Declaration of Arbroath

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Scottish Independence

Scottish Independence

The Declaration of Arbroath is a declaration of Scottish independence, made in 1320. It is in the form of a letter submitted to Pope John XXII, dated 6 April 1320, intended to confirm Scotland's status as an independent, sovereign state and defending Scotland's right to use military action when unjustly attacked.

Sealed by fifty-one magnates and nobles, the letter is the sole survivor of three created at the time. The others were a letter from the King of Scots, Robert I, and a letter from four Scottish bishops which all presumably made similar points.



The Declaration was part of a broader diplomatic campaign which sought to assert Scotland's position as a kingdom,[1] rather than being a feudal land controlled by England's Norman kings, as well as lift the excommunication of Robert the Bruce.[2] The Pope had recognised Edward I of England's claim to overlordship of Scotland in 1305 and Bruce was excommunicated by the Pope for murdering John Comyn on the altar in Greyfriars Church in Dumfries in 1306.[2]

The Declaration made a number of much-debated rhetorical points: that Scotland had always been independent, indeed for longer than England; that Edward I of England had unjustly attacked Scotland and perpetrated atrocities; that Robert the Bruce had delivered the Scottish nation from this peril; and, most controversially, that the independence of Scotland was the prerogative of the Scots people, rather than the King of Scots. In fact it stated that the nobility would choose someone else to be king if the current one did anything to threaten Scotland's independence.

Some have interpreted this last point as an early expression of 'popular sovereignty'[3] – that kings could be chosen by the population rather than by God alone – it can also be argued[citation needed] to have been a means of passing the responsibility for disobeying papal commands from the king to the people. In other words, Robert I was arguing that he was forced to fight an illegal war (as far as the Pope was concerned, since they were meant to be fighting against the Infidel, not each other[4]) or face being deposed. However, the context suggests that this claim was made to bolster Bruce’s position as the legitimate ruler of Scotland.[citation needed] A justification had to be given for the rejection of King John in whose name William Wallace and Andrew de Moray rebelled in 1297. The reason given in the Declaration is that Bruce was able to defend Scotland from English aggression whereas, by implication, King John could not.[5]

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