News: The Declaration of Arbroath

A detail of the seals attached to the Declaration of Arbroath. National Records of Scotland. SP13/7

2020 marks the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, widely seen as Scotland’s most iconic document. Written 700 years ago, this fragile document and its evocative sentiments of medieval sovereign independence have given it special distinction, not just in Scotland, but around the world.

"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".

These are the best known words in the Declaration of Arbroath, foremost among Scotland's state papers and the most famous historical record held by National Records of Scotland (NRS). The Declaration is a letter written in 1320 by the barons and whole community of the kingdom of Scotland to the pope, asking him to recognise Scotland's independence and acknowledge Robert the Bruce as the country's lawful king.

The Declaration was written in Latin and was sealed by eight earls and about forty barons. Over the centuries various copies and translations have been made, including a microscopic edition. Images of the document as it is today can be viewed and purchased on the ScotlandsPeople image library.

 

An image of The Declaration of Arbroath

The Declaration of Arbroath
National Records of Scotland, SP13/7.

Following the recent announcement by the UK Government introducing strict new measures to tackle the COVID-19/Coronavirus, we have decided to postpone our planned events centred around the Declaration's anniversary. These events include a display of the document at the National Museum of Scotland, and a programme of public talks at NRS. We hope to reschedule them and will post updates on the NRS and ScotlandsPeople Twitter pages as well as on the NRS's events page. For more information on what services NRS is able to provide at this time, please visit the Service Status page.

To find out more about this record, please visit the NRS's Declaration of Arbroath page. Here you can read about its history, read a transcription and translation and view various versions and copies made over time.

On the NRS's vimeo channel, NRS Archivist Dr Alan Borthwick explains what the Declaration is and why it was created and the significance of the 19 seals attached to the document. Dr Borthwick explores the document's long and surprising history and explains more about its significance in this Open Book blog post

An information booklet, produced to mark the Declaration of Arbroath's 700th anniversary, is also available online. This booklet provides an introduction to this unique document and explains the context of its creation in the 14th century, what it achieved at that time and its history in the NRS. This booklet can be downloaded from the NRS website.

In 2016, UNESCO awarded the Declaration special status by including it in the ‘UK Memory of the World Register’. This honour was celebrated in a video produced by the Scottish Government. You can find out more about the UNESCO Memory of the World Register on the United Kingdom National Commission for UNESCO website.

 

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