Translating the Declaration of Arbroath
The Dynamic Edition of the Declaration of Arbroath
- A Guide to using the Dynamic Edition of the Declaration
- Methodology for the new edition of the Declaration of Arbroath
- The manuscripts of the Declaration
- Translating the Declaration of Arbroath
- 'Dynamic' Symbols: An Aide-Memoire
- How to cite
Dauvit Broun explains the 26 translations of the Declaration of Arbroath.
The aim of this edition of the Latin text and translation into English is to allow us today to access the text of the Declaration of Arbroath as it was available to be read in medieval Scotland (insofar as this is revealed by the surviving manuscripts). This involves editing and translating each of the 26 extant medieval copies individually. The copies each belong to one of six ‘versions’ (as explained here). In the process of editing and translating each copy, attention was paid to where the text differed compared with the other copies of that version. Not only can the user read each copy, but can see where the text is the same in all copies of a version (referred to as ‘settled text’), and where it is not (which is referred to as ‘unsettled text’). This is explained in more detail here. This has been developed so that ‘settled’ and ‘unsettled’ text can be viewed across different versions and throughout the work as a whole. This is the essence of the ‘dynamic edition’, and is explained here.
The translation is fundamentally different and less elegant than any other translation for two reasons. The first is that, in translating each copy, it has been assumed that scribes considered that what they wrote, however idiosyncratic or awkward it might be, made sense for them. Every effort, therefore, has been made to translate whatever each scribe has written, even though this may not always have been particularly readable at the time. The translation is an attempt to communicate what it would have been like to read the copy itself if you could read Latin as fluently as English.
The second reason that the translations are less readable than any other translation into English is that it is necessary to make sure that, within each ‘version’, the ‘settled text’ is exactly the same in the translation of each copy, and the ‘unsettled text’ must match the ‘unsettled text’ in the Latin. In practice this means that there is far less scope to shape the translation into natural English than would usually be the case. In effect, the translation is not of a single Latin text, but of a number of varying texts simultaneously, varying from two to six (depending on how many copies there are of each ‘version’.)
Fortunately there are very good translations of some versions already, based on a uniform edited text, as well as translation of the ‘file copy’ itself. These are:
The ‘file copy’:
A. A. M. Duncan, The Nation of Scots and the Declaration of Arbroath (1320), Historical Association Pamphlet (London 1970), 34–7.
Scotichronicon (edition and translation):
Scotichronicon by Walter Bower in Latin and English, gen. ed. D. E. R. Watt, vol. vii, ed. A. B. Scott and D. E. R. Watt with Ulrike Morét and Norman F. Shead (Edinburgh 1996), 4–9.
Book of Pluscarden, book VIII:
The Book of Pluscarden, trans. Felix J. H. Skene, Historians of Scotland, vol.10 (Edinburgh 1880), 163–6.
There are also very good ‘composite’ translations based on more than one ‘version’ (chiefly because Sir James Ferguson, in his edition of 1970, used readings from Scotichronicon to ‘correct’ the text in the ‘file copy’). The most comprehensive of these is by Alan Borthwick, published on the web at: at http://www.nas.gov.uk/downloads/declarationArbroath.pdf.
 An early modern copy has been edited and translated by Benjamin Hazard, ‘A manuscript copy of the Declaration of Arbroath from the Roman archives of Fr Luke Wadding (1588–1657)’, Scottish Historical Review 90 (2011) 296–315, at 307–12 (text), 313–15 (translation).