Declaration of Arbroath given makeover to mark its 700th anniversary

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It is widely regarded as the most important document in the history of Scotland.

Now the Declaration of Arbroath is set to be turned into a lavish “coffee table-style” book to mark its 700th anniversary.

The Declaration of Arbroath was signed by dozens of earls and barons at Arbroath Abbey in 1320, it was sent to the Pope asking him to recognise Scottish independence and acknowledge Robert the Bruce as the country's lawful king. Picture: TSPL

The Declaration of Arbroath was signed by dozens of earls and barons at Arbroath Abbey in 1320, it was sent to the Pope asking him to recognise Scottish independence and acknowledge Robert the Bruce as the country's lawful king. Picture: TSPL

An Edinburgh-based artist, illustrator and writer plans to “bring to life” the famous letter sent to the Pope asking him to recognise Scottish independence and acknowledge Robert the Bruce as the country’s lawful king.

Andrew Barr said his new version would including a full English translation of the document, which was signed by dozens of earls and barons, as part of a “21st-century illuminated manuscript”.

The illustrated version will explore how it came to be written during Scotland’s wars of independence with England, how it has been perceived during different historical eras and its modern-day relevance and significance.

Due to be published by cultural charity the Saltire Society, it is aimed at raising greater awareness of the document, which was given special status by the United Nations two years ago, “outside of academia”.

Mr Barr said it would also “examine ideas of community and people power, and ask what freedom means in today’s world”.

He approached the Saltire Society with the idea of an illustrated book to mark the anniversary after staging an exhibition of Robert Burns’ illustrations at its offices in Edinburgh.

Mr Barr said: “It was an exhibition about his relationship with politics and power. It gave me an opportunity to propose another project.

“I don’t have a historian’s background, but I was coming at it from the angle that it is probably one of the most important early works of Scottish literature.

“All of the books that exist about the Declaration of Arbroath are very academic. I wanted to do something very different and bring it to life a bit, to make it more accessible and more widely known outside the world of academia.

“There is no escaping that it is a political statement. Even if it is not spoken about much in a contemporary context, it is still a foundation stone that still influences thinking on ideas about people power.

“Most people have an idea of the Declaration of Arbroath that is very specific, but I want to look at the kind of ideas that are shared across all countries and all periods of time.

“I want to look at the common humanity in the messages at the heart of the text, as well as explore how it has been thought about in different ways at different times.”

Sarah Mason, programme director of the Saltire Society, said: “We are delighted to be supporting Andrew Barr in his endeavours to produce a book in celebration of the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath.

“Andrew came to us several months ago with a proposal for the book to be released in time for the 700th anniversary celebrations in 2020.

“The Saltire Society has already established a positive working relationship with Andrew, given that he exhibited his artwork in our headquarters earlier this year.

“Whilst most of the Saltire Society’s current publishing is focused on the Saltire pamphlet series, it was decided by our board that Andrew’s book idea would be a fitting way to mark this special 700th anniversary.”