Monday, April 06, 2020

Declaration of Arbroath

Today is the 700th anniversary of the Declaratio Arbroathis, also known as the Tiomnadh Bhruis, the Declaration o Aiberbrothock, and, of course, the Declaration of Arbroath. Pope John XXII had recognized the claim of Edward I of England over Scotland. Robert the Bruce had been excommunicated due to killing a rival in a church (the circumstances under which this happened are extremely unclear and we do not know exactly what led to that happening), and, when the excommunication was lifted, he was warned that he must make peace with England or be excommunicated again. War, however, was pretty much unavoidable at that point, and due to the fact that it continued, Robert the Bruce was excommunicated again in 1320. In response, Robert and the Scottish barons wrote a letter to the pope defending their independence from England, their right to self-defense, and the legitimacy of Robert's rule. This is the Declaration.

From these countless evils, with His help who afterwards soothes and heals wounds, we are freed by our tireless leader, king, and master, Lord Robert, who like another Maccabaeus or Joshua, underwent toil and tiredness, hunger and danger with a light spirit in order to free the people and his inheritance from the hands of his enemies. And now, the divine Will, our just laws and customs, which we will defend to the death, the right of succession and the due consent and assent of all of us have made him our leader and our king. To this man, inasmuch as he saved our people, and for upholding our freedom, we are bound by right as much as by his merits, and choose to follow him in all that he does.

But if he should cease from these beginnings, wishing to give us or our kingdom to the English or the king of the English, we would immediately take steps to drive him out as the enemy and the subverter of his own rights and ours, and install another King who would make good our defence. Because, while a hundred of us remain alive, we will not submit in the slightest measure, to the domination of the English. We do not fight for honour, riches, or glory, but solely for freedom which no true man gives up but with his life.

(It has been noted by historians that the conception of government found in the document is heavily influenced by Sallust's Conspiracy of Cataline.) The Declaration was sent to the Pope, who wrote Edward asking him to do more to make peace with the Scots, but otherwise did not much in his position. Scottish independence was only recognized by England in the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton in 1328, after which the excommunication was lifted. The Declaration itself fell largely out of sight until republication in the seventeenth century, but has since been regarded as one of the central documents of Scottish heritage.