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6 Apr 2020

700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath

The manuscript of the Declaration of Arbroath on yellowed paper. Strips of paper with wax seals are attached to the bottom.
The Declaration of Arbroath
New research commissioned by the National Trust for Scotland shows that more than half of Scots have never heard of the Declaration of Arbroath. Published today on the 700th anniversary of the signing of the document, the research shows that 51% of Scots had not heard of the Declaration.

When told about the Declaration, 72% of people agreed that it was important or very important for Scotland’s development as a nation. The research also showed there was a vast appetite for Scottish history, with 77% of people wanting to know more.

The Declaration of Arbroath was a letter from Scotland’s leading political leaders to Pope John XXII, arguing for the recognition of Scotland as an independent nation in the context of Scotland’s ongoing struggles with the English state. It’s often remembered for its stirring words:

For, 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.

1,000 people were polled by the Trust and 48.7% of people had heard of the Declaration and knew at least something about it. Men were more likely to claim some level of knowledge of the Declaration, with 14.6% of men reporting knowing a lot about it, compared to 8.3% of women.

Older people were more aware of the Declaration, with double the amount of over 65s knowing about it (15%) compared to the 16–24 age group (7.8%). Only 10.5% of the older group hadn’t heard of it, compared to 43.1% of 16–24-year-olds.

Curiously, people from the south of Scotland knew more about the Declaration than the north-east, where the Declaration originated (56.6% in the south, compared with 51.7% in the north-east which includes Arbroath itself). Highlands & Islands had 46.6% awareness, Lothian 49.3%, West Scotland 52.8%, Central Scotland 46.9%, mid-Scotland and Fife 43%, and Glasgow 42.7%.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, people who voted SNP in the 2019 General Election were most likely to have heard of the Declaration (58%), compared with 51.3% of Labour voters, 49.7% of Conservative voters and 49% of Liberal Democrat voters.

Those who voted ‘Remain’ in the 2016 Brexit referendum were most likely to consider the Declaration very important (37%, compared to 28% for those who voted ‘Leave’), as were those who voted ‘Yes’ in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum (45%, compared to 23% who voted ‘No’).

We also wanted to know if people would like to know more about Scottish history and the vast majority (77%) said that they would. Overall, the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 was considered the most important event in Scotland’s history, chosen by 26% of those who responded. The second-placed event was the Act of Union in 1707.

“The signing of the Declaration of Arbroath is an incredibly important document in the birth of Scotland as a nation. The survey we commissioned shows that, while it may not necessarily be the first historical date that comes to mind, when people hear more about it, they recognise its significance.”
Diarmid Hearns
Head of Public Policy at the National Trust for Scotland

Diarmid added: ‘Our research also showed us that when people learn about and experience Scotland’s heritage, they are more likely to value it and want to conserve it for the future. We also found that almost 70% of people prefer to learn about history by visiting historic sites. It shows that there is a huge appetite from people in Scotland – and from further afield – to learn more about Scotland’s history, and the Trust is here to help them do that.’

An artist's impression of the stables and courtyard, with silhouettes of people walking up the path, and a horse and cart standing by the archway.
An artist's impression of the stables and courtyard at House of Dun

To mark the 700th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Arbroath, the Trust is investing in House of Dun (which encompasses the Montrose Basin Nature Reserve) to create a new experience for visitors to learn about the birth of Scotland and the history of Angus. The stables and courtyard area will be redeveloped, and a new Angus Folk Museum will be established to tell the story of the people of Angus, its history and its landscape. There’ll also be a special exhibition on the Declaration of Arbroath.

To find out more about the research we commissioned into public engagement with history, you can download our report below.


1320 and all that

pdf (500.389 KB)

Download our report with the results of our research into famous dates and public engagement with history.

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