Robert Bruce and the Declaration of Arbroath


Scottish freedom


  • Intro

    In the early 1300s, Scotland’s independence was under threat from Edward I of England. The Scots fought back against Edward, the most famous rebel being William Wallace. He crushed the English at Stirling in 1297 and was declared Guardian of Scotland. He was severely defeated the following year at Falkirk and stayed on the run until 1305, when he was captured, hanged, disembowelled, beheaded, and quartered.


    Robert Bruce saw Wallace's death. He had initially sworn allegiance to Edward - but when he supported Wallace's revolt, Edward destroyed Robert's land. They eventually made peace and Robert became one of the Regents of Scotland. However, in 1306, while Edward planned to take control of Scotland, Robert was wondering how to defeat him. He tried to collaborate with his nearest rival to the throne, John Comyn. But, unable to agree, Robert ended up killing Comyn during a heated argument.


    Robert had to act quickly for fear of arrest. On impulse he had himself crowned king of Scotland. It was a high-risk tactic, knowing what had happened to Wallace. In 1320 Robert sent an embassy to Rome bearing a 'Letter from the barons and freeholders, and the whole community of the kingdom of Scotland to Pope John XXII' , better known as the Declaration of Arbroath, asking the Pope to recognise Scottish sovereignty.


    Originally in Latin, it is one of the most rousing documents ever written in support of a nation's freedom, It details the ancient history of the Scottish people and lists the oppressive activities of the English. At its heart is the following defiant, stirring and justly famous section: ‘ 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 text shown here is a copy of the declaration, made about 65 years later.


    Shelfmark: Royal 13 E. X, ff. 207v-208r

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