When Robert the Bruce defeated the English at Bannockburn in
1314 this did not end the twenty-year War of Independence. England
wanted Scotland, and Edward II was determined to take it.
Scotland may have been in a strong position at home, but it was
weak abroad. It did not enjoy good relations with the papal power
base, unlike England, which persuaded the Pope to excommunicate the
whole of Scotland.
Bruce had already been excommunicated for his part in the murder
of John Comyn in a church.
Although Pope John XXII subsequently sent two cardinals to
England in 1317 in an attempt to negotiate a truce, Edward II was
stubborn and peace looked a dim prospect.
In response to the papal intervention Robert the Bruce wrote two
letters to the Pope. Accompanying these letters was the Declaration
of Arbroath, a document drawn up by Scottish barons, clergy and
other nobles, which formally set out Scotland's case for
independence. It was drawn up at Arbroath Abbey (in what is now the
local council of Angus) on 6 April, 1320, probably by the Abbot,
Bernard de Linton – Chancellor of Scotland.
The declaration explains Scotland's struggle to become an
independent state, and tries to persuade the Pope of the legitimacy
of Scotland's case. It also warns the Pope that unless he accepts
the Scottish argument the war will continue, and any deaths would be
To modern eyes the history is ludicrous, but what comes across
even today is the sincerity of the men who wrote it: "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
"May it please you to admonish and exhort the King
of the English, who ought to be satisfied with what belongs to him …
to leave us Scots in peace."