The Arbroath Declaration of Scottish Independence, April 6, 1320 A.D.

"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 Scotlandís state papers is The Declaration of Arbroath. It is the best known of the treasures of the National Archives of Scotland and is famous the world over. It is an example of a more elaborate document that has seals attached.

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 Scotlandís 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 but seals were attached for authentication. Eight earls and thirty-eight barons put their seals to the Declaration. Their names were written by a 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.

The Declaration is a moving statement of Scotland's independence and of support for Robert I. It is an outstanding example of the diplomatic Latin style of the time, with its use of scriptural and classical quotations. The document emphasises Scotlandís long history as an independent Christian kingdom and describes the countryís sufferings under Edwardís aggression. Its rich language and rhythm build steadily to a climax in the well known phrase

 

Original written in Latin The English Translation below

Sanctissimo Patri in Christo ac Domino, domino Johanni, diuina prouidiencia Sacrosancte Romane et Vniuersalis Ecclesie Summo Pontifici, Filii Sui Humiles et deuoti Duncanus Comes de Fyf, Thomas Ranulphi Comes Morauie Dominus Mannie et Vallis Anandie, Patricius de Dumbar Comes Marchie, Malisius Comes de Stratheryne, Malcolmus Comes de Leuenax, Willelmus Comes de Ross, Magnus Comes Cathanie et Orkadie et Willelmus Comes Suthirlandie; Walterus Senescallus Scocie, Willelmus de Soules Buttelarius Scocie, Jacobus Dominus de Duglas, Rogerus de Moubray, Dauid Dominus de Brechyn, Dauid de Graham, Ingeramus de Vmfrauille, Johannes de Menetethe Custos Comitatus de Menetethe, Alexander Fraser, Gilbertus de Haya Constabularius Scocie, Robertus de Keth Marescallus Scocie, Henricus de Sancto Claro, Johannes de Graham, Dauid de Lindesay, Willelmus Olifaunt, Patricius de Graham, Johannes de Fentoun, Willelmus de Abirnithy, Dauid de Wemys, Willelmus de Montefixo, Fergusius de Ardrossane, Eustachius de Maxwell, Willelmus de Ramesay, Willelmus de Montealto, Alanus de Morauia, Douenaldus Cambell, Johannes Cambrun, Reginaldus le chen, Alexander de Setoun, Andreas de Lescelyne, et Alexander de Stratoun, Ceterique Barones et Liberetenenetes ac tota Communitas Regni Scocie, omnimodam Reuerenciam filialem cum deuotis Pedum osculis beatorum.

Scimus, Sanctissime Pater et Domine, et ex antiquorum gestis et libris Colligimus quod inter Ceteras naciones egregias nostra scilicet Scottorum nacio multis preconijs fuerit insignita, que de Maiori Schithia per Mare tirenium et Columpnas Herculis transiens et in Hispania inter ferocissimas gentes per multa temporum curricula Residens a nullis quantumcumque barbaricis poterat allicubi gentibus subiugari. Indeque veniens post mille et ducentos annos a transitu populi israelitici per mare rubrum sibi sedes in Occidente quas nunc optinet, expulsis primo Britonibus et Pictis omnino deletis, licet per Norwagienses, Dacos et Anglicos sepius inpugnata fuerit, multis cum victorijs et Laboribus quamplurimis adquisuit, ipsaque ab omni seruitute liberas, vt Priscorum testantur Historie, semper tenuit. In quorum Regno Centum et Tredescim Reges de ipsorum Regali prosapia, nullo alienigena interueniente, Regnauerunt.

Quorum Nobilitates et Merita, licet ex aliis non clarerent, satis patenter effulgent ex eo quod Rex Regum et dominancium dominus Jhesus Christus post passionem suam et Resurreccionem ipsos in vltimis terre finibus constitutos quasi primos ad suam fidem sanctissimam conuocauit. Nec eos per quemlibet in dicta fide confirmari voluit set per suum primum apostolum vocacione quamuis ordine secundum vel tercium, sanctum Andream mitissimum beati Petri Germanum, quem semper ipsis preesse voluit vt Patronum.

Hec autem Sanctissimi Patres et Predecessores vestri sollicita mente pensantes ipsum Regnum et populum vt beati Petri germani peculium multis fauoribus et priuilegijs quamplurimis Munierunt, Ita quippe quod gens nostra sub ipsorum proteccione hactenus libera deguit et quieta donec ille Princeps Magnificus Rex Anglorum Edwardus, pater istius qui nunc est, Regnum nostrum acephalum populumque nullius mali aut doli nec bellis aut insultibus tunc assuetum sub amici et confederati specie inimicabiliter infestauit. Cuius iniurias, Cedes, violencias, predaciones, incendia, prelatorum incarceraciones, Monasteriorum combustiones, Religiosorum spoliaciones et occisiones alia quoque enormia et innumera que in dicto populo exercuit, nulli parcens etati aut sexui, Religioni aut ordini, nullus scriberet nec ad plenum intelligeret nisi quem experiencia informaret.

A quibus Malis innumeris, ipso Juuante qui post uulnera medetur et sanat, liberati sumus per strenuissimum Principem, Regem et Dominum nostrum, Dominum Robertum, qui pro populo et hereditate suis de manibus Inimicorum liberandis quasi alter Machabeus aut Josue labores et tedia, inedias et pericula, leto sustinuit animo. Quem eciam diuina disposicio et iuxta leges et Consuetudines nostra, quas vsque ad mortem sustinere volumus, Juris successio et debitus nostrorum omnium Consensus et Assensus nostrum fecerunt Principem atque Regem, cui tanquam illi per quem salus in populo nostro facta est pro nostra libertate tuenda tam Jure quam meritis tenemur et volumus in omnibus adherere.

Quem si ab inceptis desisteret, regi Anglorum aut Anglicis nos aut Regnum nostrum volens subicere, tanquam inimicum nostrum et sui nostrique Juris subuersorem statim expellere niteremur et alium Regem nostrum qui ad defensionem nostram sufficeret faceremus. Quia quamdiu Centum ex nobis viui remanserint, nuncquam Anglorum dominio aliquatenus volumus subiugari. Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit. Hinc est, Reuerende Pater et Domine, quod sanctitatem vestram omni precum instancia genuflexis cordibus exoramus quatinus sincero corde Menteque pia recensentes quod apud eum cuius vices in terris geritis cum non sit Pondus nec distinccio Judei et greci, Scoti aut Anglici, tribulaciones et angustias nobis et Ecclesie dei illatas ab Anglicis paternis occulis intuentes, Regem Anglorum, cui sufficere debet quod possidet cum olim Anglia septem aut pluribus solebat sufficere Regibus, Monere et exhortari dignemini vt nos scotos, in exili degentes Scocia vltra quam habitacia non est nichilque nisi nostrum Cupientes, in pace dimittat. Cui pro nostra procuranda quiete quicquid possumus, ad statum nostrum Respectu habito, facere volumus cum effectu.

Vestra enim interest, sancte Pater, hoc facere qui paganorum feritatem, Christianorum culpis exigentibus, in Christianos seuientem aspicitis et Christianorum terminos arctari indies, quantumque vestre sanctitatis memorie derogat si (quod absit) Ecclesia in aliqua sui parte vestris temporibus patiatur eclipsim aut Scandalum, vos videritis. Excitet igitur Christianos Principes qui non causam vt causam ponentes se fingunt in subsidium terre sancte propter guerras quas habent cum proximis ire non posse. Cuius inpedimenti Causa est verior quod in Minoribus proximis debellandis vtilitas proprior et resistencia debilior estimantur. Set quam leto corde dictus dominus Rex noster et Nos si Rex Anglorum nos is pace dimitteret illus iremus qui nichil ignorat satis novit. Quod Christi vicario totique Christianitati ostendimus et testamur.

Quibus si sanctitas vestra Anglorum relatibus nimis credula fidem sinceram non adhibeat aut ipsis in nostram confusionem fauere non desinat, corporum excidia, animarum exicia, et cetera que sequentur incomoda que ipsi in nobis et Nos in ipsis fecerimus vobis ab altissimo credimus inputanda.

ilii vobis tanquam ipsius vicario parati in omnibus complacere, ipsique tanquam Summo Regi et Judici causam nostram tuendam committimus, Cogitatium nostrum Jactantes in ipso sperantesque firmiter quod in nobis virtutem faciet et ad nichilum rediget hostes nostros.

Sanctitatem ac sanitatem vestram conseruet altissimus Ecclesie sue sancte per tempora diuturna.

Datum apud Monasterium de Abirbrothoc in Scocis Sexto die mensis Aprilis Anno gracie Millesimo Trescentesimo vicesimo Anno vero Regni Regis nostri supradicti Quinto decimo.

 

Endorsed: Littere directe ad dominum Supremum Pontificem per communitatem Scocie.

 

__________________________________________________________________________

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.

From the deeds alike and the books of our forefathers, we understand, Most Holy Lord and Father, that among other noble nations our own, the Scottish, grows famous for many men of wide renown. The which Scottish nation, journeying from Greater Scythia by the Tyrrhene Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, could not in any place or time or manner be overcome by the barbarians, though long dwelling in Spain among the fiercest of them. Coming thence, twelve hundred years after the transit of Israel, with many victories and many toils they won that habitation in the West, which though the Britons have been driven out, the Picts effaced, and the Norwegians, Danes and English have often assailed it, they hold now, in freedom from all vassalage; and as the old historians bear witness, have ever so held it. In this kingdom have reigned a hundred and thirteen kings of their own Blood Royal, and no man foreign has been among them. Of their merits and their noble qualities we need say no more, for they are bright enough by this alone, that though they were placed in the furthest ends of the earth, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the King of Kings, called them amongst the first to His most firm faith, after His Passion and Resurrection. Nor did He choose to confirm them in the Lords Faith by any one less than His own first Apostle (although he stands second or third in order of rank) the most gracious Andrew, brother of Peter's self, whom ever since He has established their Patron.

Bearing all these things carefully in mind, those holiest of fathers, your predecessors, adorned and fortified this kingdom and people, as belonging especially to Peter's brother, with many favours and many privileges. Thus our nation till now has lived under their protection in peace and quiet, till the Magnificent Prince, Edward King of the English, the father of the Edward that now is, did, under cover of alliance and friendship, invade and occupy as an enemy our kingdom and people, who then had no head, who had in mind no evil towards him, and who then were unused to war or sudden invasion. What that king has done in wrongs and slaughter and violence, in imprisonings of the leaders of the Church, in burning and looting of religious houses and the massacres of their communities, with his other outrages on the Scottish people (sparing nor sex nor age nor priestly orders) is something that is not to be comprehended save by those who know these things from their own experience.

Yet, at last, by His help Who heals and sains the wounded, we are freed from these innumerable evils by our most valiant Sovereign, King, and Lord, King Robert, who to set free his heritage and his people faced, alike a new Maccabeus or Joshua, with joyful heart, toil, weariness, hardship, and dangers. By the providence of God, the right of succession, those laws and customs which we are resolved to defend even with our lives and by our own just consent, he is our King: and to him who has brought salvation to his people through the safeguarding of our liberties, as much by his own deserving as by his own rights, we hold and choose in all things to adhere. Yet Robert himself, should turn aside from the task that he has begun, and yield Scotland or us to the English king and people, we should cast out as the enemy of us all, as subverter of our rights and of his own, and should choose another king to defend our freedom: for so long as a hundred of us are left alive, we will yield in no least way to English dominion. We fight not for glory nor for wealth nor honours; but only and alone we fight for freedom, which no good man surrenders but with his life.

Because of these things, most reverend Father and Lord, praying earnestly from our hearts that before Him as Whose Vicar on Earth you reign, before Him to Whom their is but a single weight, Who has but one law for Jew and Greek and for Scots and English -- before Him will with honesty consider the manifest anguish and tribulation which we and the Church have suffered through the English, and will look upon us with a father's eyes. We pray you to admonish this King of England (to whom his possessions may well suffice, since England of old was enough for seven kings or more) that he should leave us in peace in our little Scotland, since we desire no more than is our own, and have no dwelling place beyond our own borders: and we on our part, for the sake of peace, are willing to do all within our power.

Most Holy Father, it is our part to do this, or surrender to the barbarity of the heathen, let loose for the sins of Christians on the Faithful, and daily forcing the bounds of Christendom, and you know it would mar the security of your fame if you looked unmoved on anything which in your time should bring dishonour on any part of the Church. May your Holiness therefore admonish those Christian princes who falsely claim that their own wars with their neighbours now hinder them from relieving the Holy Land: though indeed they are hindered only by their belief that they will find more profit and less toil in crushing neighbours smaller than themselves, who appear to them also weaker than themselves. He Who knows all knows that if the King of the English would leave us in peace, we and our own Lord King would go joyfully thither: which thing we solemnly testify and declare to the Vicar of Christ and to all Christian people. But if too readily, or insincerely, you put your faith in what the English have told you, and continue to favour them, to our confounding, then indeed shall the slaying of bodies, yea and of souls, and all those evils which they shall do to us, or we to them, be charged to your account by the Most High.

We are bound to you, as God's Viceregent, to please you by a son's obedience in all things. We remit our cause to the Highest King and Judge, casting our care on Him, in the hope and faith that He will grant us both strength and valour, and bring about our enemies' overthrow.

May the Most High preserve for many years Your Serene Highness to His Holy Church.

Given at the Monastery of Arbroath in Scotland the sixth day of April in the year of Grace one thousand three hundred and twenty, and in the fifteenth year of the King named above.

 

 
 

Arms of Sir Alexander Seton, Signator of the Declaration of Arbroath. 
Arms of Sir Alexander Seton, Signator of the Declaration of Arbroath © thesetonfamily.com

 
 
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