The Declaration of Arbroath, 1320
‘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.’
Extract from the Declaration of Arbroath, 1320.
The Declaration of Arbroath is without doubt the most famous document in Scottish history. Like the American Declaration of Independence, which is partially based on it, it is seen by many as the founding document of the Scottish nation. It was drafted on the 6th April 1320 - a day the United States of America has declared to be Tartan Day.
The Declaration is a Latin letter which was sent to Pope John XXII in April/May 1320. It was most likely drafted in the scriptorium of Arbroath Abbey by Abbot Bernard on behalf of the nobles and barons of Scotland. It was one of three letters sent to the Pope in Avignon, the other two being from King Robert Bruce himself and from four Scottish bishops, attempting to abate papal hostility. The document received the seals of several Scottish barons and it then was taken to the papal court at Avignon in France by Sir Adam Gordon.
Cunning Diplomatic Letter or Constitutional Document?
There is considerable debate over the Declaration’s significance. For some it is simply a diplomatic document; while others see it as a radical movement in western constitutional thought.
It could be viewed as a cunning diplomatic ploy by the Scottish barons to explain and justify why they were still fighting their neighbours when all Christian princes were supposed to be united in crusade against the Muslims. All this, just at the point when they were about to retake Berwick: Scotland’s most prosperous medieval town. As an explanation, it failed to convince the pope to lift his sentence of excommunication on Scotland.
Others analyse what the Declaration of Arbroath actually says. The Scots clergy had produced not only one of the most eloquent expressions of nationhood, but the first expression of the idea of a contractual monarchy. Here is the critical passage in question:
‘Yet if he (Bruce) should give up what he has begun, and agree 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 a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, 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.’
Extract from the Declaration of Arbroath
The threat to drive Bruce out if he ever sold Scotland to English rule was a fantastic bluff. There was nobody else to take his place. The point is that the nobles and clergy are not basing their argument to the pope on the traditional notion of the Divine Rights of Kings. Bruce is King first and foremost because the nation chose him, not God, and the nation would just as easily choose another if they were betrayed by the King. The explanation also neatly covers the fact that Bruce had usurped John Balliol’s rightful kingship in the first place.
In spite of all possible motivations for its creation, the Declaration of Arbroath, under the extraordinary circumstances of the Wars of Independence, was a prototype of contractual kingship in Europe.
From JAH – Scottish Declaration of Independence
In Arbroath Abbey, following the removal of the "Stone of Destiny" to Westminster, king Robert "the Bruce" of Scotland was visited by two emissaries of pope John 22 to whom Edward 2 of England had appealed for help to compel Scotland to acknowledge England's lordship. These emissaries bore a message from the pope advising Bruce to submit to Edward's claims, but Bruce and his nobles drafted a letter which they addressed to pope John 22 and which can still be seen in Register House in Edinburgh. It had attached to it coloured ribbons and seals with the signatures of Robert the Bruce and twenty-five of his nobles. The letter which is drafted:- April 6, 1320, read in part:-
"We know Most Holy Father and Lord (blasphemy - Matthew 23:9), and from the chronicles and books of the ancients gather, that among other illustrious nations, our's, to wit, the nation of the Scots, has been distinguished by many honours; which passing from the greater Sythia through the Mediterranean Sea and Pillars of Hercules (Gibraltar) and sojourning in Spain (Iberia - Heberia - the Hebrew's land) among most savage tribes through a long course of time, could nowhere be subjugated by any people however barbarous; and coming thence one thousand two hundred years after the outgoing of the People of Israel (the Exodus), they by many victories and infinite toil, acquired for themselves the possessions in the West which they now hold........In their kingdom one hundred and thirteen kings of their own royal stock, no stranger intervening, have reigned...." (Deuteronomy 17:14-20).
For so long as a hundred of us are left alive we will yield in no least way to English domination. We fight not for glory, nor for wealth nor honour, but only and alone for freedom, which no man surrenders but with his life." (Praiseworthy - Matthew 10:28)
This letter thus asserts that the Scots who had the "Stone of Destiny" ("Lia Fail") were connected with the ancient people of Israel (the ten so-called Lost Tribes); whom archaeology has established became the Scythians and the Cimmerians of history, whose origin had been a mystery. Lost to their true identity as foretold in The Scriptures, (Romans 11:25), the Israelites migrated to their appointed place (2 Samuel 7:10); some crossing Europe by land, others by ships through the Mediterranean to the coast-lands of Europe and the Isles in the West. The Scots claim ancestry to the branch of the Cimmerians (Celts) that dwelt in Spain for a period, and eventually came over to the Islands of Britain. They also claim that their royal line of kings (from Judah/Zarah of the Red hand - Genesis 38:30) has remained unbroken throughout their migrations.
Romans 11:25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness (as to their true identity) is happened to part of Israel (the ten "lost" tribes - the House of Israel), until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
2 Samuel 7:10 Moreover I will appoint a place for My people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime.
Josephus, the historian, writing in A.D. 70, seems to have had knowledge of the migrations of most of the Israelites from Asia toward Europe, for, in his "Antiquities of the Jews" he writes: "...wherefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond the Euphrates till now (A.D. 70) and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers" (book 11, chap. 5). - JAH (See Stone of Scone article for JAH synopsis)
The Declaration of Arbroath (English Translation)
To the most Holy Father and Lord in Christ, the Lord John, by divine providence Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Roman and Universal Church, his humble and devout sons Duncan, Earl of Fife, Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, Lord of Man and of Annandale, Patrick Dunbar, Earl of March, Malise, Earl of Strathearn, Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, William, Earl of Ross, Magnus, Earl of Caithness and Orkney, and William, Earl of Sutherland; Walter, Steward of Scotland, William Soules, Butler of Scotland, James, Lord of Douglas, Roger Mowbray, David, Lord of Brechin, David Graham, Ingram Umfraville, John Menteith, guardian of the earldom of Menteith, Alexander Fraser, Gilbert Hay, Constable of Scotland, Robert Keith, Marischal of Scotland, Henry St Clair, John Graham, David Lindsay, William Oliphant, Patrick Graham, John Fenton, William Abernethy, David Wemyss, William Mushet, Fergus of Ardrossan, Eustace Maxwell, William Ramsay, William Mowat, Alan Murray, Donald Campbell, John Cameron, Reginald Cheyne, Alexander Seton, Andrew Leslie, and Alexander Straiton, and the other barons and freeholders and the whole community of the realm of Scotland send all manner of filial reverence, with devout kisses of his blessed feet.
Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today. The Britons they first drove out, the Picts they utterly destroyed, and, even though very often assailed by the Norwegians, the Danes and the English, they took possession of that home with many victories and untold efforts; and, as the historians of old time bear witness, they have held it free of all bondage ever since. In their kingdom there have reigned one hundred and thirteen kings of their own royal stock, the line unbroken a single foreigner.
The high qualities and deserts of these people, were they not otherwise manifest, gain glory enough from this: that the King of kings and Lord of lords, our Lord Jesus Christ, after His Passion and Resurrection, called them, even though settled in the uttermost parts of the earth, almost the first to His most holy faith. Nor would He have them confirmed in that faith by merely anyone but by the first of His Apostles -- by calling, though second or third in rank -- the most gentle Saint Andrew, the Blessed Peter's brother, and desired him to keep them under his protection as their patron forever.
The Most Holy Fathers your predecessors gave careful heed to these things and bestowed many favours and numerous privileges on this same kingdom and people, as being the special charge of the Blessed Peter's brother. Thus our nation under their protection did indeed live in freedom and peace up to the time when that mighty prince the King of the English, Edward, the father of the one who reigns today, when our kingdom had no head and our people harboured no malice or treachery and were then unused to wars or invasions, came in the guise of a friend and ally to harass them as an enemy. The deeds of cruelty, massacre, violence, pillage, arson, imprisoning prelates, burning down monasteries, robbing and killing monks and nuns, and yet other outrages without number which he committed against our people, sparing neither age nor sex, religion nor rank, no one could describe nor fully imagine unless he had seen them with his own eyes.
But from these countless evils we have been set free, by the help of Him Who though He afflicts yet heals and restores, by our most tireless Prince, King and Lord, the Lord Robert. He, that his people and his heritage might be delivered out of the hands of our enemies, met toil and fatigue, hunger and peril, like another Macabaeus or Joshua and bore them cheerfully. Him, too, divine providence, his right of succession according to or laws and customs which we shall maintain to the death, and the due consent and assent of us all have made our Prince and King. To him, as to the man by whom salvation has been wrought unto our people, we are bound both by law and by his merits that our freedom may be still maintained, and by him, come what may, we mean to stand.
Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree 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 a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, 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.
Therefore it is, Reverend Father and Lord, that we beseech your Holiness with our most earnest prayers and suppliant hearts, inasmuch as you will in your sincerity and goodness consider all this, that, since with Him Whose Vice-Regent on earth you are there is neither weighing nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman, you will look with the eyes of a father on the troubles and privation brought by the English upon us and upon the Church of God. May it please you to admonish and exhort the King of the English, who ought to be satisfied with what belongs to him since England used once to be enough for seven kings or more, to leave us Scots in peace, who live in this poor little Scotland, beyond which there is no dwelling-place at all, and covet nothing but our own. We are sincerely willing to do anything for him, having regard to our condition, that we can, to win peace for ourselves.
This truly concerns you, Holy Father, since you see the savagery of the heathen raging against the Christians, as the sins of Christians have indeed deserved, and the frontiers of Christendom being pressed inward every day; and how much it will tarnish your Holiness's memory if (which God forbid) the Church suffers eclipse or scandal in any branch of it during your time, you must perceive. Then rouse the Christian princes who for false reasons pretend that they cannot go to help of the Holy Land because of wars they have on hand with their neighbours. The real reason that prevents them is that in making war on their smaller neighbours they find quicker profit and weaker resistance. But how cheerfully our Lord the King and we too would go there if the King of the English would leave us in peace, He from Whom nothing is hidden well knows; and we profess and declare it to you as the Vicar of Christ and to all Christendom.
But if your Holiness puts too much faith in the tales the English tell and will not give sincere belief to all this, nor refrain from favouring them to our prejudice, then the slaughter of bodies, the perdition of souls, and all the other misfortunes that will follow, inflicted by them on us and by us on them, will, we believe, be surely laid by the Most High to your charge.
To conclude, we are and shall ever be, as far as duty calls us, ready to do your will in all things, as obedient sons to you as His Vicar; and to Him as the Supreme King and Judge we commit the maintenance of our cause, csating our cares upon Him and firmly trusting that He will inspire us with courage and bring our enemies to nought.
May the Most High preserve you to his Holy Church in holiness and health and grant you length of days.
Given at the monastery of Arbroath in Scotland on the sixth day of the month of April in the year of grace thirteen hundred and twenty and the fifteenth year of the reign of our King aforesaid.
Endorsed: Letter directed to our Lord the Supreme Pontiff by the community of Scotland.
Additional names written on some of the seal tags: Alexander Lamberton, Edward Keith, John Inchmartin, Thomas Menzies, John Durrant, Thomas Morham (and one illegible).
Declaration of ArbroathThe Declaration of Arbroath was a declaration of Scottish independence, and set out to confirm Scotland's status as an independent, sovereign state and its use of military action when unjustly attacked. It is in the form of a letter submitted to Pope John XXII, dated 6 April 1320. 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 and a letter from the clergy which all presumably made similar points.
Taken From Wikipedia.
The Declaration made a number of much-debated rhetorical 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 I of Scotland had delivered the Scottish nation from this peril, and, most controversially, that the independence of Scotland was the prerogative of the Scots people, rather than the King of Scots. In fact it stated that the nobility would choose someone else to be king if the current one did anything to threaten Scotland's independence.
While often interpreted as an early expression of 'popular sovereignty' – that kings could be chosen by the population rather than by God alone – it can also be argued to have been a means of passing the responsibility for disobeying papal commands from the king to the people. In other words, Robert I was arguing that he was forced to fight an illegal war (as far as the pope was concerned) or face being deposed.
Written in Latin, it is believed to have been drafted by Bernard, abbot of Arbroath Abbey (often identified as Bernard de Linton, although his surname is unknown), who was the Chancellor of Scotland at the time. While dated to 6 April 1320 at Arbroath Abbey, there was in fact no meeting of nobles there by whom the document was drafted. Instead the document may have been discussed at a council meeting at Newbattle Abbey, Midlothian, in March 1320 (although firm evidence for such a debate is lacking). Arbroath was simply the location of the royal chancery (in other words Abbot Bernard's writing office), and the date provides evidence only for his part in proceedings.
The seals of eight earls and as many as forty-one other Scottish nobles were appended to the document, probably over the space of some weeks and months, with nobles sending in their seals to be used, perhaps under some duress. It has been argued that this resentment played a role in the Soules Conspiracy to overthrow Robert I later in 1320. The Declaration was then taken to the papal court at Avignon.
The Pope seems to have paid some heed to the arguments contained by the Declaration, although its contemporary influence should not be overstated. It was in part due to his intervention that a short-lived peace treaty between Scotland and England, the Treaty of Northampton, renouncing all English claims to Scotland, was finally signed by the English king, Edward III, on the 1 March 1328.
The original copy of the Declaration that was sent to Avignon is lost. However a file copy has been maintained by the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh. The most widely known English language translation was created by Sir James Fergusson, formerly Keeper of the Records of Scotland, from text that he reconstructed using this extant copy and early copies of the original draft. One passage in particular is often quoted from the Fergusson translation:
...for, 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.
The stirring rhetoric of the Declaration has made it famous both in Scotland, and internationally, and it is argued that it had some influence on the drafters of the United States Declaration of Independence. Debate still rages about the contemporary relevance of the document – whether it represented the genuine thoughts of the nobility regarding independence, sovereignty and the proto-democratic right of the people to choose a king, or whether it was above all a piece of royal propaganda and special pleading, drafted strictly under the control of the chief royal minister, Abbot Bernard. However it is not disputed that the document subsequently played an influential role in the history of Scottish national identity and the creation of the common belief (whether based in legal reality or not) that in Scotland it is the 'people' that are sovereign, rather than the monarch or parliament, as in England.