17 March 1309

Letters: ‘The Declaration of the Clergy’

To all Christ’s faithful to whose notice the present writing shall come, the bishops, abbots, priors and others of the clergy located in the kingdom of Scotland give greeting in the [name of] the author of salvation. Be it know to all of you that when an occasion of dispute arose between the lord John de Balliol, formerly king of Scotland established de facto by the king of England, and the late lord Robert de Bruce [earl of Carrick] grandfather of the present King Robert, namely which of them was nearer by right of blood to governing over the Scottish people, the faithful people without doubt always held, as it had understood and believed to be true from their ancestors and forefathers, that the said Lord Robert, the grandfather, was the true heir after the death of King Alexander [III] and his granddaughter, [Margaret,] daughter of the king of Norway, and [was] to be given preference before all others for the government of the kingdom. Yet, as the enemy of the human race sowed tares, by the various tricks and stratagems of rivals which would be long to narrate individually, the matter was turned in the opposite direction, by reason of which reversal and deprivation of the royal dignity grave harm has since occurred to the kingdom of Scotland and the inhabitants of the same, as experience of events, the mistress of circumstances often repeated hitherto, has manifestly revealed. Therefore, the common folk and people of the aforesaid kingdom of Scotland, worn out as it is by the stings of many tribulations, seeing that the said John had been captured and incarcerated by the king of England for various reasons, and, because his sins demanded this, had been deprived of people and kingdom, and the kingdom of Scotland had been betrayed and reduced to slavery by him, laid waste by a vast plundering, imbued by the anguish of constant sorrow, made desolate for the default of right governance, exposed to every danger and given to the occupier; and the people despoiled of their goods, tortured by war, made captive, bound and incarcerated, oppressed, overthrown and enslaved by the slaughter of immeasurable innocents and by continual burnings, and near to perpetual ruin unless speedy repair should be brought by divine counsel concerning such a disfigured and desolated kingdom and its governance; by the providence of the King most high under whose authority kings rule and princes govern, unable to bear any longer such numerous, great [and] heavy injuries, more bitter than death, often befalling their affairs and bodies for default of a captain and faithful leader, they agreed on the said Lord Robert, the present king, in whom the rights of his father and grandfather to the aforesaid kingdom still reside and thrive incorrupted in the judgement of the people, by authority of the Lord. And by the knowledge and consent of the same people he was received as king so he might restore the defects of the kingdom and correct things needing to be corrected, and might steer those that lacked guidance. And by their authority the aforesaid king of Scots was solemnly endowed with the kingdom, with whom the faithful people of the kingdom wish to live and die as with he who, by the right of blood and the other cardinal virtues, is fit, [as] aforesaid, to govern, and is worthy of the name of king and the honour of the kingdom, because, by the grace of the Saviour, he has repaired such a damaged and forsaken kingdom by repelling injury with the sword, just as many previous princes and kings of Scots repaired, gained and held the kingdom, formerly often forsaken, by the sword in former times, as is more plainly contained in the magnificent ancient records of the deeds of the Scots, and as the warlike efforts of the Picts against the Britons and the Scots against the Picts, [who were] driven out of the kingdom, with many others [who were] long ago forced to flee, conquered and expelled by the sword, manifestly bear witness. And if anyone, to the contrary, should claim right in the aforesaid kingdom by letters sealed in the past containing the consent of the people and common folk, you should know that all this arose de facto by force and violence which it was not then possible to resist, and amid numerous fears, tortures of bodies [and] various terrors which could well have disturbed the senses and minds of perfect men and destroyed steadfast people. Therefore we, the bishops, abbots, priors and other clergy, knowing the firm truth of the foregoing things from previous assessment, and heartily approving them, have made due fealties to the said lord Robert, our illustrious king of Scotland, and which we recognise and declare by the tenor of the present [letters] will be done to him and his heirs by our successors in the future. And in sign of the testimony and approval of all the aforesaid things, not compelled by force nor induced by deceit or by lapse of error, but by a pure, perpetual and spontaneous wish, we caused our seals to be appended to this writing. Given in the parliament held at St Andrews in Scotland on 17 March in the year of grace 1308 [1309].

[MS A:] 'There are only two seals left on this declaration, namely the seal[s] of [William Lamberton,] bishop of St Andrews and of [Matthew de Crambeth, bishop of] Dunkeld, and six others are broken from it.'

[MS B:] ' Six seals of the bishops are appended in green wax.'

[MS B:] 'This declaration is word for word set down formerly in folio 1 which I have out of Edinburgh castle, and this preceding declaration is verbatim the same, which I extracted myself from a double kept by Sir Robert Cotton in his treasury of antiquities at Westminster, which I did to let posterity see that the two declarations are both one, and do not differ, although one is kept by us and the other in England.'

  1. Sources: BL MS Harl. 4694, f.5r-6r (A), BL MS Harl. 4694, f.35r-36r (B), NAS, State Papers, SP13/4 (C). For a full discussion of these MSS, see 1309/2 text. Another translation of the Declaration of the Clergy, and a full discussion of the backround to the creation of the four versions made in 1309-10 is to be found in A. A. M. Duncan, 'The Declarations of the Clergy, 1309-10', in G. W. S. Barrow (ed.) The Declaration of Arbroath: History, Significance, Setting (Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 2003), 32-49, 44-5. Further comment may be found in R. J. Tanner, 'Cowing the Community? Coercion and Falsification in Robert Bruce's Parliaments, 1309 - 1318', in K. M. Brown and R. J. Tanner (eds), The History of the Scottish Parliament Volume 1: Parliament and Politics in Scotland, 1235-1560 (Edinburgh, 2004). Back
  2. The phrase 'because his sins demanded this', is present only in the MSS dating from 1309. It was not repeated in the 1310 versions of the Declaration of the Clergy. Back
  3. 'betrayed ... by him': 'Proditum' here and elsewhere in the text may be a copying error for 'perditum' which is found in MS C. 'Proditum' can mean 'forsaken' or (particularly in the medieval period) 'betrayed'. 'Perditum' means 'ruined' or 'destroyed'. Likewise the grammar does not make clear to whom 'him' refers. It is perhaps more likely to be Edward I, as only he could accurately be described as having reduced Scotland to slavery (although Bruce might have argued that Balliol had done so indirectly). This case would be strengthened if 'proditum' is a copying error for 'perditum'. Back
  4. See discussion on this stock phrase in The Collected Papers of Thomas Frederick Tout (Manchester, 1934), ii, 285-7. The use of the words 'in constantem' (copied by Balfour in MS A as 'inconstantem') initially suggests an opposite translation. Back