Declaration of Arbroath on public display for first time in 18 years

The fragile 700-year-old document can only be displayed occasionally in order to ensure its long-term preservation.

The Declaration of Arbroath, a document that played a key role in the history of Scottish independence, is set to go on public display this weekend for the first time in 18 years.

The letter, written in the 14th century to assert Scotland’s right to independence, will be unveiled at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh on Saturday, June 3.

The fragile 700-year-old document can only be displayed occasionally in order to ensure its long-term preservation, and it was last put on show at the Scottish Parliament.

The Declaration was originally due to go on display again in April 2020 to coincide with its 700th anniversary, but this was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The new summer date has been chosen to give as many people as possible the rare chance to see the document, and it will remain on display until July 3.

Alan Borthwick, head of medieval and early modern records at National Records of Scotland, said: “The Declaration of Arbroath is one of the most significant documents we have in our collections.

“At National Records of Scotland we are hugely proud of the role we play in conserving it to ensure it is still here for future generations to see and study.

“We hope people from Scotland and beyond will take this rare opportunity to see it for themselves.”

The Declaration of Arbroath dates back to 1320.Wikimedia Commons

The Declaration is a letter dated April 6, 1320 written by the barons and freeholders of Scotland, on behalf of the Kingdom of Scotland, to Pope John XXII.

The document asks him to recognise Scotland’s independence and acknowledge Robert the Bruce as the country’s lawful king.

The letter also asks the pontiff to persuade King Edward II of England to end hostilities against the Scots, so their energy may be better used to secure the frontiers of Christendom.

It is thought the Declaration was probably drafted at a meeting of the King and his council at Newbattle, then written up in the scriptorium of Arbroath Abbey.

Written in Latin, it was sealed by eight earls and about 40 barons. It was authenticated by seals, as documents at that time were not signed. Only 19 seals now remain.

Alice Blackwell, senior curator of medieval archaeology and history at National Museums Scotland, said: “It is great to be able to display the Declaration of Arbroath here at the National Museum of Scotland, the home of our nation’s material history and the country’s most visited attraction.

“We look forward to welcoming many visitors to enjoy the rare opportunity of seeing this hugely significant document in person.”

Culture minister Christina McKelvie said: “The Declaration of Arbroath is of great historic and cultural interest to Scots and people around the world of Scottish descent.

“The display of this iconic document will give people from across Scotland and further afield a wonderful opportunity to visit the museum and see this important piece of history for themselves.”

The Declaration was written during the long Wars of Independence with England when, despite the Scots’ success at the Battle of Bannockburn, Robert I had not been recognised as King by either Edward II or by the Pope, and had been excommunicated by the latter.

At this time, the Pope desired peace between England and Scotland, so both could help in a crusade to the Holy Land. The Declaration sought to influence him by offering the possibility of support from the Scots for his long-desired crusade if they no longer had to fear English invasion.

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