The Declaration of Arbroath

“As long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. 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 itself”.

These emotive and well-known words are from the Declaration of Arbroath, arguably the most famous historical document held by the National Records of Scotland (NRS). It is a letter written in 1320 by the Barons and the whole community of Scotland to Pope John XXII asking him to recognise Scotland as an independent kingdom and to recognise Robert the Bruce as the country’s lawful king.

The Declaration of Arbroath. Letter from the barons and freeholders and the whole community of the kingdom of Scotland to Pope John XXII, dated at Arbroath.

Credit: Mike Brooks © Queen’s Printer for Scotland, NRS, SP13/7

In 2020, NRS and Historic Environment Scotland (HES) collaborated on a partnership learning project to commemorate the 700th anniversary of this famous letter. Its aim was to provide and promote an education offer for primary and secondary schools in Scotland in order for pupils to understand the links between the document and Arbroath Abbey and the role they play in Scottish history and identity.

Photograph of Arbroath Abbey

Credit: © Historic Environment Scotland

Publications

‘The Declaration of Arbroath. An illustrated activity booklet’

The Declaration of Arbroath. An illustrated activity booklet (English version)

Credit: HES and NRS, 2020

This booklet was jointly produced by HES and NRS and features illustrations by the writer and artist Andrew Redmond Barr. It was published online and in print in April 2020. Learners can find out about the history of the Declaration, why it was written, what it was trying to achieve and its relevance today. It is divided into seven sections, with explanatory text and activities with illustrations that can be coloured in. It is broadly aimed at primary school age pupils but is also suitable for other young learners.

‘Try writing your own Declaration’ activity, ‘The Declaration of Arbroath.

 An illustrated activity booklet’ (English version)

Credit: HES and NRS, 2020

This activity encourages learners to seek inspiration from the Declaration to write their own version on a topic they feel strongly about such as climate change.

‘Did it make a difference?’ activity, ‘The Declaration of Arbroath.

An illustrated activity booklet’ (English version)

Credit: HES and NRS, 2020

In this activity, learners are asked to reflect on the legacy of the Declaration and to be creative, for example by designing a peace bench or quiet space to make their home or school a more peaceful place.

The activity booklet is available in both English and Gaelic.

The content can link to and support Curriculum for Excellence Benchmarks for Literacy, Social Studies, Expressive Arts and Health and Wellbeing. Further guidance is available in the accompanying teachers’ notes.

‘Investigating the Sealants of the Declaration of Arbroath’

‘Investigating the Sealants of the Declaration of Arbroath’

Credit: HES and NRS, 2021

This resource was produced jointly by HES and NRS based on original research provided by the University of Strathclyde’s genealogical postgraduate programme. It was published online in March 2021. It is aimed at P7/S1 pupils studying the Scottish Wars of Independence to increase their knowledge about the individuals who attached their seals to the Declaration and to develop research skills by encouraging reading and analysis of information. It comprises: background information for teachers about the Declaration, teachers’ notes, a set of sealants’ information sheets and a student task sheet.

‘Investigating the Sealants of the Declaration of Arbroath’:

Sealant information sheet for William Oliphant

Credit: HES and NRS, 2021

‘Investigating the Sealants of the Declaration of Arbroath’:

Sealant information sheet for Malcolm, Earl of Lennox

Credit: HES and NRS, 2021

‘Investigating the Sealants of the Declaration of Arbroath’:

Student task sheet

Credit: HES and NRS, 2021

Collaboration with schools

In 2019-2020, HES and NRS collaborated with Arbroath Academy and McLean Primary School in Dunfermline to facilitate workshops. An outreach workshop was developed and delivered to Arbroath Academy S1 year group which provided an opportunity to look at and handle parchment, quills and replica seals, investigate the Declaration and find out about what’s involved in being an archivist. 

Facsimile of the Declaration, quotation from translation of the document, a sample piece of parchment and quill used in school workshop with Arbroath Academy in February 2020.

Credit: Crown copyright, NRS

As part of a wider project looking at local and national identity, NRS and HES staff welcomed pupils from P5 and P6/7 classes from McLean Primary School in Dunfermline to New Register House in Edinburgh. Pupils were introduced to heraldry and examined flags, replica coins and seals to identify the symbols used to represent Scotland and other countries through time. Their learning was consolidated by designing their own historical or modern coat of arms.

‘Design your own historical or modern coat of arms activity’ instructions

Credit: Crown copyright, NRS

‘Design your own historical or modern coat of arms activity’ Coat of arms shield

Credit: Crown copyright, NRS

Pupils from McLean Primary School P6-7 class, Dunfermline, taking part in

 The Thistle and the Lion workshop at NRS, 24 January 2020.

Credit: Crown copyright, NRS

Following evaluation, the content of these sessions will inform the development of self-led resources for teachers to use with pupils.

Work continued on developing plans associated with promoting the learning resources throughout 2020. In February 2021, over 450 print copies of the ‘Illustrated activity booklet’ and teachers’ notes were sent to primary schools in Arbroath and the Angus region in collaboration with HES. This included 240 copies to Hayshead Primary School in Arbroath to distribute to families from their school in order to address digital poverty issues.

Wednesday 6th April 2022 will mark the 702nd anniversary of the Declaration and HES and NRS look forward to promoting our joint learning resources to future generations.

Further reading

For those who wish to explore the Declaration further, you can read more about the document and its history on the Declaration page the NRS website and in the ‘Declaration of Arbroath 700th Anniversary Booklet’ produced jointly with National Museums Scotland.

Fiona Davidson, Learning Officer, Historic Environment Scotland and

Tessa Spencer, Archivist, National Records of Scotland

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