The community of the realm in Scotland, 1249–1424
History, law and charters in a recreated kingdom

Medieval copies of the Declaration of Arbroath

Dauvit Broun identifies the previously unidentified medieval copies of the Declaration of Arbroath, and in what 'contexts' they survive.

One of the first tasks when embarking on a new edition is to establish how many ‘copies’ there are, and how they relate to each other. The way we think of this relationship is typically in terms of an ‘original’ text and subsequent copies; sometimes it is posited that some of the surviving copies are of ‘drafts’ of the ‘original’. A different approach is being taken in this new edition to the question of how we conceive of the relationship between the surviving manuscripts of the text—about which more will be said another time. Here I will confine myself only to the basic first step of identifying surviving copies. I will limit myself to those that can be dated to before the Reformation. In total 26 copies of the Latin text can be found (including the surviving ‘duplicate original’ and a copy of it in a letter book). These are in 21 manuscripts. There is a further manuscript that is likely to include two translations into French, but I have not examined this yet.

This is the first time a list like this has been assembled. Scholars have known of the copies in Bower’s Scotichronicon and the ‘Book of Pluscarden’, but the others have not been commented on before. I will return to this on a future occasion.

The contexts of the Declaration of Arbroath

In the Middle Ages, if we look beyond the surviving ‘duplicate original’ and the copy derived from it in the letter-book of James Haldenstone, prior of St Andrews, we find the Declaration in seven different ‘contexts’—that is to say, when it became part of a historical work. In one case (the ‘Book of Pluscarden’) it was incorporated twice, once in book VIII and the other in book IX: each is regarded as a separate context here.

I will give the contexts in a chronological order, but only give details of those that have not previously been noted specifically. The contexts are:

First: A dossier of documents that is found in some manuscripts that contain John of Fordun’s history of the Scottish people from their legendary origins to the death of David I in 1153. Fordun completed this work sometime between 1384 and 1387. There is no reason to suppose that the dossier was part of the lost original manuscript of his work. It was probably added later (along with a range of other material). The surviving manuscripts that include the dossier are:

  • Dublin, Trinity College MS 498
  • London, British Library, MS Add. 37223
  • Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Codex Helmstedt 538
  • Cambridge, Trinity College MS O. 9. 9

The Second context is Walter Bower’s Scotichronicon, written in the 1440s, which is already known to scholars.

The third and fourth contexts are book VIII and book IX respectively of a rewriting of Bower’s Scotichronicon, completed in 1461. It is known as the ‘Book of Pluscarden’ because a manuscript of this work was referred to by George Buchanan in his history of Scotland (published in 1582) as the book of Pluscarden priory. Unfortunately the author has not yet been convincingly identified. In book VIII of the work he added a copy of the Declaration of Arbroath, probably from a copy of the dossier (i.e. the first context), into the copy of other documents from the dossier that Bower had placed in the year 1301.

The fifth context takes us back to Bower, but not to his Scotichronicon. While he was working on his Scotichronicon in the 1440s, he also produced another large-scale account of Scottish history, divided into smaller books and with a greater chronological consistency than Scotichronicon itself. It has never been published. The only near-complete manuscript is known as the ‘Book of Coupar Angus’ because its first known owner was Coupar Angus Abbey. Here the Declaration of Arbroath is found in the course of the account of 1320.

The surviving manuscripts of the ‘Book of Coupar Angus’, either nearly complete, or of the section containing the Declaration of Arbroath, are Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS Advocates 35.1.7 and Aberdeen, Aberdeen University Library, SCA, MS MMS2/1.

The sixth context is another work of Scottish history, this time based on the text of the ‘Book of Coupar Angus’. This was by Patrick Russell, prior of the Charterhouse of Perth. His work can be dated to the reign of James III (1460–1488). He included the Declaration of Arbroath in the same place as it is found in the ‘Book of Coupar Angus’ (the fifth context). His work survives intact in only one manuscript: Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, MS Advocates 35.6.7.

The seventh (and final) context is: part of Patrick Russell’s work was abbreviated by Richard Striveling sometime between 1497 and 1515. He included the Declaration of Arbroath in the same place as it is found in Patrick Russell’s history (the sixth context). Again, his work survives in only one manuscript: London, British Library, MS Harleian 4764.