The Declaration of Arbroath has been described as the most important document in Scottish history. It was drawn up at Arbroath Abbey on the 6th April 1320, quite probably by the resident abbot, Bernard de Linton in the aftermath of the decisive Scottish victory over the English king, Edward II at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. However despite the sweeping nature of this victory, and the consequent success of the Scottish king, Robert the Bruce in driving the English out of Scotland, Edward II had not renounced his claims to dominion over Scotland and was still threatening to return at some point in the future.

The title Declaration of Arbroath is in many ways a misnomer, as the document is not a public declaration of policy of any kind. The document's proper title is a Letter of Barons of Scotland to Pope John XXII which reveals its true nature; it is simply a letter written by the leaders of the Scottish independence movement to the Pope seeking to justify their actions. The letter was therefore naturally written in Latin, which was of course the language spoken by the church, but hardly the language of your average Scot.

The problem was that Robert the Bruce had been excommunicated in 1306 for the murder of his rival John Comyn at a church in Dumfries and consequently Pope John XXII was threatening to excommunicate the whole of Scotland unless they rejected Robert and accepted Edward's claim to rule. The purpose of the letter was to convince the Pope that Robert the Bruce was acting in accordance with the wishes of the Scottish people and they had a legitimate claim to treated as a separate nation from the English. Its view of history, given in justification, in the second paragraph of the letter is entirely fictional and mythical where it is not simply downright inaccurate. But then most views of history at that time were similarly fictional and inaccurate.

Essentially the letter is a diplomatic document; concerned with winning support from an influential foreign power, which is basically what the Roman Catholic Church was at the time.

The letter is famous for its resounding declaration that;

as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule
which is where it gets its reputation from as a Scottish declaration of independence.

It is also worth noting that the Declaration's view of Scottish kingship is that it was based on consent, when it refers to Robert the Bruce, and states that;

his right of succession according to our 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.
Although no doubt, contemporary ideas of consent were restricted to those that mattered, that is the nobility, and were not necesserily extended to the average peasant.

It has been claimed that the Declaration of Arbroath was used as a model for the better known American Declaration of Independence, but I can't really see it myself. Most of the letter concerns itself with variously phrased pleas to the Pope which, generally speaking, was not a concern for eighteenth century Americans.

The Declaration of Arbroath
more properly known as
Letter of Barons of Scotland to Pope John XXII

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 our 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.

' 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.'


So here we are then, on the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath.

One wonders what the barons and Robert the Bruce would have thought about the current state of the English rule Scotland is under.

In what seems like a generation ago (irony applied), in 2014 the citizens of Scotland 'decisively' said no to the question put forward to them of 'Should Scotland be an independent country?' at a ratio of 55 to 45 percent. A few years later in the so-called 'Brexit referendum' Scotland quite emphatically chose to remain a part of the European Union with an over-all 67% choosing so. However, the whole of the UK, bolstered by English votes, chose to--again referred to as 'decisively'-- leave at a percentage of 52 to 48.

A lot of promises were made to Scotland in the weeks before the Independence referendum, including 'The Vow', a last-minute scramble panic over polling by the Prime Minister and other political party leaders of 'a modern form of home rule'. That is, further devolution of powers held by the mostly English controlled UK parliament such as full tax decisions, benefit control, immigration and other sensible rights. The day after, Prime Minister David Cameron took to the podium outside the residence at No 10 and noted it was about time in Parliament for only the English to vote on English laws (yup, acronymed to EVEL). The Smith Commission delivering 'The Vow' decided what that 'modern form of home rule' was: the ability to choose what to tax airports with, the choice of how to disperse benefits, and other bits and bobs such as letting the public sector bid to take over rail franchises.

An even further promise, and in fact the entire basis of the 'No' campaign in the Independence question was that the UK would be 'Better Together' to 'Not Leave, Lead'. A campaign advertisement had an apparent housewife gushing about how she couldn't leave because of the children, along with an admonition to 'eat your cereal': a literal 'Keep Calm and Carry On Swallowing What We Dish Out'. Not too long after the referendum: Brexit. The three countries also part of the UK (I suppose I need to spell it out as Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) had politely asked for fairness in the vote: if Wales or Scotland voted decisively to remain in the EU, this would count as a veto. This was embraced in the spirit of Better Together and... no, no it wasn't. After the Vote, Northern Ireland and Scotland noted that as the vote was so close, and these two countries had chosen to remain, a 'soft Brexit' should be the sensible way to move forward. This leadership was lauded and... no, no it wasn't.

So here we are. 700 years to the day and the independence movement in Scotland is still vibrant. One would not tell so much by any UK (and even Scottish) reporting, despite the fact that the country is still led by a party with independence at its heart. (Note: there's been some developments lately that indicate it isn't really that much at its heart any longer, but this is a much longer story) Vast rallies called 'All Under One Banner' have been taking place in various Scottish cities over the last 18 months, with a vibrant peaceful attendance very often under-reported and miscounted. The Scottish National Party, a few months after the Referendum --wherein Unionists felt the party was utterly destroyed-- took well over 90% of the UK parliament seats. Later, after Cameron resigned with a little cheerful whistle after the Brexit results, the following election casue a few lossed to the Conservatives in the most part, who had funnelled millions of pounds of 'dark money' into cold-calling campaigns. The following election to pip that cheery --dare i say cheeky? -- boffin Boris Johnson into a terrifying position of power again brought the percentage of SNP MP's to about 90 per cent.

The National Health Service in Scotland is one of the country's few great devolved powers, and although its budget is 'ring-fenced' it is fixed proportionally against the budget given to the rest of the UK's NHS. Even with a year on year slice to its funding it has consistently 'performed' better than the other countries' health services. That is, even when things get tough, there is some resilience. This is something no one in England is quite aware of, because it is not reported. Instead, when a stat for say, ambulance response goes down a quarter of percent it is reported in Scotland and the rest of UK as a damning proof for how awful Scotland is at this. This is despite other nations several percent and even over 10 percent worse at the same service. This is the 'Better Together' we live in.

The commemoration of this 700th anniversary of what is essentially Scotland's national founding document has been cancelled, for of course the same reason everything is cancelled. Cannily, the Scots had been so stereotypically parsimonious, that nothing was really planned: Some flags. A display of the document. A poem, maybe? And one of the AUOB rallies in Arbroath.

We went for a walk today, down to what's called The Shore in Leith, which is an enclosed harbour and nice enough especially as it's empty of, well, everyone right now. Taking a look at a large oil drilling support ship moored further outside the harbour we took a little detour, cutting along a small cobbled path on one side of the Shore.

Chalked along an arch of flagstones was the above 'It is in truth not for glory...' quote.

Scotland is not free. It has been stolen from, plundered, and held under a heavy foot while a hand sprinkles the confetti shreds of eternal empty promises. At some point it will be fought for.

a pretty decent half-hour documentary on the Declaration of Arbroath

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