Marking the Declaration

I know that we were all just a wee tad busy in 2012 – 14, there was apparently a referendum going on. But while we were tramping the streets with leaflets, canvas packs and manning street stalls for that a seriously important anniversary went without due recognition.

I know that the National Trust for Scotland held major events over the weekend of the Battle of Bannockburn (just as well the new boss man wasn’t in place) but because of co-ordinated political opposition the anniversary was much lower key than it deserved. Not just because the Scots under King Robert defeated the English under Edward 2 and laid the groundwork for centuries of Independence. Bannockburn was at least as significant because it was one of the first, arguably the first, time that an infantry army had defeated an opposition with a largely cavalry army in open battle.

This was the catalyst for a serious re-think on battlefield tactics across the European continent. The tactics used by Bruce and the mistakes of Plantagenet both forced a major re-evaluation. We missed the opportunity to put the battle, it’s tactics and most importantly it’s international impact under serious scholarly study.

Now I fear that we might be about to repeat that error.

It’s barely 27 months to April 2020 and the 700th anniversary of perhaps the most influential document in history. Every child in Scotland knows probably three things about our history; Bruce (the spider as well as Bannockburn), Wallace (Stirling Brig and his death if only because of Braveheart) and the Declaration of Arbroath. The concept that King Robert was on the throne by will of the people was revolutionary enough, throw in the words that he could be removed and replaced if he failed them was light years from the norms of early 14th century Europe. It put Scotland in the forefront of radical political thought and we stayed there for the best part of 6 centuries until the dead hand of Labour Municipalism set about removing our own history from our schools.

Many serious historians have developed the roots of the French Revolution and the American Declaration of Independence to the words penned so many years ago by Abbot Bernard. It has played a huge role in developing the concept of democracy and the rights of people to be free to choose their own leaders.

At the moment, I am unaware of any plans to even mark the 700th Anniversary in any meaningful way but we should not, indeed we must not allow this opportunity to shine the lights on such a major document or the thought processes which gave it birth. We gather each year in Stirling to mark the battle but perhaps the Declaration of Arbroath was an even greater gift to not only Scotland but all of mankind.

I would love to see a major historical conference to allow the real impact of the document to be examined and celebrated. Whose job it should be is not for me to decide but we have some ancient universities who have built on the lad o’ pairts, we have internationally renowned historians like Prof Tom Devine and we have a Party in Government which owes it’s very being to the concept that It is not for honour, nor for Glory nor for riches that we fight. But only and alone for Freedom, which no good man surrenders but with his life.

Over to you Tom, Nicola etc……


  1. I remember Bannockburn 2014, when I was livid with blazing anger at the foul trick of holding Armed Forces Day in Stirling as a disrupting event on the same date. That must not happen again. Having studied constitutional history, I have spent years pointing out the international significance of the Declaration of Arbroath, and letting it be known in the highest and most influential international circles in the world. Several ambassadors and a major-general told me that the truth is a radical eye-opener by comparison with what has been circulated about Scotland by the UK authorities. The truth is even economically important. What Margaret has stated above is not in the least exaggerated. Bernard of Linton’s majestic Latin text of the Declaration is an international milestone in the development of political institutions elsewhere, and we owe it not merely to ourselves, but also to the world, that its round anniversary should be commemorated and honoured in a fitting manner.

    1. Thanks for crediting me but this piece was written by Stephen Bird

  2. Many thanks for those comments.
    Like you, I was less than happy with the planning of Armed Forces day but more so at the deliberate downgrading for pure political bias. We do need to highlight the international importance of the Declaration in developing political thought and institutions.

  3. One additional point. Is there any possibility of having a full facsimile of the Declaration produced to the highest quality, but with water-damage hole in the centre invisibly “patched”? The full text is known exactly, and an expert calligrapher would probably be able to reconstruct the missing part in the original script. I have a copy of a coloured photo-facsimile, produced by Scotia Fine Art a number of years ago, of the Declaration before the water damage left the hole, but it falls short of more modern reproduction technology. I was responsible for bringing out the facsimile edition of the James IV Book of Hours, copies of which are now in academic libraries around the world, so I know what can be done. The Saltire Society has my two articles on the subject, which I can also make available elsewhere.

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