Wallace Letter Returns Home

More on the return of the Wallace Letter here.

A 700-year-old letter thought to have been in the possession of William Wallace has returned to Scotland. The fragile document was held in England after it came to light in the Tower of London in the 1830s. It is now on long-term loan to the National Records of Scotland following an agreement with the National Archives in Kew. The letter will go on display to the public this summer at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. The letter, which was from King Philip of France to his officials at the Vatican, mentions Wallace by name. It will be exhibited alongside the famous Lubeck letter, sent by Wallace shortly after the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said: "I am delighted to welcome the Wallace letter back to Scotland. It is one of the few surviving artefacts with a direct link to William Wallace and a fascinating fragment of our nation's history. To have it here in Scotland, where it can be viewed by the Scottish public, is very significant indeed."

The letter from the French king asks his agents in Rome to help Wallace in business with Pope Boniface VIII. It also strongly suggests Wallace intended to travel to Rome, although it is not known if he reached his destination. The paperwork has puzzled historians and aroused speculation about its origins and precise link to Wallace. Last year, an international team of medieval experts concluded the letter was French, was issued on 7 November, 1300, and was likely to have been in Wallace's possession. The fragile document was held in England after it came to light in the Tower of London in the 1830s. George MacKenzie, head of National Records of Scotland, said: "This document is an enigma. It's a letter from the French king to his officials at the Vatican mentioning Wallace, but we don't know what his business was with the Pope. What we do know is that the document still fascinates, 700 years after it was written."

Its return to Scotland follows a campaign by the Society of William Wallace. National Records of Scotland has agreed to borrow the letter from 2012 to 2014, and it will go on display in both years. Officials are discussing means of allowing the document to be housed in Scotland in the longer term. The fragile document can only go on display under controlled lighting for a limited period every few years. Duncan Fenton, of the Society of William Wallace, said: "We have been campaigning for years for this letter to be returned to Scotland and this is a fantastic result - not just for us, but for the Scottish people who will be able to see this document with their own eyes and feel a connection to William Wallace. We do not have a lot of tangible links with Wallace as most of the documentation has been destroyed, so to have something that Wallace actually touched is a massive boost for Scotland."

The free exhibition will run from August 10 to 31 at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

Duncan stands proudly as Fiona Hyslop shows off the letter to the world
George MacKenzie shares his thoughts
A very proud moment for our Convenor Duncan
Duncan addresses the world's media
The letter, verified by experts as the real thing - as we always knew it was
Fiona and Duncan
Duncan's thoughts on the day

January 12th 2012, a memorable day in Scotland’s history.

As I drove towards Edinburgh, waves of panic threatened to engulf me, having to face the nation’s press.  Then I remembered Big Davie Ross’s words to me way back in 1999, the first time I gave a speech in public.  He said, “ You’re only going to speak, you won’t be hung, drawn & quartered like Wallace.” And of course he was right.  So I settled the nerves thinking, “This one’s for you Davie”

Driving to Edinburgh, I felt so pleased for everyone who had helped in this campaign.  From Davie Ross, Gary Stewart, Nick Brand, Alan Reid, Mark Hirst, Professor Barrow and all the academics & politicians who helped to bring this campaign to a successful conclusion, & now it was down to me to put it into words.  I hoped I wouldn’t freeze. Arriving at New Register House, I sat in the waiting room with some reporters & photographers, who asked me some questions before we went in to the conference room. Once there, George MacKenzie, Keeper of the archives, introduced himself & his colleagues.  When the Culture Minister, Fiona Hyslop arrived, I was ushered over to meet her.  I found her very easy-going & likeable.  I presented her with a framed honorary membership of the Society, which she seemed genuinely surprised & delighted to receive. While we are waiting for the organisers to get ready, I casually strolled up to the Wallace Letter, under its protective glass cover.  I saw a few photographers watching me.  I stood over the letter, bent down to get a closer look at it, under the ever-watchful eye of the head restorer responsible for its safety, & just uttered a “Wow”.

Starting the proceedings, George Mackenzie outlined the background of the letter & introduced Fiona Hyslop.  She thanked both the National Archives at Kew & our archives for coming together to bring the letter back home. She then introduced me, & the first thing that I said was that the campaign owed everything to the late Davie Ross for bringing it to the attention of the public in the first place.  It’s a pity that bit was cut out of the coverage. I went on to explain the importance of this little scrap of paper, how it carried the hopes of a nation, & their desire to be free.  I emphasised the fact that looking at this document was like reaching back in time, to make a direct connection with Wallace the man, not Wallace the myth. Although we have seen copies of this document many times, on paper & on a computer screen, nothing really prepares you for the first time you let your gaze fall upon it.  It was a magical moment for me.  All the hard work, all the waiting, it was all worth it.  It was a real high, but tinged with sadness that Big Davie couldn’t be there.  I thought about that all day.

Then came the photocall.  Jeez, I thought I had got used to people pointing a camera my way, but this was in a different league.  About 20 photographers took turns to set things up just the way they wanted. Then Fiona & I had to give separate interviews on camera. Before we left, George Mackenzie presented both Fiona & myself a framed hi-res copy of the letter.  This will go on display at Wallace Day. Happy, but drained I headed home through the maze of Edinburgh’s tramworks. It was a good day for Scotland, but a great day for the Society & for the memory of Davie Ross.


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The Society of William Wallace is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation Registration number SC045959