The Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 1966

Other names

  • The Arbroath Abbey Pageant of the Declaration of Scottish Independence, 1966

Pageant type


The pageant was organised by the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society.

Jump to Summary


Place: Arbroath Abbey (Arbroath) (Arbroath, Angus, Scotland)

Year: 1966

Indoors/outdoors: Outdoors

Number of performances: 9


20–27 August 1966

Saturday 20 August, 2.30pm and 9.30pm; Sunday 21 August–Saturday 27 August, 9.30 pm.

The pageant took place within the ruins of the medieval Arbroath Abbey, which has long been roofless and open to the elements.

Name of pageant master and other named staff

  • Pageant Producer [Pageant Master]: Thornton, F.W.A.
  • Pageant Producer [Pageant Master]: Shepherd, George S.
  • Lighting: Vince Torrance
  • Sound Recording: Bill Shaw
  • Sound Reproduction: Ken McDonald1
  • Lighting Operators: Anita Wilson, Phyllis Buick, Laura Chapel, David Crockett, Ketih Scott, Jeff Moffatt, Francis Fairweather, Robert Seaton, Andrew McHutchison, Elspeth Christie, Andrew Thornton, Gordon Robertson, Steven Findlay and William Leonard
  • Costumes: Mrs K. Heathfield and Mrs Macdonald
  • Make-Up: Councillor Mrs Cargill
  • Assistant for Make-Up: Mrs Catriona Cumming
  • Stewarding: Mr William Millar
  • Assistant Stewards: J.D. Beattie, C. Watson, R. Hankin and C.M. Esplan2

Names of executive committee or equivalent

  • Chairman: A. Linton Robertson, Esq.
  • Vice-Chair: F.W.A. Thornton
  • Secretary: E.B. Mackintosh
  • Treasurer: James Ewart
  • Publicity Officer: J. Chisholm
  • Other members: Rev. T. Gemmell Campbell, G.S. Shepherd, Councillor J. O'Riley, J.W. Evans, D.Y. Cargill and James Riley


The executive were elected following the 1964 pageant at the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society's AGM held in December 1964; there is no available information about any possible subsequent changes to the membership between then and 1966. Some members were veterans of the pageant from its early days and all through the annual events from 1947 to 1956. However, many were new additions who joined following its revival in the 1960s.

Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)

  • Milne, J. Crawford
  • Thornton, F.W.A.
  • Thornton, Donald
  • Mackenzie, Agnes Mure


The prologue was written by the poet J. Crawford Milne; it had been used in some previous presentations of the pageant. The pageant producer, Frank Thornton wrote the script of the play, The Laurel Crown as well as the commentary given during the Declaration scene. A further part of this scene was a recitation, in English translation, of the text of the Declaration of Scottish Independence. This translation was done by the popular historian Agnes Mure Mackenzie and had been used at every performance of this scene since at least 1948. Mackenzie was a long time supporter of the pageant until her death in 1955.4 The epilogue used in 1966 has no credited author but appears to be a version previously used in the pageant which was written by Donald Thornton (brother of the pageant master).5

Names of composers

  • Irvine, Jessie Seymour

Psalm XXIII was sung during the pageant to the tune 'Crimond', which is usually attributed to Jessie Seymour Irvine.

Numbers of performers


Horses were used in the main scene. The cast was significantly under strength in 1966.

Financial information

Expenditure: c.£1400.

Object of any funds raised

Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society


Detailed accounts have not been recovered, but soon after the pageant the Arbroath Herald reported that an estimated £1400 had been spent on the pageant and that 'a substantial loss' was expected. The Society's savings would cover this, but this would use 'almost all of their assets'.6

Linked occasion


Audience information

  • Grandstand: Yes
  • Grandstand capacity: Approx. 250
  • Total audience: n/a


There is no note of the grandstand capacity but it is likely to have been the same as that provided in 1964 when it was 250.

Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest

12s. 6d.–3s. 6d.

Covered grandstand: 12s. 6d
Other seats: 10s.; 7s. 6d.; 5s.; 3s. 6d.
Children: half-price7

Associated events

No record has been recovered of ancillary events.

Pageant outline

The National Anthem

Introductory Ceremony (Saturday 22 August only)

Introduction by A. Linton Robertson, Esq., Chairman of the Arbroath Abbey Pageant Society.

Prayer of Dedication by the Rev. T. Gemmell Campbell, Minister of the Old Church, Arbroath.

Psalm XXIII (‘The Lord is my Shepherd’, verses 1 and 5 to the tune of 'Crimond').

An Address by Lord Kilbrandon.

A Vote of Thanks by R.R. Spink, Esq., Provost of Arbroath.8



This was an established text which had been performed in the earlier years of the pageant alongside the one-act play, The Laurel Crown. It was written by the local poet J. Crawford Milne, and a pre-recorded narration of this was given by F.W.A. Thornton. The prologue was a verse extolling the beauty of Scotland and praising the Scots of long ago and their fortitude. The poem then moves on to describe the start of the Wars of Independence and the emergence of Wallace as a heroic figure.

Pageant-Play: The Laurel Crown [1305]

Described as 'A Historical Interlude in One scene' by its author, the pageant's producer, F. W. A. Thornton, this covered the trial and execution of William Wallace. It was first performed in the Arbroath Pageant of 1950 and was reprised in many subsequent pageants including that held in 1964. The scene was set in Westminster Hall in London in 1305. The main roles were:

King Edward I of England (played by Alistair Duncan)
Earl of Pembroke (Bill Shaw)
Earl of Sussex (David Thornton)
Sir Peter Malory, Lord Chief Justice of England (Jack Laing)
Lord Mayor of London (T. Burns Mitchell)
Constable of the Tower of London (Jack Freestone)
Sir William Wallace (Ian Spalding).9


The Signing of the Declaration of Scottish Independence [1320]

This was the same performance that had taken place (with possible small amendments) in every pageant held from 1947. It enacted the famous signing of the Declaration that was then purported to have been drafted by Abbot Bernard de Linton.10 The action was briefly as follows:

1. Entrance of the Lord High Abbot, Bernard de Linton, in Ceremonial Procession with Bishops, Canons and Monks.

2. Arrival of King Robert the Bruce, accompanied by Cavalcade of Barons and Squires, with retinue of Foot Soldiers.

3. The Signing of the Declaration.

4. Departure of King and retinue.

5. The Lord High Abbot, Bishops and Monks seen in Ceremonial Procession.

The main roles were:

Bernard de Linton Abbot of Aberbrothock (played by Raymond Chroscicki)
Bishop of Aberdeen (John Mentiply)
Bishop of St Andrews (Joe Riley)
Bishop of Dunkeld (David Walker)
Robert Bruce (King of Scots) (Jim McGugan)
Lord Douglas (Ally Rintoul)
Lord Randolph (Jim Hynd)
Herald (Thomas Walker)
Cross-bearer (Brian Cumming)
Acolytes (Jeffrey Dugdale, Joe Johnston, Alec Small and Harry Will)
Bearer of the Banner of St Columba (David Thornton)
Bearers of the Bishops' Standards (Ken Cargill, Derek Law and Stewart Laird).

Also taking part were performers in the roles of Monks (played by the Arbroath Male Voice Choir) and a number of unnamed Barons.11 The pre-recorded commentary was narrated by Frank Thornton.


This was a short text that had been given in earlier versions of the pageant and was written by Donald Thornton. In this, a warrior extols the nobility of freedom. The text includes quotation from John of Fordoun's fourteenth century Chronica Gentis Scotorum, translated from the original Latin. It is as follows:

This Freedom that our ancestors have left us, that is more to be sought than gold or the topaz stone, far beyond jewels, nay for us, far beyond the value of all the world. This that our high-hearted ancestors have left us, and even to their death served loyally, we too, shall keep inviolate for our sons, and pass it on to them in our own time, unstained by one single jot of slavery.12

Key historical figures mentioned

  • Wallace, Sir William (d. 1305) patriot and guardian of Scotland
  • Robert I [Robert Bruce] (1274–1329) king of Scots
  • Bernard (d. 1330/31) administrator and bishop of Sodor
  • Douglas, Sir James [called the Black Douglas] (d. 1330) soldier
  • Randolph, Thomas, first earl of Moray (d. 1332) soldier and guardian of Scotland
  • Edward I (1239–1307) king of England and lord of Ireland, and duke of Aquitaine
  • Valence, Aymer de, eleventh earl of Pembroke (d. 1324) magnate
  • Warenne, John de, seventh earl of Surrey [earl of Surrey and Sussex, Earl Warenne] (1286–1347) magnate

Musical production

  • Arbroath Male Voice Choir. Director of Choir: Andrew Morrison. The choir performed singing of the Ave Verum (specific arrangement unknown) during the Declaration scene.
  • There were fanfares played but this may have been recorded music.
  • An organ accompanied the singing of Psalm 23 at the opening of the pageant, but there is no note if this was recorded or played live. The tune was 'Crimond', usually attributed to Jessie Seymour Irvine (1836–1887). Composed in 1872, this is commonly used for singing Psalm 23, 'The Lord Is My Shepherd', in Scotland and elsewhere. 

Newspaper coverage of pageant

Arbroath Herald
Arbroath Guide

Book of words


No book of words was produced.

Other primary published materials

  • The Arbroath Abbey Pageant of the Declaration of Scottish Independence in the Ruins of Arbroath Abbey, August 20 to 27, 1966 Souvenir Programme One Shilling. Arbroath, 1966.

References in secondary literature

  • There is a brief mention in The Third Statistical Account of Scotland, see Gladstone-Millar, Rev. W.E. 'The Abbey Pageant'. In The County of Angus, edited by William Allen Illsley. Arbroath, 1977. At 525.
  • Hutchison, Isobel Wylie. 'Poets' Voices Linger in Scottish Shrines'. National Geographic Magazine CXII, October 1957, 437–87. The pageant was featured in this travel article around literary shrines in Scotland.
  • Ritchie, N. Graham. 'Images of the Declaration: The Arbroath Pageant.' In The Declaration of Arbroath: History, Significance, Setting, edited by Geoffrey Barrow. Edinburgh, 2003. At 86–107.

Archival holdings connected to pageant

  • Angus Archives, near Forfar, holds a large number of undated photographs of the pageant which may include some taken in 1966 See, for example, shelfmark: MS781.
  • Arbroath Public Library holds three copies of the Souvenir Programme. Shelfmark: 18.94.5.

Sources used in preparation of pageant

  • Mackenzie, Agnes Mure. Translation of the Declaration.
  • John of Fordun [or Fordoun]. Chronicle of the Scottish Nation.

The Translation of the Declaration by Agnes Mure Mackenzie was first published in the 1949 souvenir pamphlet and was read in performance of the signing of the document. This was reproduced in the 1966 souvenir programme and in many previous programmes.

The epilogue quotes or paraphrases a well-known passage from John of Fordun's Chronica Gentis Scotorum [Chronicle of the Scottish Nation]. The passage extols the virtues of freedom and states that it is to be cherished 'above gold and topaze'.14


For the twelfth in the series of Arbroath Abbey pageants, the intention seems to have been to put on a performance using all of those elements that had worked so well in the past. There was no change to the programme that was played two years earlier in 1964 and indeed had been put on at numerous other occasions over the years. Robert the Bruce rode in through the gates of the Abbey once again, played by Jim McGugan as he had been in 1964. In the intervening two years there were some cast changes, however, the most notable of which was that Raymond Chroscicki, who had once stood in for George Shepherd at one of the presentations in 1964 when Shepherd had to bow out because of injury, now took over the part of Bernard de Linton. And in the one-act play, The Laurel Crown, many times repeated at the Arbroath Pageant, there was an almost complete cast change, although veteran actor Ian Spalding remained in the part of William Wallace. A further success in the past had been the illuminated presentations; these had been lauded as atmospheric and inspiring and were now established as the signature of the Arbroath pageant; in 1966, they were increased to eight nightly shows with only the opening gala performance being held during daylight hours.

Given the financial losses made in previous years, it is perhaps surprising that the number of performances was increased, but this decision may have been influenced by the fact that smaller audiences were now expected for each show. It was also perhaps anticipated that the newly opened road bridge over the river Tay would attract visitors from the south to make a day excursion to the town, and this may have encouraged the organisers to run the pageant over two weekends. And indeed, this turned out to be the case, according to the local press, which also remarked that many of these visitors were young people.15 Audiences remained modest, however, and for the Sunday night performance the smallest ever number of spectators was counted, with only 36 people arriving to see the pageant.16

In 1964 it had appeared that the days when the great and the good might be invited to officially open the pageant were over; on that occasion the popular kilted entertainer Andy Stewart had been the opening speaker. But in 1966, this innovation was overturned in favour of previous custom, and the opening speaker was the judge, Baron Kilbrandon, who in 1965 was Chairman of the Scottish Law Commission.17 There may have been something of an agenda involved with this particular return to tradition, however, since Kilbrandon was an 'arch-devolutionist'.18 Kilbrandon spoke about Scotland's nationhood in the context of the proposal for the UK to join what was then called the Common Market, stating that, 'if Britain joined the Six, it will become not seven but eight.'19 He went so far as to suggest that a new declaration might be needed in this event.20 Questions of home rule and even independence had never really disappeared when this pageant was performed and this particular year was no exception. One letter to the local press congratulated the cast on the excellence of their performance but went on to ask:

I am sorry to strike a discordant note, but is it necessary to play the anthem of the country whose aggression against Scotland made the Declaration of Arbroath necessary?

The Editor included a reply to this letter stating that it was perfectly appropriate to play the national anthem at the pageant since the Queen was the Queen of Scots and 'the living embodiment of the longest Royal line in the world's history. Only English history books curtail Her Majesty's lineage by taking it back through the Tudors to the Norman Conquerors.'21 A further letter from a Scottish émigré resident of London who had evidently travelled to see the pageant frankly stated that Lord Kilbrandon spoke sense, but that he would go further and say that 'Scotland's future does not lie with England but as an independent country and as a member of the common market on that basis'. According to this writer, Scotland was let down by its voters, who he described as:

hard-drinking, TV- watching, short-sighted pretenders at the English way of life who masquerade as Scotsmen yet who lately had neither the desire nor the inclination to support or celebrate the recreation of the greatest moment in their country's history!22

Frank Thornton, the long-time pageant producer and a bailie on Arbroath's town council, had always tried to deflect such inflammatory comments. Indeed, since at least the mid-1950s, when he did comment on the message of the pageant, he tended to internationalise the pageant's mission rather than concentrating on politics nearer to home. In 1966, he stated that:

We believe the Declaration is not a local or even a national thing, but is international. We think it is a medieval charter of the United Nations, and is significant even today. It speaks a message of hope and freedom to the oppressed nations of the world...23

Thornton's days of dodging the issue of Scottish autonomy were fast diminishing, however. For although he believed that party politics should ideally be kept out of the pageant and, indeed, out of local government politics (for he stood as an independent), later on in 1966 he was instrumental in setting up an Arbroath local branch of the Scottish National Party and became its first secretary.24 The pageant had also sometimes attracted celebrity visitors, and in this particular year, the most high profile of these had been the then notorious political activist for Scottish devolution, Wendy Wood.25

Audiences were disappointing and, although no figures have been recovered, losses must have been substantial. Unsurprisingly, there was speculation about what would happen in the future where the pageant was concerned—given that 1970 would be the 650th anniversary of the Declaration and nationwide celebrations were being planned. The Arbroath Herald posed the question: 'Here in Arbroath, the Town Council will raise £4000 to finance the commemorative season. Will a Pageant adorn the festivities as it ought?'26 They really should have had more faith! Arbroath's pageant would of course go on to be staged again in 1970.


  1. ^ The Arbroath Abbey Pageant of the Declaration of Scottish Independence in the Ruins of Arbroath Abbey, August 20 to 27, 1966 Souvenir Programme One Shilling (Arbroath, 1966), np.
  2. ^ 'New Scots Declaration is Necessary', Arbroath Herald, 26 August 1966, 8.
  3. ^ 'Next Pageant in 1966', Arbroath Herald, 11 December 1964, 17.
  4. ^ See entry by Joan Morrison Noble in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, ed. Elizabeth Ewan et al. (Edinburgh, 2006), 229.
  5. ^ See The Arbroath Abbey Pageant of the Declaration of Scottish Independence in the Ruins of Arbroath Abbey, August 20 to 27, 1966 Souvenir Programme One Shilling (Arbroath, 1966), np.
  6. ^ Arbroath Herald, 2 September 1966, 5.
  7. ^ Advertisement, Arbroath Herald, 12 August 1966, 1.
  8. ^ The Arbroath Abbey Pageant of the Declaration of Scottish Independence in the Ruins of Arbroath Abbey, August 20 to 27, 1966 Souvenir Programme One Shilling (Arbroath, 1966),np.
  9. ^ The Arbroath Abbey Pageant of the Declaration of Scottish Independence in the Ruins of Arbroath Abbey, August 20 to 27, 1966 Souvenir Programme One Shilling (Arbroath, 1966), np.
  10. ^ It was later established that the Abbot in question was not de Linton who was not Chancellor of Scotland and was an Abbot in the Scottish Borders, but another, usually called 'Bernard of Arbroath', who was Chancellor in the period of the document's creation as well as Abbott at Arbroath Abbey. It should be noted, however, that it is almost certain that the document was the work of more than one author. See Edward J. Cowan, For Freedom Alone: The Declaration of Arbroath, 1320 (East Linton, 2003), 54.
  11. ^ The Arbroath Abbey Pageant of the Declaration of Scottish Independence in the Ruins of Arbroath Abbey, August 20 to 27, 1966 Souvenir Programme One Shilling (Arbroath, 1966), np.
  12. ^ Extract from the Epilogue reproduced in The Arbroath Abbey Pageant of the Declaration of Scottish Independence in the Ruins of Arbroath Abbey, August 20 to 27, 1966 Souvenir Programme One Shilling (Arbroath, 1966), np. Fordoun is generally acknowledged as the author of the fourteenth-century chronicle of Scotland Chronica Gentis Scotorum; others, most notably Walter Bower in his Scotichronicon, later incorporated this history into their writings. The historian, Agnes Mure Mackenzie was also fond of using this passage and indeed, had paraphrased it in an address she gave at the 1949 pageant.
  13. ^ See entry by Richard Watson in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, ed. Elizabeth Ewan et al. (Edinburgh, 2006), 180.
  14. ^ This famous text has been translated from the original Latin and reproduced several times; see, for example, 'John of Fordun's Chronicle of the Scottish Nation’, trans. Felix J.H. Skene, in The Historians of Scotland, Vol. IV, ed. William F. Skene (Edinburgh, 1872), 45.
  15. ^ Arbroath Herald, 2 September 1966, 5.
  16. ^ Arbroath Herald, 2 September 1966, 5.
  17. ^ D.W.R. Brand, ‘Shaw, Charles James Dalrymple, Baron Kilbrandon (1906–1989)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford, 2004), accessed 15/1/2016.
  18. ^ This description was made in Kilbrandon's obituary, Glasgow Herald, 12 September 1989, 11.
  19. ^ Arbroath Herald, 26 August 1966, 8. In 1966, the six nations which formed the European Economic Union or Common Market as it was widely known, were France, West Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg. The UK eventually joined in 1973 along with Ireland and Denmark.
  20. ^ 'How Scotland Would Fit into Europe', Glasgow Herald, 23 August 1966, 5.
  21. ^ Letter and editor's reply, Arbroath Herald, 26 August 1966, 14.
  22. ^ Letter, Arbroath Herald, 2 September 1966, 4.
  23. ^ 'Pageant Players Meet', Arbroath Herald, 17 June 1966, 16.
  24. ^ Arbroath Herald, 25 November 1966, 7.
  25. ^ See entry by Rosy Addison in The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women, ed. Elizabeth Ewan et al. (Edinburgh, 2006), 379–80.
  26. ^ 'Arbroath and its Abbey Pageant', editorial, Arbroath Herald, 26 August 1966, 4.

How to cite this entry

Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘The Arbroath Abbey Pageant, 1966’, The Redress of the Past,