Scotlands History

The Declaration of Arbroath

Alongside the battles and bloodshed of the Wars of Independence there was a diplomatic struggle - a war of words. Robert the Bruce and King Edward II vied for the support of the Pope.

The Pope was a powerful figure in the medieval age. Bruce’s killing of Comyn on holy ground at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries had led to his excommunication. The Pope had turned his back on Bruce - in 1318 the Bruce, his lieutenants and his bishops were all excommunicated.

Bruce reacted by having three letters sent to the Pope. The first was a letter from Robert, the second from the Scots clergy, and the third from the nobles of Scotland. The third letter became known as the Declaration of Arbroath and survives to this day.

...we have been set free... by our most tireless prince, King and lord, the lord Robert...  Yet if he should give up what he has begun, seeking to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy... and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King

At Arbroath Abbey eight Scots earls and 38 barons attached their seals to the Declaration.

The letters, written in Latin and dated 6 April 1320, were carried to Pope John XXII. They had little effect at the time - the excommunications were suspended but later confirmed - but the Declaration of Arbroath has grown in importance over the centuries.

The Declaration of Arbroath, in translation, has become a rallying cry. long as a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be subjected to the lordship of the English. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

Some historians believe that the Declaration of Arbroath may have influenced America’s founding fathers and the United States Declaration of Independence.

Today the Declaration of Arbroath is a national treasure - arguably the most famous historical record cared for by the National Archives of Scotland (NAS) in Edinburgh.

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The Declaration of Arbroath

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