Further matter arising: 1320 — 1776

No, I hadn’t forgotten (see previous). Small crises (stinky drain, untidy kitchen, laundry, etc) delaying not-s0-great thoughts. And we’ll come to him (below) in due course.

David_Hume (by Alan Ramsay)

It’s another ScotNat fantasy, maintained in a weekend tweet from  (after his Trump-for-Prez declaration, he has subsequently shown his Dover street-cred on “immigration”). Allegedly, as they say, in the best circles, and this Mr Lawrie maintains, the American Declaration of Independence was inspired by the Declaration of Arbroath.

Of the two Declarations, we’ve all heard of the former, but the latter is a bit less well-known. In fact, like Magna Carta before it was re-discovered and re-invented by Sir Edward Coke (and which I considered a while back), the Declaration has had a Lazarus-like resuscitation. Since William Wallace was executed in 1305,  scriptwriter Randall Wallace couldn’t quite stick words from the Declaration into Mel Gibson’s mouth. He just went as close as he could.

Compare and contrast Braveheart with the key bit of the Declaration, now an incantation among Scot Nats of my acquaintance.

… quamdiu Centum ex nobis viui remanserint, nuncquam Anglorum dominio aliquatenus volumus subiugari. Non enim propter gloriam, diuicias aut honores pugnamus set propter libertatem solummodo quam Nemo bonus nisi simul cum vita amittit.

Sorry! That gets gussied up and dumbed down as:

… as long as a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be subjected to the lordship of the English. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself.

So, who is making this ringing pledge?

The pen was possibly in the hand of Abbot Bernard of Kilwinning, Chancellor of Scotland, though more convincingly the drafting was by Alexander de Kininmund (a more seasoned church diplomat, with experience of the papal court).

The primary context was not “independence”, but clouds of excommunication, hanging over Robert Brus for killing of John Comyn on holy ground. Brus was rounding up all the support he could muster (this was his third appeal). I doubt if the hard-headed feudal nobility of lowland Scotland expected any miraculous help from Avignon, but papal endorsement does little harm (Cf: Stadtholder Willem at the Boyne).

The Pope addressed by the Arbroath Declaration was Jacques Duèze, John XXII, second of the Avignon popes, a creature of Philip V of France, provoker (in large part) of the  Guelph and Ghibelline civil wars, an efficient administrator who filled those Avignon cellars with specie.

Then we come to the signatories of this document:

Duncan, Earl of Fife, Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, Lord of Man and of Annandale, Patrick Dunbar, Earl of March, Malise, Earl of Strathearn, Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, William, Earl of Ross, Magnus, Earl of Caithness and Orkney, and William, Earl of Sutherland; Walter, Steward of Scotland, William Soules, Butler of Scotland, James, Lord of Douglas, Roger Mowbray, David, Lord of Brechin, David Graham, Ingram Umfraville, John Menteith, guardian of the earldom of Menteith, Alexander Fraser, Gilbert Hay, Constable of Scotland, Robert Keith, Marischal of Scotland, Henry Sinclair, John Graham, David Lindsay, William Oliphant, Patrick Graham, John Fenton, William Abernethy, David Wemyss, William Mushet, Fergus of Ardrossan, Eustace Maxwell, William Ramsay, William Mowat, Alan Murray, Donald Campbell, John Cameron, Reginald Cheyne, Alexander Seton, Andrew Leslie and Alexander Straiton, and the other barons and freeholders …

Spot there a peasant, a serf,  of the whole community of the realm of Scotland, in whose name these grandees felt free to speak. Note, too, the Anglo-Norman names, and the titles imported by Dauíd mac Maíl Choluim (David I) to shore up his feudal imposition. And all in the name of “freedom”?

The American connection?


As far as I can see, this comes from Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi (at the third attempt), reading into the Senate record his motion for U.S. Senate Resolution 155 to inaugurate “National Tartan Day”:

Whereas April 6 has a special significance for all Americans, and especially those Americans of Scottish descent, because the Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish Declaration of Independence, was signed on April 6, 1320 and the American Declaration of Independence was modelled on that inspirational document…

This historic event therefore goes all the way back to … 1998.

It is fair enough to make a link from the foundation of the American nation-state to Scots. It goes slightly awry when the Resolution propounds:

almost half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were of Scottish descent … Governors of nine of the original thirteen States were of Scottish ancestry

That would be less impressive were we deduct the “Scotch-Irish”, whose connection is more with Ulster.

A better connection

Set aside the Declaration of Arbroath.

Scottish influence on the 1776 Declaration was more recent, more immediate, more philosophical, more potent.

It was the philosophy of the Scottish Enlightenment, and in particular of the titan that was David Hume.

Read, mark and inwardly digest The Idea of a Perfect Commonwealth (1752).

It’s all there.

And it’s a far prouder claim that any nonsense dredged from the early fourteenth-century.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Scotland, SNP, United States, US politics

One response to “Further matter arising: 1320 — 1776

  1. terence patrick hewett

    Would this be the Scotland that owned and ran all the West Indian slave plantations? Still, we would not have the lovely Naomi and the athletic Sol Campbell: or for that matter Baroness Scotland. Although I could do without Richard Dawkins.

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