Declaration of Arbroath will be shown publicly for the first time in 18 years

Now the 700-year-old document, which played a key role in the history of Scottish independence, will be on display again this summer for the first time in almost two decades.

A delicate document rarely seen publicly, the Declaration of Arbroath is a 1320 letter to the Pope supporting King Robert the Bruce and an independent Scotland.

The declaration, written in Latin, is still considered a declaration of a nation’s claim to freedom. It was signed by the Scottish barons, promising their opposition to English rule.

The document, which can only be issued occasionally to ensure its long-term preservation, has not been on public view for 18 years since it was displayed in the Scottish Parliament 18 years ago. By that time it had been hidden from the public for eleven years.

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Now the iconic and fragile declaration, which is being cared for by National Records of Scotland and preserved for future generations, will be on display for the public at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh from 3rd June to 2nd July.

The Declaration was written during the long War of Independence with England, which began in 1296 when Edward I attempted to conquer Scotland.


The letter, dated April 6, 1320, was written by the barons and landowners of Scotland to Pope John XXII on behalf of the Kingdom of Scotland. written with a request that Scotland’s independence be recognized and Robert the Bruce recognized as the rightful king of the country.

At the time, Scottish relations with the papacy were in crisis after the Scots resisted papal efforts to secure a truce with England. When the Pope excommunicated Robert I and three of his barons, the Scots sent the Declaration of Arbroath in a diplomatic counter-offensive.

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The letter urges the Pope to use his influence to end hostilities against the Scots so that their energies can be better directed towards securing Christianity’s frontiers.

The Scottish barons also wanted Pope John XXII. undoes the Robert the Bruce ex-communications carried out after Bruce murdered his rival John Comyn in a church in Dumfries.

The Pope wrote to Edward II urging him to make peace, but Scotland’s independence was not recognized until 1328.

The most famous sentence of the document reads: “As long as a hundred of us are alive, under no circumstances will we be brought under English rule.”

“In truth we fight not for glory, nor for wealth, nor for honor, but for freedom – only for that which no honest man gives up, except for life itself.”


The exhibition was organized in partnership between National Museums Scotland and National Records of Scotland, who are custodians of the document.

Alice Blackwell, Senior Curator, Medieval Archeology and History at National Museums Scotland said: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to display the Declaration of Arbroath here at the National Museum of Scotland.

“It is an extremely important document and an important part of Scottish history.

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“We look forward to welcoming many visitors to enjoy the rare opportunity to see this iconic document up close.”

The declaration was most likely drafted at a meeting of the king and his council at Newbattle, and then transcribed in the scriptorium of Arbroath Abbey.

It is written in Latin and was sealed by eight counts and around 40 barons.


It was authenticated by seals as documents were unsigned at the time.

Of the original 50 seals, only 19 remain and many are in poor condition.

Various copies and translations have been made over the centuries, including a microscopic edition.

Laura Mitchell, Assistant Administrator at National Records of Scotland, said: “The Declaration of Arbroath is an important treasure in our extensive collections and we are proud of the role we play in preserving this important historical artefact for future generations.

“The exhibition will allow Scots and visitors from further afield to see this famous document for the first time in 18 years.” Declaration of Arbroath will be shown publicly for the first time in 18 years

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