The Leadership of the Scottish Declaration of Arbroath

Leadership and The Importance of the Battle of Bannockburn

Many people question why the Scots celebrate the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn every year.  After all the English do not celebrate any of their land battles, especially the battle of Falkirk where the English vanquished Sir William Wallace and the Scots.  This paper shows why it is done because of what it meant for the re-birth of a nation and the fight for freedom, a basic Masonic tenet.

Each year the nation of Scottish remember and commemorate the Battle of Bannockburn. Likewise, Scottish Rite Masons know of and understand the significance of the location and of this historical Scottish event as it is celebrated in their Initiation of the Knights of St Andrew.   Freemasons also know of it through membership in the Royal Order of Scotland.

Bannockburn actually occurred somewhat midway through Scotland’s quest for independence from England. The starting point is considered by most to be in 1286 with the death of King Alexander III, which ended a relatively stable period of Anglo-Scottish relations.[1] The following six years were periods of turmoil for Scotland in finding an agreed upon King to lead the country. The task of finding a King became known as The Great Cause of Scotland.[2]  Several groups were involved with the selection, which included a group of nobles and bishops called the Guardians of Scotland, The Scottish Clergy, Bishop William Fraser, The Parliament of Scone, as well as King Edward of England.

Following several events, Edward demanded that all 13 claimants agree that he, Edward, would remain overlord of Scotland. All agreed in order to be considered. On 17 November 1292, Edward announced that John Balliol would become the new King of Scotland. Subsequent Scottish Kings thought that Robert the Bruce would have been a better selection, but that Edward chose Balliol under the premise that he would be easily manipulated by Edward.[3]  A key point during this period is the Scottish Clergy’s determination to maintain religious independence from the authority of Archbishop of York in England. Scotland, because of a papal bull from the Pope in 1174, was considered a “special daughter, no one in between”. The Clergy thought that any threat to Scotland’s independence would be a threat to the independence to the Scottish Church.[4]

Bannockburn Drawing

  This oldest known depiction of the Battle of Bannockburn is found in the Scotichronicon, from c. 1440s. For a complete history of this book, see “Book of Paisley” at: http://www.ilovescotland.net.

The Scottish ideal of independence and England’s continual meddling into Scotland’s affairs, including forcing appeals to English courts and demands that Scotland take up arms against France, caused Edward’s ideal of manipulation of Balliol to never reached fruition. Despite Balliol’s allegiance to Edward and England, he knew the Scots would not take kindly to taking up arms with France at the command of another monarch. Further, Scotland had opened up trade with France and Germany, providing economic gains for the country.

Two major battles and Scottish icons appeared that would lead to Scotland’s independence from England – William Wallace’s defeat of an English army at the Battle of Stirling in 1297, and Robert the Bruce’s victory at Bannockburn in 1314.[5] 

Battle of Roslin Monument

Battle of Roslin Monument

An equally important battle for Scottish independence was fought at Roslin near the Rosslyn Castle and Chapel in 1303[6].  This important battle in the Wars of Scottish Independence was fought on the 24th February 1302/1303. (Until 1600 the year began on the 25th March and ended on the 24th March). A Scottish army of 8,000 men under Sir John Comyn and Sir Simon Fraser marched 16 miles from Biggar to confront an English army of 30,000. However the English army was split into 3 columns and the Scots dealt with each in turn with great slaughter.   For some reason this important battle is NOT well covered in any scholastic history books (maybe because Comyn lost out to Bruce in the later contest for leadership of Scotland[7]).

While Wallace’s leadership and victory boosted Scottish confidence, Bruce’s even greater defeat of Edward II’s army at Bannockburn bolstered Scotland’s vision of freedom and independence from England.   Edward II, now King of England marched 20,000 troops toward Bannock, where Bruce had strategically placed his 6,000-7000 Scots around a “burn” just across the narrow bridge. The weary English army had problems finding solid fighting ground in the burn, which placed them at a huge disadvantage. More importantly, Bruce had mentally prepared his Scottish brothers for the battle before the battle took place.

Robert Burns poem of Bruce’s march to Bannockburn vividly depicts the “Cause” that faced his men as they awaited Edward’s men. Their confidence was at an all-time high because of the many battles Bruce had won in claiming back land from the English. Nonetheless, Bruce saw it fit to further bolster their confidence by depicting the problem and the reason they were fighting, as well as to the final outcome.

 Robert Bruce’s March to Bannockburn

Scots, wha hae wi' Wallace bled,
Scots, wham Bruce has aften led,
Welcome to your gory bed,
Or to Victorie!

Now's the day, and now's the hour;
See the front o' battle lour;
See approach proud Edward's power -
Chains and Slaverie!

Wha will be a traitor knave?
Wha can fill a coward's grave?
Wha sae base as be a Slave?
Let him turn and flee!

Wha, for Scotland's King and Law,
freedom's sword will strongly draw,
Free-man stand, or Free-man fa',
Let him on wi' me!

By Oppression's woes and pains!
By your Sons in servile chains!
We will drain our dearest veins,
But they shall be free!

Lay the proud Usurpers low!
Tyrants fall in every foe!
Liberty's in every blow!-
Let us Do or Die! [8]

The victory at the burn near Bannock, which became known as the Battle of Bannockburn, marked the turning point in Scotland’s quest for freedom and independence. The fight for independence took several more years, until when in April 6, 1320, Bernard de Linton, Abbot of Arbroath Abbey and Chancellor of Scotland penned a letter from the ordinary people of Scotland to the Pope declaring Scotland’s desires to be recognized as a Sovereign Nation.

The victory at the burn near Bannock, which became known as the Battle of Bannockburn, marked the turning point in Scotland’s quest for freedom and independence.

 Robert-de-Bruce

 Bronze Equestrian Statue of King Robert Bruce.. Sculptor: Charles D’O Pilkington Jackson. Located at Bannockburn Heritage Centre grounds.

 Declaration of Arbroath Pic

 Declaration of Arbroath

The fight for independence took several more years, until when in April 6, 1320, Bernard de Linton, Abbot of Arbroath Abbey and Chancellor of Scotland penned a letter from the ordinary people of Scotland to the Pope declaring Scotland’s desires to be recognized as a Sovereign Nation.

There are a couple of passages from the Declaration that define “The Cause” of Scotland’s fight for independence.

 “Yet if he (Robert Bruce) should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and subverter of his own right and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule.[9] 

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.?[10]

 450 years later, the Founders of America looked to the Declaration of Arbroath to pen the Declaration of Independence to declare Americas independence from England. If one places the two documents side-by-side, one would see the obvious similarity between them, and more importantly, the ideal, the “cause” – liberty (freedom from tyranny). As Patrick Henry stated so resolutely, “Give me Liberty, or give me death.

In 1998, the U.S. Senate passed a resolution designating every April 6, the date the Declaration of Arbroath was signed, as Tartan Day. A Senate spokesperson said, “The Declaration of Arbroath, the Scottish Declaration of Independence, was signed on 6 April 1320 and the American Declaration of Independence was modeled on that inspirational document.[11]

The importance for Freemasons is imminently clear – the “Cause” – “Liberty” – is our constant quest. Just as the Battle of Bannockburn and the Declaration of Arbroath declared the cause for Scotland, the Declaration of Independence of America and the Revolutionary War proclaimed the cause for Washington and the Founders of the United States.

All Freemasons need to remember the Celebration of Bannockburn and stand ever ready to take a stand in defense of Liberty for all mankind.

A “Special Thank You” is extended to Professor Thomas Lamb, a native of Scotland and well versed in this subject, for his review and contribution to the article.

 NOTES


[1] Gunn, N., 2013. Scotland’s Declaration of Independence. The Highlander Magazine, March/April, 2013

[2]Education Scotland. Scotland 1286-96: The Succession Problem and the Great Cause. Retrieved from: http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/higherscottishhistory/warsofindependence/successionandgreatcause/keyfigures.asp

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] Gunn, N., 2013. Scotland’s Declaration of Independence. The Highlander Magazine, March/April, 2013.

[8] Robert Burns Poetry. Retrieved on 3/16/2013 from: http://www.robertburns.org/works/428.shtml

[9] Gunn, N., 2013. Scotland’s Declaration of Independence. The Highlander Magazine, March/April, 2013.

[11] Gunn, N., 2013. Scotland’s Declaration of Independence. The Highlander Magazine, March/April, 2013.

 Litchfield NH 2012

David McCuistion is a retired Navy Officer and a Navy Junior ROTC Program Manager and Instructor. He is President of Clan Uisdean, USA, who are descendents of McDonald of Sleat, and also of Robert the Bruce. He is a member of the Royal Order of Scotland and a Life Member of the Scottish American Military Society (SAMS).

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