"As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, that we are fighting, but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself"
On this day in 1320 The Declaration of Arbroath was made. The document represented Scotland’s declaration of independence and was sent to Pope John XXII with the purpose of confirming Scotland's status as an independent, sovereign state and defending Scotland's right to use military action when unjustly attacked.
The Declaration made a number of points: that Scotland had always been independent, indeed for longer than England; that Edward I of England had unjustly attacked Scotland and perpetrated atrocities; that Robert the Bruce had delivered the Scottish nation from this peril; and, most controversially, that the independence of Scotland was the prerogative of the Scottish people, rather than the King of Scots. (However this should be taken in the context of the time - ‘Scottish People’ refers to the Scottish nobility, rather than commoners). In fact it stated that the nobility would choose someone else to be king if Bruce proved to be unfit in maintaining Scotland's independence.
It is generally believed that the Declaration was written in Arbroath Abbey by Bernard of Kilwinning, then Chancellor of Scotland and Abbot of Arbroath, and sealed by fifty-one magnates and nobles, the letter is the sole survivor of three created at the time. The others were a letter from the King of Scots, Robert I, also known as Robert the Bruce, and a letter from four Scottish bishops which all made similar points.
The Declaration was part of a broader diplomatic campaign, which sought to assert Scotland's position as an independent kingdom, rather than its being a feudal land controlled by England's Norman kings, as well as lift the excommunication of Robert the Bruce. The pope had recognised Edward I of England's claim to overlordship of Scotland in 1305 and Bruce was excommunicated by the Pope for murdering John Comyn before the altar in Greyfriars Church in Dumfries in 1306.
There are 39 names—eight earls and thirty one barons—at the start of the document, all of whom may have had their seals appended, probably over the space of several weeks or months, with nobles sending in their seals to be used. On the extant copy of the Declaration there are only 19 seals, and of those 19 people only 12 are named within the document. It is thought likely that at least 11 more seals than the original 39 might have been appended. The Declaration was then taken to the papal court at Avignon by Bishop Kininmund, Sir Adam Gordon and Sir Odard de Maubuisson.
The Pope heeded the arguments contained in the Declaration, influenced by the offer of support from the Scots for his long-desired crusade if they no longer had to fear English invasion. He exhorted Edward II in a letter to make peace with the Scots, but the following year was again persuaded by the English to take their side and issued six bulls to that effect. It was not until eight years later, on March 1st 1328, that the new English king, Edward III signed a peace treaty between Scotland and England, the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton. In this treaty, which was in effect for five years until 1333, Edward renounced all English claims to Scotland. Eight months later, in October 1328, the interdict on Scotland and the excommunication of its king were removed by the Pope.
The Declaration has been interpreted in a number of ways, including as an early expression of ‘popular sovereignty’, as evidence of the long-term persistence of the Scots as a distinct national community and as a statement of royal propaganda supporting Bruce's faction.
Later, Scotland would of course join England in an act of Union of 1707. However, the Declaration of Arbroath would continue to have influence further afield. US Senate Resolution 155 of November 10th 1997 states that the the American Declaration of Independence was modeled on the document. However, although this influence is accepted by some historians, it is disputed by others. In 2016 the Declaration of Arbroath was placed on UNESCO's Memory of the World register.
This scene was built by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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