| The Declaration
of Arbroath, 1320
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.
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.
Diplomatic Letter or Constitutional Document?
There is considerable debate over the Declarations 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: Scotlands most prosperous medieval town. As
an explanation, it failed to convince the pope to lift his sentence
of excommunication on Scotland.
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:
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 Balliols rightful kingship in
the first place.
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.
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