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Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath, lived from about 1260 to 1331. He is best remembered as the probable author of the Declaration of Arbroath, seen by many as one of the most important and influential documents in history. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Bernard's origins are the subject of academic disagreement. A history written in 1726 identified him with "Bernard de Linton", whose name appears as the church minister at Mordington in the Scottish Borders on the long list of the Scottish "great and good" giving allegiance to King Edward I of England in the "Ragman Rolls" of the 1290s. It is now more usually agreed that Bernard, Abbot of Arbroath, was actually Bernard of Kilwinning, who had briefly been Abbot of Kilwinning Abbey in 1296.
Either way, the man we are interested in served as Chancellor of Scotland in 1306, and again from 1308 to 1328, and was Abbot of Arbroath Abbey from 1310 to 1328. He went on to serve as Bishop of the Isles from 1328 until his death in 1331.
The Declaration of Arbroath was a letter addressed to Pope John XXII and signed by fifty-one magnates and nobles of Scotland. It was dated 6 April 1320 and its aim was to get the Pope to overturn the 1305 Papal recognition of England's supremacy over Scotland, and the excommunication of Robert the Bruce: both of which had followed Bruce's murder of John Comyn in Greyfriars Church in Dumfries. The document drew on legal and historical arguments made by Baldred Bisset which had won papal favour for the Scottish cause in the years around 1300, and listed atrocities committed by the English. It also went much further, introducing the idea of a king who could only rule with the approval of his people, and said that in Scotland it was the people themselves who were sovereign, and not the monarch as in England.
The Declaration is perhaps best known for its ringing and oft quoted reference to freedom: "...for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. 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."
The Declaration of Arbroath, and the (since lost) parallel letters to the Pope from Robert the Bruce and the Scottish Bishops did gain the lifting of Robert's excommunication. It also led to Papal intervention that brought about the Treaty of Edinburgh & Northampton of 1 March 1328, under which the English King Edward III recognised the Kingdom of Scotland as a fully independent nation in return for £20,000 Sterling. The peace only lasted five years, but the Declaration of Arbroath is seen by many as having a much more lasting impact, influencing both the Magna Carta in England and the US Declaration of Independence.