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Dunbar Origins  |  Gospatric  |  Earl of Northumbria  |  Crinan of Dunkeld
Declaration of Arbroath - About  |  Declaration of Arbroath - English Translation
Dunbar Motto      


On an exposed cliff overlooking the North Sea, the Picts built a fortress to defend themselves from invading Scots, Saxons, and Britons. Over succeeding years this fortress was to grow in importance because of its strategic location at the mouth of the River Forth.

Sometime between the years of 835 A.D. and 839 A.D. after the Battle of Scone when Dursken, King of the Picts was slain and his followers fled, this fortress was awarded by Kenneth I, King of Scotland, to a brave and valiant captain of the Scots name Bar. Thus the fortress became known in the Gaelic as Dun Bar, or the Tower/Fortress of bar on the Hill. The region around the fortress became known as Dunbar. The first person to bear the name of Dunbar was Gospatric I, who rebuilt the wood and wattle Fortress of Bar into the stone castle that was to become the home of one of the most powerful families in Scotland.

The Dunbar Earls of Dunbar and March controlled much of Lothian, and all of "The Borders", Berwick, Peebles, Selkirk, and Roxburgh, plus great holdings in Northumberland and Cumberland. Through marriage to the famous 'Black' Agnes Randolph, The Dunbar Earls acquired the Earldom of Moray as well, holding Aberdeenshire, Morayshire, Nairn, Buchan, and Inverness.

While the Privy Council of Scotland recognized the Dunbars as a clan in 1579, the House of Dunbar has always been infinitely more than a clan. As a famous 17th century historian remarked, "Second only to the Cummings, of course, the Royal Family, the Dunbars are the greatest family of Scotland." Sir Robert Douglas noted, "No name in Scotland can boast of a more noble name than Dunbar". In Gospatric, the greatest families of Scotland, Pictland, Northumbria, and England were combined to prove Douglas' evaluation.

The Clan Dunbar has long been closely associated with the Church, and has built monasteries, abbeys, and chapels throughout the Scottish Nation. The Clan was present on the Crusades to the Holy Land, and the Seal of the House of Dunbar can be found on the Arbroath Declaration sent to the Pope.

After the death of heirless King Alexander, Patrick the Eighth Earl of Dunbar was one of the ten competitors for the throne of Scotland at Berwick upon Tweed in 1291. Dukes, Earls, Marquises, and Viscounts abound through the family history from 1066 to 1457 when, through palace intrigues a jealous King James I appropriated the entire inheritance of the richest man in the kingdom, and destroyed a possible rival. George, being one of the weaker Earls in the history of the Clan retired quietly to a country home. The Clan to date had never recovered from this effrontery, and its descendants have scattered across the world from Scotland to New Zealand. Eventually five branches of the House of Dunbar obtained baronetcies; Mochrum in Galloway and Senior of Line, Durn in Banffshire,. Northfield in Moray, Boath in Nairn, and Hempriggs in Caithness. Although worthy and well doing families, none have risen to the former glory of the House of Gospatric. The motto of the Clan, 'Sub Spe' or 'Under Hope' attest to our faith the Clan will rise again to its former glory.

Submitted by Dick Schoenling



The name Dunbar comes from the old barony of Dunbar, now in East Lothian. The name Dunbar itself comes from the Gaelic "dun" meaning "fort and "barr" meaning "summit". The lands were granted by King Malcolm III to the Earl Gospatric who had lived further south in Northumberland in the 11th century but had been forced to flee by William the Conqueror. The Clan Dunbar descend from Gospatrick, grandson of Crinan the Thane of Dunkeld and Seneschal of the Isles and nephew to King Duncan I of Scotland who became Earl of Northumberland after his father. In 1072 this title was deprived from him by William the Conqueror and he fled back to Scotland. He was granted lands in Dunbar by King Malcolm III of Scotland thus becoming the Earl of Dunbar.

Patrick of Dunbar married a daughter of King William the Lion in 1184. A later Patrick "Black Beard", 8th Earl of Dunbar, was one of those who competed for the crown of Scotland in 1291 when King Edward I of England volunteered to mediate in the argument. Later, the 9th Earl of Dunbar sheltered King Edward II at Dunbar after the flight of the English king from the field of Bannockburn in 1314.

During the 14th century, the 10th Earl enlarged his estates and became one of the most important nobles in Scotland. He accompanied the Earl of Douglas in his raids into England and fought at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388 in which the Scots defeated Henry Percy, (Hotspur) but with the loss of the Earl of Douglas. But he fell out with the Douglas family when they disrupted his plans for his daughter to marry the son of King Robert III.

In the early 15th century, the 11th Earl of Dunbar became so powerful that he became perceived as a threat to King James I and he was imprisoned on a trumped up charge of treason so that the king could take over the large Dunbar estates. The last Earl died in exile in England in 1455.

There have been a number of other Dunbars who have walked across the pages of Scottish history. In 1337, Agnes, Countess of Dunbar, known as Black Agnes, conducted a sturdy defence of Dunbar Castle while her husband was absent. She was the daughter of King Robert the Bruce's friend, Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray. She calmly dusted the stones off the battlements with her 'kerchief whenever the besieging cannons of the Earls of Salisbury and Arundel crashed into the castle walls. The siege lasted 19 weeks and was eventually abandoned. In the 16th century, the Archbishoprics of both Glasgow and Aberdeen were both held by Gavin Dunbars from the Mochrum line. The Archbishop of Glasgow was a tutor of King James V and became his Lord Chancellor.

Perhaps the best known member of the family was William Dunbar (1460-1513) who was a court poet to King James IV. While much of his poetry was composed by royal command, he also managed to include advice to his monarch! His works were meant to be read out loud and Sir Richard Burton listed Dunbar's "Lament for the Makaris" as one of his three favourite poems. William Dunbar may have died at the Battle of Flodden with his king.

In 1694, Sir James Dunbar of Mochrum was created a Baronet of Nova Scotia and in his coat of arms he was allowed to use supporters "Imperially Crowned". The present line of Dunbar clan chiefs was established in a celebrated court case in 1990 which went all the way to the House of Lords.

The Dunbar clan motto is "In promptu" which means "In readiness".


GOSPATRIC, Earl of Northumbria

Gospatric or Cospatric (from the Cumbrian "Servant of Saint Patrick"), (died after 1073), was Earl of Northumbria, or of Bernicia, and later lord of sizable estates around Dunbar. While his ancestry is uncertain, his descendants held the Earldom of Dunbar, later known as the Earldom of March, in south-east Scotland until 1435.

Gospatric is often said to have been a son of Maldred son of Crínán of Dunkeld. If this is correct, Maldred was apparently not the son of Crínán's known wife Bethóc, daughter of the Scots king Malcolm II, as Gospatric's descendants made no such claim when they submitted their pleadings in the Great Cause (though according to this link his descendant, Patrick the Seventh Earl of Dunbar, did indeed make a claim to the throne during these pleadings) to determine the succession to the kingship of the Scots after the death of Alexander III. Alternatively, rather than being descended from a half-brother of King Duncan I (Donnchad mac Crínáin), Gospatric may have been the youngest son of Earl Uchtred the Bold (died 1016). Another reconstruction would make Gospatric the grandson of Uchtred's discarded first wife, Ecgfritha, daughter of Aldhun, Bishop of Durham, through Sigrida, her daughter with Kilvert son of Ligulf. Whatever his parentage may have been, Gospatric was clearly an important figure in Northumbria and Cumbria, with ties to the family of Earl Uchtred.

The Life of Edward the Confessor, commissioned by Queen Edith, contains an account of the pilgrimage to Rome of Tostig Godwinson, Earl of Northumbria. It tells how a band of robbers attacked Tostig's party in Italy, seeking to kidnap the Earl. A certain Gospatric "was believed because of the luxury of his clothes and his physical appearance, which was indeed distinguished" to be Earl Tostig, and succeeded in deceiving the would-be kidnappers as to his identity until the real Earl was safely away from the scene. Whether this was the same Gospatric, or a kinsman of the same name, is unclear, but it is suggested that his presence in Tostig's party was as a hostage as much as a guest.


Earl of Northumbria was a title in the Anglo-Danish, late Anglo-Saxon, and early Anglo-Norman period in England. The earldom of Northumbria was the successor of the eardormanry of Bamburgh, itself the successor of an independent Bernicia. Under the Norse kingdom of York, there were earls of Deira. Eventually all Northumbria was united under the Bernician dynasty. This dynasty held onto Bernicia until 1041, but from 1016 there were other earls in York who were appointed by King Canute the Great over all Northumbria. It was itself broken up in the early Norman period and dissolved into the earldoms of York and Northumberland, with much land going to the prince-bishopric of Durham.

The earls were:

  • Osulf I (954-963), Earl of Bernicia from 930
  • Oslac of Northumbria, exiled in 975
  • Waltheof I (963-995)
  • Uhtred the Bold (1006-1016)
  • Eric of Hlathir/Eirik Håkonson (1016-1023)
  • Siward (1031-1055), without underlings in Bernicia from 1041
  • Tostig (1055-1065)
  • Morcar (1065-1066)
  • Copsi (1067)
  • Osulf II (1067)
  • Gospatric (1067-1068)
  • Robert Comine (1068-1069)


Crínán of Dunkeld

Crínán of Dunkeld (died 1045) was the lay abbot of the diocese of Dunkeld, and perhaps the Mormaer of Atholl. Crínán was progenitor of the House of Dunkeld, the dynasty who would rule Scotland until the later 13th century.

Crinán was married to Bethoc, daughter of King Malcolm II of Scotland (reigned 1005-1034). As Malcolm II had no son, the strongest hereditary claim to the Scottish throne descended through Bethóc, and Crinán's eldest son Donnchad I (reigned 1034-1040), became King of Scots. Some sources indicate that Malcolm II designated Duncan as his successor under the rules of tanistry because there were other possible claimants to the throne.

Crinán's second son, Maldred of Allerdale, held the title of Lord of Cumbria. It is said that from him, the Earls of Dunbar, for example Patrick Dunbar, 9th Earl of Dunbar, descend in unbroken male line.

Crinán was killed in battle in 1045 at Dunkeld.



The Declaration of Arbroath was a declaration of Scottish independence, and set out to confirm Scotland's status as an independent, sovereign state and its use of military action when unjustly attacked. It is in the form of a letter submitted to Pope John XXII, dated 6 April 1320. Sealed by fifty-one magnates and nobles, the letter is the sole survivor of three created at the time. The others were a letter from the King of Scots and a letter from the clergy which all presumably made similar points.

The Declaration made a number of much-debated rhetorical points: that Scotland had always been independent, indeed for longer than England; that Edward I of England had unjustly attacked Scotland and perpetrated atrocities; that Robert the Bruce had delivered the Scottish nation from this peril; and, most controversially, that the independence of Scotland was the prerogative of the Scots people, rather than the King of Scots. In fact it stated that the nobility would choose someone else to be king if the current one did anything to threaten Scotland's independence.

While often interpreted as an early expression of 'popular sovereignty' – that kings could be chosen by the population rather than by God alone – it can also be argued to have been a means of passing the responsibility for disobeying papal commands from the king to the people. In other words, Robert I was arguing that he was forced to fight an illegal war (as far as the Pope was concerned) or face being deposed.

Written in Latin, it is believed to have been drafted by Bernard, abbot of Arbroath Abbey (often identified as Bernard de Linton, although his surname is unknown), who was the Chancellor of Scotland at the time; and by bishop Alexander Kininmund. While dated to 6 April 1320 at Arbroath Abbey, there was in fact no meeting of nobles there by whom the document was drafted. Instead the document may have been discussed at a council meeting at Newbattle Abbey, Midlothian, in March 1320, though firm evidence for such a debate is lacking. Arbroath was simply the location of the royal chancery, Abbot Bernard's writing office, and the date provides evidence only for his part in proceedings.

The seals of eight earls and as many as forty-one other Scottish nobles were appended to the document, probably over the space of some weeks and months, with nobles sending in their seals to be used. The Declaration was then taken to the papal court at Avignon.

The Pope seems to have paid some heed to the arguments contained by the Declaration, although its contemporary influence should not be overstated. It was in part due to his intervention that a short-lived peace treaty between Scotland and England, the Treaty of Northampton, renouncing all English claims to Scotland, was finally signed by the English king, Edward III, on the 1 March 1328.

The original copy of the Declaration that was sent to Avignon is lost. However, a file copy has been maintained by the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh. The most widely known English language translation was created by Sir James Fergusson, formerly Keeper of the Records of Scotland, from text that he reconstructed using this extant copy and early copies of the original draft. One passage in particular is often quoted from the Fergusson translation:

...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 stirring rhetoric of the Declaration has made it famous both in Scotland and internationally, and it has been suggested that it had some influence on the drafters of the United States Declaration of Independence. Debate still rages about the contemporary relevance of the document – whether it represented the genuine thoughts of the nobility regarding independence, sovereignty and the proto-democratic right of the people to choose a king, or whether it was above all a piece of royal propaganda and special pleading, drafted strictly under the control of the chief royal minister, Abbot Bernard. However, it is not disputed that the document subsequently played an influential role in the history of Scottish national identity and the creation of the common belief (whether based in legal reality or not) that in Scotland it is the 'people' that are sovereign, rather than the monarch or parliament, as in England.


The Declaration of Arbroath 1320
English Translation


To the most Holy Father and Lord in Christ, the Lord John, by divine providence Supreme Pontiff of the Holy Roman and Universal Church, his humble and devout sons Duncan, Earl of Fife, Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, Lord of Man and of Annandale, Patrick Dunbar, Earl of March, Malise, Earl of Strathearn, Malcolm, Earl of Lennox, William, Earl of Ross, Magnus, Earl of Caithness and Orkney, and William, Earl of Sutherland; Walter, Steward of Scotland, William Soules, Butler of Scotland, James, Lord of Douglas, Roger Mowbray, David, Lord of Brechin, David Graham, Ingram Umfraville, John Menteith, guardian of the earldom of Menteith, Alexander Fraser, Gilbert Hay, Constable of Scotland, Robert Keith, Marischal of Scotland, Henry St Clair, John Graham, David Lindsay, William Oliphant, Patrick Graham, John Fenton, William Abernethy, David Wemyss, William Mushet, Fergus of Ardrossan, Eustace Maxwell, William Ramsay, William Mowat, Alan Murray, Donald Campbell, John Cameron, Reginald Cheyne, Alexander Seton, Andrew Leslie, and Alexander Straiton, and the other barons and freeholders and the whole community of the realm of Scotland send all manner of filial reverence, with devout kisses of his blessed feet.

Most Holy Father and Lord, we know and from the chronicles and books of the ancients we find that among other famous nations our own, the Scots, has been graced with widespread renown. They journeyed from Greater Scythia by way of the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Pillars of Hercules, and dwelt for a long course of time in Spain among the most savage tribes, but nowhere could they be subdued by any race, however barbarous. Thence they came, twelve hundred years after the people of Israel crossed the Red Sea, to their home in the west where they still live today. The Britons they first drove out, the Picts they utterly destroyed, and, even though very often assailed by the Norwegians, the Danes and the English, they took possession of that home with many victories and untold efforts; and, as the historians of old time bear witness, they have held it free of all bondage ever since. In their kingdom there have reigned one hundred and thirteen kings of their own royal stock, the line unbroken a single foreigner. The high qualities and deserts of these people, were they not otherwise manifest, gain glory enough from this: that the King of kings and Lord of lords, our Lord Jesus Christ, after His Passion and Resurrection, called them, even though settled in the uttermost parts of the earth, almost the first to His most holy faith. Nor would He have them confirmed in that faith by merely anyone but by the first of His Apostles — by calling, though second or third in rank — the most gentle Saint Andrew, the Blessed Peter's brother, and desired him to keep them under his protection as their patron forever.

The Most Holy Fathers your predecessors gave careful heed to these things and bestowed many favours and numerous privileges on this same kingdom and people, as being the special charge of the Blessed Peter's brother. Thus our nation under their protection did indeed live in freedom and peace up to the time when that mighty prince the King of the English, Edward, the father of the one who reigns today, when our kingdom had no head and our people harboured no malice or treachery and were then unused to wars or invasions, came in the guise of a friend and ally to harass them as an enemy. The deeds of cruelty, massacre, violence, pillage, arson, imprisoning prelates, burning down monasteries, robbing and killing monks and nuns, and yet other outrages without number which he committed against our people, sparing neither age nor sex, religion nor rank, no one could describe nor fully imagine unless he had seen them with his own eyes.

But from these countless evils we have been set free, by the help of Him Who though He afflicts yet heals and restores, by our most tireless Prince, King and Lord, the Lord Robert. He, that his people and his heritage might be delivered out of the hands of our enemies, met toil and fatigue, hunger and peril, like another Macabaeus or Joshua and bore them cheerfully. Him, too, divine providence, his right of succession according to or laws and customs which we shall maintain to the death, and the due consent and assent of us all have made our Prince and King. To him, as to the man by whom salvation has been wrought unto our people, we are bound both by law and by his merits that our freedom may be still maintained, and by him, come what may, we mean to stand. Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; 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.

Therefore it is, Reverend Father and Lord, that we beseech your Holiness with our most earnest prayers and suppliant hearts, inasmuch as you will in your sincerity and goodness consider all this, that, since with Him Whose vice-gerent on earth you are there is neither weighing nor distinction of Jew and Greek, Scotsman or Englishman, you will look with the eyes of a father on the troubles and privation brought by the English upon us and upon the Church of God. May it please you to admonish and exhort the King of the English, who ought to be satisfied with what belongs to him since England used once to be enough for seven kings or more, to leave us Scots in peace, who live in this poor little Scotland, beyond which there is no dwelling-place at all, and covet nothing but our own. We are sincerely willing to do anything for him, having regard to our condition, that we can, to win peace for ourselves. This truly concerns you, Holy Father, since you see the savagery of the heathen raging against the Christians, as the sins of Christians have indeed deserved, and the frontiers of Christendom being pressed inward every day; and how much it will tarnish your Holiness's memory if (which God forbid) the Church suffers eclipse or scandal in any branch of it during your time, you must perceive. Then rouse the Christian princes who for false reasons pretend that they cannot go to help of the Holy Land because of wars they have on hand with their neighbours. The real reason that prevents them is that in making war on their smaller neighbours they find quicker profit and weaker resistance. But how cheerfully our Lord the King and we too would go there if the King of the English would leave us in peace, He from Whom nothing is hidden well knows; and we profess and declare it to you as the Vicar of Christ and to all Christendom. But if your Holiness puts too much faith in the tales the English tell and will not give sincere belief to all this, nor refrain from favouring them to our prejudice, then the slaughter of bodies, the perdition of souls, and all the other misfortunes that will follow, inflicted by them on us and by us on them, will, we believe, be surely laid by the Most High to your charge.

To conclude, we are and shall ever be, as far as duty calls us, ready to do your will in all things, as obedient sons to you as His Vicar; and to Him as the Supreme King and Judge we commit the maintenance of our cause, casting our cares upon Him and firmly trusting that He will inspire us with courage and bring our enemies to nought. May the Most High preserve you to his Holy Church in holiness and health and grant you length of days.

Given at the monastery of Arbroath in Scotland on the sixth day of the month of April in the year of grace thirteen hundred and twenty and the fifteenth year of the reign of our King aforesaid.

Endorsed: Letter directed to our Lord the Supreme Pontiff by the community of Scotland.

Dunbar Motto
Dunbar Firmior quo paratior The more prepared, the stronger
Dunbar Fortis et fidelis Brave and faithful
Dunbar Impromptu In readiness
Dunbar In promptu In readiness
Dunbar Olet et sanat It smells sweet and heals
Dunbar Ornat fortem prudentia Prudence adorns the brave
Dunbar Prœcipitatus attamen tutus Cast down, yet safe
Dunbar Sapiens non eget The wise man never wants
Dunbar Sapit qui laborat He is wise who exerts himself
Dunbar Spes dabit auxilium Hope will lend aid
Dunbar Sub spe Under hope


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