Historic Wallace letters to be displayed in Scotland for the first time

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by a Newsnet reporter

Two letters once in the possession of Sir William Wallace are to be displayed together in Scotland next year.  One is a letter from the King of France asking his agents to assist Wallace on a visit to the pope to plead Scotland’s case.  The second is a letter written by Wallace and Andrew Murray to merchants in northern Germany and bearing Wallace’s personal seal, the ‘Lübeck letter’ (pictured).  It is the first time that both letters have been displayed together in Scotland.

by a Newsnet reporter

Two letters once in the possession of Sir William Wallace are to be displayed together in Scotland next year.  One is a letter from the King of France asking his agents to assist Wallace on a visit to the pope to plead Scotland’s case.  The second is a letter written by Wallace and Andrew Murray to merchants in northern Germany and bearing Wallace’s personal seal, the ‘Lübeck letter’ (pictured).  It is the first time that both letters have been displayed together in Scotland.

The letter from the French king was in Wallace’s possession when he was captured by the English in 1305.  Wallace was taken to London and executed.  Since then the letter has remained in the National Archive in London.  It has never been on public display in Scotland.  

The Wallace Society has long campaigned for the letter to be returned to Scotland and has been supported in its campaign by the Scottish government.  However some historians disputed that the letter was ever in Wallace’s possession, and claim it is unverified whether he ever did visit the pope.  Earlier this year an expert panel of historians and academics met to resolve the question and confirmed that it was most likely that Wallace had indeed been carrying the letter at the time of his imprisonment.

Although the Lübeck letter will be exhibited on loan from the city of Lübeck which owns it, there is hope that King Philip’s letter will remain permanently in Scotland.  As one of the few surviving contemporary documents relating to a major figure in Scottish history, it is only in Scotland that its true important and relevance can be appreciated.

Christine Grahame, SNP MSP for South of Scotland, has been one of the foremost politicians active in highlighting this issue.  Speaking about the forthcoming exhibition of the letters, most probably at the National Library of Scotland (details of dates and venue have yet to be finalised) in Edinburgh, Ms Grahame said:  

“These are the only known documents connected to Sir William Wallace and so it is marvellous that they will be displayed in Scotland, side by side, next year now that the dispute over whether the King Philip letter was ever in Wallace’s possession has been resolved.

“This is a great coup for the campaigners and historians who have worked to make this happen, in particular the Wallace Society, and I am delighted that these efforts have paid off.  I am hopeful that discussions around keeping the letter from King Philip in Scotland on a more permanent basis will be productive.

“Scots have always loved their history and the history of our nation.  These letters tell part of Scotland’s story and I know people across the country will be very keen to see them on display in our nation’s capital.”

The letters

The ‘Lübeck Letter’ was written by Sir William Wallace and is the only document to survive which bears his personal seal.  Written in Latin in the year 1297, it informs merchants of the north German ports that Scotland was open for business again after the English occupation.  The letter was preserved in the Lübeck city archives, where it remains.  In English translation the text reads:

Andrew Murray and William Wallace, leaders of the army of the kingdom of Scotland and the community, to their worthy and beloved friends, the mayors and citizens of Lübeck and Hamburg, greetings.

We have been told by trustworthy merchants of the kingdom of Scotland that you are giving help and favour in all business concerning us and our merchants for which we thank you. We ask that it be made known among your merchants that they will now have safe access to all ports in the kingdom of Scotland, since Scotland, blessed be God, has been rescued from the power of the English by force of arms.

Given at Haddington in Scotland, on the 11th day of October in the year of grace one thousand two hundred and ninety seven.

The Letter from the King of France was written in 1300 in the court of the French king Philip IV.  Philip IV recommends to his agents at the papal court that they assist Wallace with whatever his business may be with the pope.  It is a very short document, only three lines of Latin text.  In English translation the text reads:

Philip by the grace of God King of the French to my loved and faithful my agents appointed to the Roman Court, greetings and love.  We command you to request the Supreme Pontiff to hold our loved William le Walois of Scotland, knight, recommended to his favour in those things which he has to transact with him.  Given at Pierrefonds on Monday after the feast of All Saints. [7 Nov 1300]

Fourth letter of the King of France.