Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Declaration of Arbroath

The Declaration of Arbroath was signed on April 6, 1320.  This declaration was a response to Pope John XXII's excommunication of Robert Bruce, in the context of the ongoing wars with Edward I of England over sovereignty of Scotland.  John favored Edward's claim to Scotland.  According to author John Prebble, 'The Declaration of Arbroath was and has been unequalled in its eloquent plea for the liberty of man. From the darkness of medieval minds it shone a torch upon future struggles which its signatories could not have foreseen or understood.  The author of this noble Latin address is unknown, though it is assumed to have been composed by Bernard de Linton, Abbot of Arbroath and Chancellor of Scotland...'

Among these eloquent words: "For we fight not for glory nor for riches nor for honour, but only and alone for freedom, which no good man surrenders but with his life".

Sir Walter Scott discusses Arbroath as well, in his "Scotland":

'The pope continued obstinate in his displeasure, and as it broke forth anew just after the retreat of King Edward and the truce he had made with Scotland (1319), there is reason to believe that the holy father resumed his severe measures in compliance with the desires of the English king, who endeavored thus to maintain a spiritual war against Bruce after having laid down his temporal weapons. Indeed, it will afterward appear that Robert alleged the machinations of Edward II at Rome as an apology for his own breach of the truce. These intrigues were, however, successful; the pope once more renewed the thunders of his excommunication against Bruce and his adherents, in a bull of great length; and the inefficacy that had hitherto attended these efforts of his spleen had offended the pope so highly that the prelates of York and London were ordered to repeat the ceremony, with bell, book, and candle, every Sunday and festival day through the year.

The parliament of Scotland now took it upon them to reply to the pope in vindication of themselves and their sovereign. At Aberbrothock or Arbroath, on the 6th of April, 1320, eight earls and thirty-one barons of Scotland, together with the great officers of the crown, and others, in the name of the whole-community of Scotland, placed their names and seals to a spirited manifesto or memorial, in which strong sense and a manly spirit of freedom are mixed with arguments suited to the ignorance of the age.

This celebrated document commences with an enumeration of proofs of the supposed antiquity of the Scottish nation, detailing its descent from Scota, daughter of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, its conversion to the Christian faith by Saint Andrew the Apostle, with the long barbarous roll of baptized and unbaptized names, which, false and true, filled up the line of the royal family. Having astounded, as they doubtless conceived, the pontiff with the nation's claim to antiquity, of which the Scots have been at all times more than sufficiently tenacious, they proceeded in a noble tone of independence. The unjust interference of Edward I. with the affairs of a free people, and the calamities which his ambition had brought upon Scotland, were forcibly described, and the subjection to which his oppression had reduced the country was painted as a second Egyptian bondage, out of which their present sovereign had conducted them victoriously by his valor and prudence, like a second Joshua or Maccabaeus. The crown they declared was Bruce's by right of blood, by the merit which deserved it, and the free consent of the people who bestowed it. But yet they added in express terms, that not even to this beloved and honored monarch would they continue their allegiance, should he show an inclination to subject his crown or his people to homage or dependence on England, but that they would in that case do their best to resist and expel him from the throne; "for," say the words of the letter, "while a hundred Scots are left to resist, they will fight for the liberty that is dearer to them than life." They required that the pope, making no distinction of persons, like that Heaven of which he was the vicegerent, would exhort the king of England to remain content with his fair dominions, which had formerly been thought large enough to supply seven kingdoms, and cease from tormenting and oppressing a poor people, his neighbors, whose only desire was to live free and unoppressed in the remote region where fate had assigned them their habitation. They reminded the pope of his duty to preserve a general pacification throughout Christendom, that all nations might join in a crusade for the recovery of Palestine, in which they and their king were eager to engage, but for the impediment of the English war. They concluded by solemnly declaring, that if his holiness should, after this explanation, favor the English in their schemes for the oppression of Scotland, at his charge must lie all the loss of mortal life and immortal happiness which might be forfeited in a war of the most exterminating character. Lastly, the Scottish prelates and barons declared their spiritual obedience to the pope, and committed the defense of their cause to the God of Truth, in the firm hope that he would endow them with strength to defend their right, and confound the devices of their enemies.'

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