Family Research – English, Scottish and Irish Genealogy

7/2/2005

Declaration of Arbroath, 6 April 1320

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.

Foremost among Scotland’s state papers is The Declaration of Arbroath. It is the best known of our treasures and is famous the world over. The Declaration is a letter from the earls and barons of Scotland to the Pope, asking him to recognise Scotland’s independence and acknowledge Robert the Bruce as the country’s lawful king.

It was written during the long war of independence with England which started with Edward I’s attempt to conquer Scotland in 1296. When the deaths of Alexander III and his granddaughter left Scotland without a monarch, Edward used the invitation to help choose a successor as an excuse to revive English claims of overlordship. When the Scots resisted, he invaded. Wallace’s victory at Stirling Bridge in 1297 won a temporary respite, but Edward refused to relinquish his claims. In 1306 Bruce seized the throne and began a long struggle to free Scotland from the invaders. His success at Bannockburn in 1314 did not end the war, but it allowed normal government to be re-established. However the English still refused to recognise Scotland’s independence or Bruce’s position as king.

On the European front, by 1320 Scottish relations with the Papacy were in crisis after they defied papal efforts to establish a truce with England. When the Pope excommunicated the king and three of his bishops, the Scots sent the Declaration of Arbroath as part of a diplomatic counter-offensive. The original letter delivered to the Pope in Avignon is lost, but we know it reached him. He wrote to Edward II urging him to make peace, but it was not until 1328 that Scotland’s independence was acknowledged.

The Declaration was probably drawn up by Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath and Chancellor of Scotland. Documents at that time were not signed, seals were attached for authentication. Eight earls and thirty eight barons put their seals to the Declaration. Their names were written by the clerk at the foot of the parchment.

The document in the NAS is the only surviving copy of the Declaration. It was kept with the rest of the national archives in Edinburgh Castle until the early 17th century. When work was being done on the castle, the Declaration was taken for safekeeping to Tynninghame, the home of the official in charge of the records. While there it suffered damage through damp, but we have the full text from an earlier engraving. It returned to the national archives in 1829.

Source National Archives of Scotland

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