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Historians unearth discarded copy of of first Scottish Independence Treaty

19 May 2017


Discovered: a 15th-century copy of a treaty between Robert the Bruce and the English King Edward III

Discovered: a 15th-century copy of a treaty between Robert the Bruce and the English King Edward III

A RECENT discovery by historians in York may be seen by some Scots as evidence that English equivocation over Scottish independence is not just a modern-day phenomenon.

Conservators working on the papers of medieval Archbishops of York have discovered a 15th-century copy of a treaty between Robert the Bruce and the English King Edward III, which, for the first time, acknowledged Scotland as an independent nation.

But unlike the original, which has a hallowed place in the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh, this document had been relegated to be reused as padding in the binding of another manuscript.

“The Scottish version is seen as one of the most important treaties about Scotland,” the access archivist at the Borthwick Institute for Archives at the University of York, Gary Brannan, said. “For example, it is the first to identify it as an independent nation, and sets where its borders are.

“The version we have here appears to have been discarded, ripped out of whatever book it was in, and reused to pad out some binding in the 15th/16th century. It’s a bit of an interesting contrast”.

The document, which dates from about 1400, is a copy of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, drawn up in 1328 to end the First Scottish War of Independence. The original document consisted of one page, on which the terms were written twice in French. Officials then tore it in two, with a wavy edge to ensure that the originals would marry up if either part was subsequently challenged.

Regal seals — now lost — were attached by straps: the Scottish one in Edinburgh Castle, the English version at Northampton, where Edward held a meeting of his Parliament.

Mr Brannan said: “Why there is a copy is one of the big mysteries about this. We are not sure what it was in originally. It might have been made for the Archbishop of York, who was a signatory to the treaty. The peace didn’t last long, and so I suppose in later years, when it was no longer relevant, it was recycled as binding material, probably in the York Consistory Court Act Books. There are good reasons for doing so, but it does tell its own story.”

The treaty was seen as a triumph for Robert the Bruce: it ended English claims of superiority over Scotland, and recognised him as King of the Scots. Edward also promised to return the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey to Scotland — a pledge not fulfilled until 1996.

The document is now on show at the Borthwick Institute, as part of an exhibition of recently restored manuscripts from the 12th to the 16th centuries.


‘Band of brothers’ A plaque in Durham Cathedral in memory of Scottish royalist troops who died while imprisoned in the church after the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, during the English Civil War (Real Life, 27 January 2012), was rededicated during evensong last Friday. Jeff Veitch, Durham University Jeff Veitch, Durham University

It has been updated to take into account the discovery, in 2013, of the remains of up to 17 soldiers during building work at Durham University’s Palace Green Library. A second plaque was unveiled at the Library. Canon Rosalind Brown, of Durham Cathedral, said that they would “provide an important commemoration of those soldiers who lost their lives, and one which, we hope, honours their memory in a dignified manner”.

Dr Anwen Caffell, a teaching Fellow at the university’s Department of Archaeology, said that their latest examination of the remains showed that some were boys as young as 13. “We don’t know whether they were fighting in the army, were some sort of camp followers, or had another non-military role” she said.

They were among 5000 prisoners that were force-marched south into captivity. On the way, many fell sick, probably with dysentery, which spread in the confined conditions of the cathedral, killing thousands.

The project leader, Professor Chris Gerrard, said: “You get the impression that their sense of Scottish identity really bound them together throughout their lives. They all knew each other in Scotland, they fought alongside each other at Dunbar, they walked together in the march to Durham, they stayed together in the cathedral. They really were a band of brothers.”

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