Documentary Analysis of the Declaration of Arbroath

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Documentary Analysis: The Declaration of Arbroath

The Declaration of Arbroath is, by far, one of the most celebrated documents in Scottish History. Since it's rediscovery in the 19th century it has become a symbol of national pride for Scots everywhere. However, one might begin to wonder not only, why this is so, but if the declaration does in fact deserve its mythical status. In order to even begin to answer these questions it is important to examine the document's historical context, content and, most importantly, its significance. In 1314, Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, led his army to an unlikely victory over the English at Bannockburn. It was one of the first decisive victories for the Scots over their enemies. Unfortunately for Bruce this was not enough to end the War of Independence against a determined Edward II. (Maclean, 2005) Scotland's domestic position improved dramatically after Bannockburn, however, due to poor relations with Pope John XXII the country did not enjoy much international support. Bruce had been excommunicated by the pope for the in church murder of John Comyn in 1306. For this reason, he was not recognized as king from the time of his inauguration until 1320 when the declaration was written. To make matters worse, England enjoyed great relations with the papacy and in 1319 Edward II was able to persuade the pope to excommunicate the whole kingdom of Scotland. In 1317, Pope John XXII attempted to negotiate peace between the two countries; however, both Edward and Robert the Bruce were unwilling to succumb to each others demands. After twenty years of mostly uninterrupted war Bruce, his nobles and the people of Scotland were growing increasingly more desperate for an end to the fighting. By 1320 relations with the pope were in crisis and if the Scots ever wanted peace with England something had to be done. It is under these circumstances in 1320 that the Declaration of Arbroath took rise.

The declaration of Arbroath was composed by Bernard of Linton, abbot of the abbey of Arbroath, and it was sealed by eight earls and thirty-one barons. The declaration was written as a letter to Pope John XXII in hopes that he would acknowledge Robert the Bruce as lawful king of an independent and free Scotland.

The declaration begins by drawing a comparison between the people of Scotland and the Israelites who came out of Egypt; suggesting that the Scots were a chosen people who were destined by God to claim the Northern lands of Britain. Not only did this chosen people witness the uninterrupted succession of one hundred and thirteen kings, but it drove out all foreign invaders (Norwegians, English and the Picts) who threatened Scotland and its people. This opening paragraph within the declaration is a very interesting one because many of the facts are exaggerated. While Scotland may technically have borne one hundred and thirteen kings the document fails to mention that many of these kings would have sworn their allegiance to Ireland and not to Scotland. (Broun, 1998, p.11) It is also worthwhile to note that many of the kings in this list were Pictish rulers who would have reigned at the same time as another. For a line of kings that was supposed to be of Scottish "…native and royal stock", it seems to have quite a few foreigners in it. While the history of the royal kingship is embellished to some extent it does not take away from the document itself. The purpose of the declaration was to convince Pope John XXII that Scotland should be recognized as a Kingdom so that he would persuade the English to relinquish their claim to Scottish soil. Through the historical embellishments a stronger case is created for the Scots.

The next significant section of the declaration discusses the betrayal of Edward I. During a time when the Scottish kingdom had been rendered kingless, Edward I came to them as a friend under the guise of alliance and confederacy. In 1296 the king of England invaded the nation...
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