Anthony Adolph)
Perhaps in response to such criticism, Morgan wrote to Notes and Queries in 1862 under his bardic name Mor Merrion, reiterating his belief that the London Stone ‘was also the altar of Diana… Tradition also declares it was brought from Troy by Brutus, and laid down by his own hand as the altar-stone of the Diana Temple, the foundation stone of London and its Palladium.’ So now Brutus had gone direct to Troy to unearth it and bring it on his journey. Morgan’s story is probably what influenced a later story that the Brutus Stone in Totnes was, also, the Palladium Stone. It is a compelling myth that has stuck fast to both the Brutus Stone and the London Stone ever since.
Druids meeting on Tower Hill at the Spring Solstice. The revival of druidism in London is connected to the imaginative inspiration of the Rev. R.W. Morgan, who was also responsible for forging a link between the London Stone and Brutus. (Photo courtesy Anthony Adolph)
Morgan wrote also in 1857 that ‘the belief in old times was, that as long as it [the London Stone] remained, New Troy, or London, would continue to increase in wealth and power; with its disappearance, they would decrease and finally disappear.’ He elaborated this in 1862 too, quoting what he claimed was an old proverb, ‘So long as the Stone of Brutus is safe, so long will London flourish’, which he claimed to have translated from an old Welsh saying, ‘ Tra maen Prydain, Tra lled Llyndain ’. But this actually means ‘so long as the stone of Britain [exists], so long will London spread’.
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This supposedly ancient saying does not exist in any known Welsh source and John Clark argues that the proverb was probably Morgan’s very creative adaptation of a genuinely old Welsh saying from the Book of Taliesin , ‘ Tra môr, tra Brython ’, ‘as long as there is a sea there will be Britons’. Clark points out that Morgan had not quoted this proverb in his 1857 book, most likely because he had not yet invented it.
The rear of the London Stone, taken when the shop into whose wall it was set was used to sell sports equipment - an unusual juxtaposition of ancient and modern. (Photo courtesy Anthony Adolph)
Initially, Morgan’s imaginative ideas about ancient London seem to have been ignored. When Henry Charles Coote wrote a paper on the London Stone in Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society in 1881, he made no mention of Trojans. But in April 1888, an article in the popular weekly Chambers’s Journal repeated Morgan’s ideas and this seems to have pushed them at last into popular consciousness. They were an inspiration for many details in E.O. Gordon’s Prehistoric London (1914), and in 1937, Lewis Spence’s Legendary London cited an ‘old saying’ about the London Stone being the Stone of Brutus.
Unaware that Morgan had made this up less than eighty years before, Spence wrote knowingly of the stone as ‘the original communal fetish [stone] of London which represented the guardian spirit of the community’. Subsequent writings about the London Stone have built on this and have helped carry the myth of Brutus forward, wonderfully alive, into the twenty-first century.
Anthony Adolph is a professional genealogist and author of Brutus of Troy, and the Quest for the Ancestry of the British , which tells the full story of the mythological national founder of Britain. His book, Brutus of Troy, has been reviewed on Ancient Origins by author and historical researcher Petros Koutoupis.
For more on Anthony Adolph and to view his latest research in short films about Brutus of Troy and ancient humans, visit his profile here.