Declaration of Arbroath

Today, 6th April 2020, marks the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath one of the most iconic documents from Scotland’s past.

declaration of arbroath_01
Declaration of Arbroath 1320 © Crown copyright, 2020

The New Cumnock Connections


In the summer of 1307 Edward I, King of England put together a great army with the intention of marching into Scotland to defeat and capture Robert the Bruce, King of Scots and his men who had eluded the English occupying forces and their Scots allies. However, the ageing ‘Hammer of the Scots‘ fell ill and died at Burgh of Sands near Carlisle on 7th July 1307.

Edward I & II, York Minster

His son and heir Edward II took up the cudgel and marched the English army up through Nithsdale and into Ayrshire arriving at Cumnock Castle on the 19th August. The castle stood on a hill overlooking the confluence of the Afton Water and the River Nith at the heart of what is now the village of New Cumnock.

Left: Cumnock Castle  (Pont Nithia) | Right: Arms of the Earl of Dunbar

The castle was owned by Patrick, 8th Earl of Dunbar also known by the title Earl of March and one of the competitors to the Scottish crown. In 1296 at Berwick-upon-Tweed he had sworn fealty to Edward I both as the Earl of March and as Patrick de Comenagh and supported the English cause since. After attempts to trap Bruce and his followers failed, Edward II packed up camp at Cumnock Castle on 27th August 1307 and headed homeward with his great army to think again. The following year Patrick, 8th Earl of Dunbar passed away and was succeeded by his son Patrick, 9th Earl of Dunbar.

Battle of Bannockburn

Seven years passed before Edward II, King of England and his army would march north again, this time to face Robert the Bruce, King of Scots and his army on the battlefield of Bannockburn on the 23/24th June 1314.  Bruce won the day and Edward II escaped with many Scots in hot pursuit. However, the king of England and his entourage made it safely to the refuge of Earl Patrick’s castle of Dunbar.

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Professor G.W.S Barrow sums up the beginning of the end of ‘proud Edward’ and his army being sent home to think again and the fate of the Patrick, the Earl of Dunbar.

“It says much for the sorely-tried loyalty of Earl Patrick that he received Edward hospitably and saw him safely on board which took him to Bamburgh, and so tie the comparative safety of Berwick. Most of the five hundred knights reached Berwick by land. Earl Patrick must have submitted to the king of Scots immediately afterwards, for the English records show that he was forfeited as a traitor as from this date.”

Furthermore Barrow also speculates that peace may have been won after Bannockburn if a number of conditions had prevailed including the actions of the Earl Patrick inasmuch if he had behaved like the constable of Bothwell Castle, also a Scot on the English side,  who had admitted the Earl of Hertford and a host of other nobles that had fled Bannockburn, only to make then all prisoners, before going over to Bruce.

Perhaps taking the king of England prisoner was a step too far for Earl Patrick and for a second time Edward II returned homeward to England from a castle owned by the Earls of Dunbar, first Cumnock Castle in 1307 and now Dunbar Castle in 1314

The Aftermath of Bannockburn

Although defeated Edward II refused to recognise Bruce as King of Scots and renounce the English crown’s claims to suzerainty over Scotland. Hostilities continued and the Scots began to win back the occupied lands held by English including, in 1318, Berwick-upon-Tweed.  Edward II responded by laying siege to the town only for Bruce to counter with an attack deep into Yorkshire where he defeated an ill-prepared English army at the Battle of Myton on 24th October 1319. Edward gave up the siege and retreated south of the Trent while Scots forces continued to ravage the north of England forcing the beleaguered English king to secure a two-year truce from Christmas Day 1319.

Declaration of Arbroath

Courtesy of National Records of Scotland

With peace secured the Scots seized the diplomatic initiative by composing a letter from the barons and the community of the realm of Scotland to Pope John XXII in an attempt to persuade him to reconsider his position on the conflict between Scotland and England, which until now had favoured the latter.  The letter was written in Latin on sheep-skin and is dated 6 April AD 1320 at Arbroath, the location of the king’s chancery, and through time became known at the Declaration of Arbroath.

  • It emphasises Scotland’s long history as an independent Christian kingdom.
  • It explains that they had lived in freedom and peace until King Edward I invaded Scotland and caused widespread havoc.
  • It asserts that the Scots were saved by Robert Bruce, whom they will defend as their king unless he seeks to make their kingdom subject to the English king.
  • The Pope is asked to persuade Edward II to leave the Scots in peace.
  • Scotland’s support for a crusade is pledged if peace should be achieved.
  • It concludes with a threat to the Pope – that he would be answerable to God should war continue.

The Declaration was sent in the names of 8 earls and 31 barons with their seals attached, 19 of which have survived including that of the Earl of March (Dunbar).

Declaration of Arbroath and Seal of Earl of March/Dunbar © Crown copyright, 2020

The most quoted text of course reads –

... for, 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.

The Pope responded positively urging a reconciliation between the warring sides, however, peace did not prevail for long!  Matters took a dramatic turn in 1327 after Edward II was deposed and later murdered to be succeeded by his son Edward III.

In 1328 the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton between the kingdoms of Scotland and England brought an end to the First War of Independence. It recognised Scotland as fully independent and Robert the Bruce, and his heirs and successors, as the rightful rulers of Scotland.

Robert Guthrie

06 Apr 2020, Barrhead


National Records of Scotland

National Library of Scotland


  • G.W.S. Barrow ‘Robert the Bruce & The Community of the Realm of Scotland’,  Edinburgh University Press (1988)
  • Sir James Fergusson, Bart. (formerly Keeper of the Records of Scotland), ‘The Declaration of Arbroath 1320’, Edinburgh University Press