THE Pope has raised eyebrows with his statement that the question of Scottish independence was settled “the English way” but it’s not the first time the Bishop of Rome has intervened in constitutional politics in Great Britain.

The National has attempted to clarify with the Holy See what Pope Francis meant by his remarks – to no avail.

In the meantime, we dug into the relationship between Scotland and Rome through the ages – from the battlefield to the ballot box.

First Scottish War of Independence

Pope Boniface VIII was a meddling pope who got himself involved in the political affairs of a number of foreign countries, including France, Italy and Scotland during his reign from 1294 to 1303.

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He intervened during the first Scottish War of Independence after the English King Edward I invaded Scotland to force the abdication of King John Balliol (known derisively by his Scottish subjects as Toom Tabard, after the arms of Scotland were torn from his coat).

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King John was released from the Tower of London into the custody of Boniface and was eventually allowed to leave the Pope’s supervision to live out the rest of his life in Picardy, northern France.

Pope Boniface did more than just look after the deposed King of Scotland. He issued a papal bull in 1299, following an appeal from the Scottish Parliament, in which he condemned Edward’s invasion of his northern neighbour and asserted the Catholic church’s feudal overlordship of Scotland – effectively telling Edward invasion wasn’t acceptable. It carried the rather patronising title of Scimus, Fili (which translates as “We know, my son”).

Edward of course ignored the bull and carried on bothering the Scots until he was succeeded by his quite useless son, which gave us some peace for a while after Robert the Bruce beat the English army decisively at the Battle of Bannockburn.

Excommunication of Robert the Bruce

Robert the Bruce was excommunicated by Pope Clement V for murdering John Comyn – a rival claimant to the Scottish throne. He stabbed Comyn to death before the high altar at Greyfriars Monastery in Dumfries in 1306.

The entire country was put under a papal interdict in 1317 because Bruce rejected the Pope’s offer to mediate the conflict between Scotland and England – barring Scots from public religious rituals such as receiving Holy Communion.

The National: Portrait of Robert the Bruce Portrait of Robert the Bruce (Image: National Gallery of Scotland)

He was received back into the church by Pope John XXII, the recipient of the Declaration of Arbroath which we’ll come onto in a moment, in 1328.

This was in light of the Treaty of Edinburgh-Northampton, which produced an uneasy and short-lasting peace between the two kingdoms.

The Declaration of Arbroath

The Declaration of Arbroath was a canny bit of politicking from the Scottish nobility which asserted the independence of Scotland from England. Dated April 6, 1320, the letter was sent to Pope John XXII and signed by Scottish magnates and nobles.

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Some have argued the document contains an early expression of the idea of popular sovereignty, because it praises Bruce as a King chosen for his ability to defend the kingdom rather than deriving his authority from a higher power.

The declaration resulted in John XXII urging Edward II to make peace with the Scots – which he ignored – but the Pope stopped short of recognising the still-excommunicated Robert the Bruce as King of Scots.

Early modern Scotland 

After the first Scottish War of Independence, Rome intervened in the 1332-1357 war through the French, who had formed the Auld Alliance with Scotland by that point.

The National: A statue for Scottish Reformation leader John Knox in Glasgow's Necropolis A statue for Scottish Reformation leader John Knox in Glasgow's Necropolis (Image: Jamie Simpson)

The Scottish Reformation saw the country break away from the Catholic Church and the authority of Mary, Queen of Scots crumble as a Roman Catholic monarch presiding over a Protestant country.

And now? 

Fast-forward to the present day, the Vatican has taken a slightly more reserved stance on Scotland’s constitutional status.

Pope Francis raised concerns about Scottish independence ahead of the 2014 referendum, when he said in an interview with Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia that “all division worried him”.

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He drew parallels with the Catalan independence movement and the desire for parts of northern Italy to form a separate state called Padania.

He said: “There is independence for emancipation and there is independence for secession.

"We think of the old Yugoslavia, where there are peoples and cultures so diverse that they are completely unconnected.

"The Yugoslav case is very clear but I ask myself if things are quite as clear in the other communities that have been together up to now.

"They should be studied on a case-by-case basis. Scotland, Padania, Catalonia. There will be cases that are right and ones that are not."

The National: Pope Francis in November 2022 Pope Francis in November 2022 (Image: AP Photo)

And re-entering the debate, he made the unusual claim that “the English” had settled the question of Scotland’s future.

In an interview with the Spanish newspaper ABC on the topic of Catalan independence, he said: “Spain is not the only case in the world. Each country has to find its historical path to solve these problems. There is no single solution.

“Some regions have obtained preferential statutes as a way to solve these problems and in others divisions were made, and a new country emerged. Is now the time for the definitive solution for Catalonia? I do not know. That is for you to say.

"A couple of years ago we saw the courage of two prime ministers to solve the problem in North Macedonia. In Italy we have an area in the north, the Alto Adige, with its own statute where German and Italian are spoken…and the English resolved the requests from Scotland ‘the English way’.”