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Scotland – The 1002nd Thing You Need to Know by Edwin Moore

27th October 2016

The Declaration of Arbroath is a declaration of Scottish independence, made in 1320. It is in the form of a letter in Latin submitted to Pope John XXII, dated 6 April 1320, intended to confirm Scotland’s status as an independent, sovereign state and defending Scotland’s right to use military action when unjustly attacked.  Generally believed to have been written in the Arbroath Abbey by Bernard of Kilwinning, then Chancellor of Scotland and Abbot of Arbroath,[1] and sealed by fifty-one magnates and nobles, the letter is the sole survivor of three created at the time. 

Among several contentious assertions  in the Declaration of Arbroath is the statement  that Jesus loved the Scots so much that they were ‘almost the first’  to receive the Gospel’ – not from ‘merely anyone’ but from ‘the most gentle Saint Andrew, the Blessed Peter’s brother, and desired him to keep them under his protection as their patron for ever.’

Few if any modern historians subscribe to this view of Andrew being wafted over land and sea by Jesus to Scotland (at a time when there were few Scots in Scotland as it happens; maybe Andrew made landfall in Ireland).

Indeed it is far from certain that many people would have believed this in 1320, medieval folk being no thicker than us really. It’s just the sort of thing, however, a bunch of medieval nobles protecting  their lands would say to a Pope, a matter of formal posturing rather than of fact (at the time, Pope John XXII was also being moaned at by the English about the Scots and was nobody’s fool).

As for the gentle Andrew, we merely note that Scotland is the home of Jekyll and Hyde, of split personas, so perhaps we should look for an alternative modern saint who suits our disputatious souls, and give Andrew a rest from time to time.

Step forward Groundskeeper Willie of ‘The Simpsons’ –

”Brothers and sisters are natural enemies. Like Englishmen and Scots! Or Welshmen and Scots! Or Japanese and Scots! Or Scots and other Scots! Damn Scots! They ruined Scotland!

Willie has a point. Six of the signatories of the Declaration of Arbroath were subsequently convicted of treason against Bruce. One of those convicted was William II de Soules, who like several of Bruce’s many enemies, died in mysterious circumstances. Popular tradition, however, insists that William was a wizard who kept an evil spirit (Robin Redcap) as a companion, and was boiled to death by outraged Borderers.

In truth, much of popular history is summed up by that splendid quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence – ‘This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend’.

Within Scotland: 1001 Things You Need to Know you will find both legend and fact, but we hope we have managed to keep the two distinct, and we also hope you find it an enjoyable read. The Dundee Courier, Sunday Times, Sunday Post, Aberdeen Press and Journal, Good Book Guide,The Big Issue, Royal Scottish Legion and STV all say it is, and who are we to disagree?