Tuesday 26 August 2014

1320 Declaration Of Arbroath Part One

In the debate on the Scottish Referendum there are references to the past as if what was there so long ago has much to do with the now.  One source is to select small parts of the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320 and to say little or nothing about the more inconvenient parts or aspects of the time which are at sharp variance with the present.

A while back I did a analysis of the Declaration.  It runs to near 14,000 words, so it is divided into seven parts to be posted over the new few days.  As a declaration of interest, in my ancestry there are King Robert I and King Edward II along with the members of their respective magnate classes.

One significant issue is that in 1320 it was as much a religious matter as a political one and this may be hard to understand or believe.



The “Declaration of Arbroath” is an elegant, and deceptively simple document.  Given the time and the circumstances, it betrays a masterly hand, and an ability to convey a complex of ideas in direct form, succinct prose and without redundancies.  We know little other than the Latin text of the document.  We have no agendas for the meeting or meetings that led to its final form, no supporting papers, no minutes, no record of debates or proceedings, no files, and no correspondence.

We do have the signatory names listed in the document, and that the Abbey of Arbroath was the place of its promulgation.  The Abbot of the Abbey of Arbroath at the time was Bernard de Linton, and the assumption; too easily made; is that he was the author, and by implication was responsible.  Certainly, it would have to bear his imprimatur and would need his support; it would be his due as the Abbot of Arbroath, a leading cleric of Scotland at the time, and with the ear of The King.

The date of the Declaration is 6th April 1320.  It was not only the beginning of the New Year at that time, but it was the Sunday following the Day of the Resurrection, Easter Sunday.  It assumes that the major Clergy and their retinues, the nobles and followers, and the Court and all their servants had assembled by Psalm Sunday for their deliberations.  Much of the time would have been occupied by the observance of the rites of Easter and the formalities of State, and then by the celebrations following Easter Day.

The dating of the document implies that those involved had been shriven of their sins and were in full communion with the Church.  Consequently, the meeting at Arbroath probably was in essence a formality to agree a final draft recommended by the Church in Scotland and the King.  That a previous meeting at Newbattle Abbey; a Cistercian House, had been the place for some initial discussions and drafting of the Declaration would be consistent with the pattern of Church politics of the time.

They would have been in a hurry, because previous assemblies of the Scottish Parliament had met in Berwick, but the troops of King Edward II had returned and were building walls.  The threat of another incursion looked imminent, whatever the problems in England at the time.  It was important to regain control of Berwick, it was one of the two major ports of Scotland for trade to the continent, and its potential loss had major revenue, monetary, and economic consequences, compounding the problems that existed already after the Scottish adventure in Ireland had failed.

There are basic questions to be asked about the Declaration.  Who was the Pope to whom it was addressed?  What considerations could have been known or assumed to be at the forefront of his mind?  What was the immediate political context of the document?  Who were the men listed, and what were their interests?  What exactly was the document saying both in the context of the language in which it was written and in the theological and philosophical context of the period?  What kind of document is it and what was it trying to achieve?


In 1320 the Pope was John XXII, whose papacy lasted until 1334.  After the death of Pope Clement V in 1314 the Holy See was vacant for over two years because of disputes between the French and Italian Cardinals.  Eventually, after his coronation, King Philip V of France was able to bring a Conclave together at the Dominican Monastery at Lyon, a city recently added to the realm of France.  Jacques D’Euse, then Cardinal-Bishop of Porto, was chosen, took the name John XXII, and fixed his residence at Avignon, to which the Papacy had been moved only a few years before after troubles in Italy.  Aged 66 then, he may have been seen as a stopgap choice, but he lived into his 85th year and made his mark on the Church.

Pope John was a man was born in Cahors, a city within the Province of Gascony, now the South West of France.  The city had created a near independent role for itself, but the Lords of Gascony were the Kings of England, who owed homage to the King of France for this fief as a result of the complicated political events of the previous century.

These were accompanied by violence and military campaigns. Educated by the Dominicans, John became learned in Law at Montpelier and Paris, and taught at Toulouse and Cahors.  His academic studies would have embraced the writing and teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Albertus Magnus, who had sought to embody and reconcile the rediscovered philosophy of the Ancient World within the compass of the doctrines and teaching of the Church, and the theology of the Bible and the Divine Fathers.  They had been great Scholars and leaders within the Dominican Order.

In 1300 John was Bishop of Frejus, then within a Papal State, with the support of King Charles II of Naples.  In 1310 he became Bishop of Avignon, the city on the Rhone at the edge of the Papal State that then existed in what is now the Var region of south eastern France, and where the papacy of Pope Clement V had established its Curia.  He moved to Porto in 1312 with the grant of the red hat of a Cardinal.  Possibly, this elevation marked a reward for the critical work he had undertaken in the suppression of the Order of the Knight’s Templar, and the shift of the key banking role in Western Christendom to the more malleable Lombards.

Pope John followed closely the political and religious movements in all the known countries, and sought on all occasions the advancement of ecclesiastical interests.  He believed in the supreme influence of the papacy in political matters, and was at the centre of many of the upheavals and bitter disputes of the period.  This is not the place to rehearse all the complex and difficult issues involving the Church of the period.

The salient points are that the disputes within the Church had to be addressed and dealt with, dissent and indiscipline put down; that Pope John wished to reform the administration of the Orders of Benedictines; that he regarded the Papacy as the heir to Imperial Rome and resisted the imperial ambitions of European monarchs and that he was deeply involved in trying to control and discipline the developing theology and philosophy of the Church.  The Pope was a Dominican of his time, an inquisitor in the sense of theological enquiry, who worked with the Cistercians who dominated the Curia.

The critical internal issue in the first years of his Papacy within the Church was to deal with the destructive division and turmoil within the Order of the Franciscans that threatened to imperil the peace of the Church and its influence.  The “Spirituals” had rebelled in the South of France and in Italy and refused to submit to the Pope’s decisions.  Many of the rebels were under the influence of the new teaching of the followers of John Duns Scotus and his successor William of Ockham of England.  Those who refused to yield and accept the authority of the Pope in 1317 were hunted down and burnt at the stake.

The theological and philosophical dispute continued however, it would be several centuries later before the Doctrine of Infallibility was proclaimed.  The culmination later was when Michael of Cessna, William of Ockham, and Bonagratia di Bergamo retreated and sought the protection of King Louis of Bavaria.    That John’s view was unchanged by 1327 is shown by his excommunications at that time, which included Marsiglio of Padua.  Marsiglio’s work the “Defensor Pacis” of 1324 is clearly influenced by the Franciscan Scholar movement, which should include Roger Bacon, the early proponent of scientific method as well as John Duns Scotus and his proteges.

The Pope was also financially embarrassed by the loss of Rome by his predecessor, by the need to set up shop in Avignon and maintain his State, and the expense of maintaining an expert capable centralised Curia system of Church governance.  All roads did not lead to Rome, they led to Avignon, and money was needed to grease the wheels, or rather, feed the mules.  This was a costly business, and by the early 14th Century two developments had occurred.  The rapid growth of the European economy in the previous century had been based largely on increasing production of silver.  This had slowed by the end, and by then one of the main producers was the Kingdom of Bavaria. 

The growth of wealth however had increased the demand for consumer goods from the East, and that meant a significant outflow.  This could be reclaimed only by trade with the Muslim countries; notably exporting iron, timber, textiles, slaves, and grain that served as materials for peace or war according to the needs of the Muslim buyers.  Pope John had a running dispute with King Louis of Bavaria over his ambitions to be the King of All Germany and to take on the role of Holy Roman Emperor that had been the title of Charlemagne.  A key element in all Pope John’s diplomacy was to contain the authority and power of Kings wherever possible and to assert his role as the Vicar of Christ.

As well as all these considerations, Pope John addressed the question of Papal income from benefices and the right of spoils attached to the death of Bishops.  Pope John often asked for special subsidies in addition.  In 1319 he reserved to himself all the minor benefices falling vacant in the Western Church in the next three years.  It is difficult to see the terms relating to the Pontiff in the Declaration of Arbroath as other than an implied promise to pay on request; keeping the promise may have been another matter.  In contrast the Kings of England were attempting to hinder the increasing drain of money and lands to the Church and Pope.

There were other events; by 1320 another major persecution of the Jews was under way, always a reliable indicator of general economic and financial problems. King Philip V had expelled the Jews from the territories under his immediate control in 1318, and now the Crusade of the Shepherds was under way in southern France and the surrounding areas with its expulsions, massacres, and all the rituals of medieval ferocity, both in Gascony and the areas around Avignon.

The slaving interests that were active preyed on these unfortunates and others.  There was some confusion about who was Jewish, so in 1326 Pope John ordered the wearing of a yellow patch by Jews to prevent misunderstandings.

To add to the fears and troubles, the Cathars with their heresy still kept their beliefs alive, and there were other heresies and groups to be identified and extirpated.  If you were able to choose the right doctrine then Theological correctness defined Political correctness.

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