On 6 April, National Records of Scotland is celebrating the 700th anniversary of the most famous and iconic document in their collections – the Declaration of Arbroath.
Linda Ramsay is responsible for preserving the Declaration of Arbroath for future generations. She told us that this world-famous document has been a constant in her life since her school days…
The Declaration of Arbroath is a letter from the barons and the community of the realm of Scotland to Pope John XXII, dated 6th April 1320. It sets out Scotland’s status as an independent kingdom, supporting Robert the Bruce as king and asking the Pontiff to persuade King Edward II of England to end hostilities against the Scots.
I grew up in Carnoustie but I went to Arbroath High School. The Declaration is a major thing there, a source of great pride for the people of the town.
Even in primary school, there was a Declaration poster on the wall given by the Saltire Society. Generations of Scottish schoolchildren know what the Declaration is and what it means.
My school friends and teachers used to dress up and take key roles as monks, nobles and even King William the Lion in the annual Arbroath pageant, and sometimes local horses were pressed into service as noble steeds for gallant knights.
The Declaration of Arbroath is Scotland’s most iconic historic document and a key treasure in our archives. It is made of sheepskin parchment and we have to be very careful about the conditions in which it’s displayed and stored.
It’s a living document in a way so it responds to changes in temperature and humidity, and it’s very sensitive to light. Preserving it requires great planning and care.
It’s a privilege and a great responsibility for us to be custodians of the Declaration and all the other documents in the NRS collections, ensuring that they can be viewed well into the future.
Conservation is all about managing and stabilising materials in cultural collections. These tend to be organic – mostly paper, parchment, photographs and books – but we also deal with plastics, glass and even wax, like the Declaration’s seals.
Scots have been keen record keepers for hundreds of years, which makes the NRS Conservation studio a fascinating place to work. We take in a huge range of materials from public bodies across Scotland.
These are mostly paper files but they can include evidence used in court cases; records from lighthouse boards; huge maps from Scottish Canals or books of prisoners and criminals from police and prisons, and much more.
You never really know what you’re going to find on your desk from one day to the next!
Head of Conservation
National Records of Scotland
You can find out much more about the Declaration and view it in high resolution at the Conservation Services Branch.
The NRS Conservation Services Branch is responsible for the physical care of NRS’s very diverse collections: books, documents, photographic material, seals, objects, maps and plans, modern media and more.