Sunday, 7 February 2010

Return of the Wallace Safe Conduct Letter

One of the causes that we're pursuing is for the return of the Wallace safe conduct letter.

This artefact belongs to Scotland, it belongs in Scotland, and we're determined to get it back. It is part of our history, not London's, and it should be on public display here in Scotland. Davie Ross was pushing hard for this letter’s return before his untimely death, and we would love to complete the work that he had begun as a tribute to his memory.

Details will also be supplied soon of an e-petition to the Scottish Parliament on this subject. As an e-petition only runs for four weeks, it is imperative that we get as many signatures as possible as quickly as possible.

Here's what David had to say about the letter in December 2008:

Dear Patriots,
There have been reports in the press that there are moves afoot that a Member of the Scottish Parliament will ask for the return of the Lubeck Letter.

This was one of many letters sent out in the name of Wallace and Murray on Scotland’s behalf, after the victory at Stirling Bridge, telling European traders that Scotland’s ports were once again “open for business” after the ousting of a vicious invader. The Lubeck letter is the only one, which has survived the centuries.

Lubeck, incidentally, is a port near Hamburg, Germany, that was an important place in Wallace‘s day. The letter still bears Wallace’s seal, and it is this seal, which allowed us to identify the name of Wallace’s father, as it bears the motto “William fillius Alan” (William son of Alan).

I can understand calls for this letter to be returned, important as it is to the history of our country, but the hard fact remains that this letter was “sent” to Lubeck, and so, I think of it as their property. If any of us received a personal letter from, say, a Hollywood star, we would think of it as something sent to us, and so therefore our property.

Lubeck has looked after this letter admirably, through everything the centuries have thrown at it, including the heavy allied bombing raids of World War II! While other Wallace documents and letters have vanished, this one has survived, due to the care that has been lavished on it.

Lubeck were good enough to loan the letter to Scotland a few years ago, and it was on display in the Museum of Scotland, I know as I travelled through to Edinburgh twice to look at it. There were other Wallace related documents on display with it too. The court ledger that was used at Wallace’s trial, and a little letter that was on Wallace’s person when he was captured. This little letter was a personal one to Wallace from the King of France, introducing him to his envoys at the Vatican. This letter has become known as the “Safe Conduct”.

Now, this “Safe Conduct” was an item given to Wallace. The English in Scotland captured it. It was a Scotsman’s possession, and was taken south like its owner, and when he was murdered, it, and the other documents that were on his person were kept in London.

It is currently in the keeping of the Public Records Office at Kew.

The other documents that were on Wallace’s person have all been lost over the centuries.

I feel it would be better if the onus on returning a Wallace document was concentrated on the Safe-Conduct. It is a Scottish possession, and should be returned to Scotland.

I am proud to say that Scotland has not been lax in returning items that are important to indigenous people. The ghost shirt of the Lakota people to name one.

Wouldn’t it be brilliant to be able to go to the Museum of Scotland as look upon a letter that was a personal possession of Wallace’s? Something that was given to him on the 7th of November 1300, and remained in his possession till his capture on 3rd of August 1305. It was something he was familiar with, something he looked upon, and something Scots should be able to look upon too in this day and age.

Kew have been approached many times regarding this matter. They get very evasive when this matter is raised. The wording on the letter is clear and it refers to William Wallace. They have even gone so far as to question whether it is the same William Wallace, why do we think it is connected etc? I get the distinct impression that they do not think we are capable of looking after such an artefact in Scotland, and it is better where it is, behind closed doors in a locked drawer in England.

They have managed to lose the other documents that were on Wallace’s person, letters that could have enlightened us to much that is unknown about the man.

I do applaud motions such as that asking for the Lubeck letter to be returned. They keep Wallace’s, and therefore, Scotland’s struggle to the fore of the public imagination. But my personal view is that the Safe-Conduct has relevance, and a very valid claim to be returned, due to the fact it is a Scottish possession.

It is the one that the pressure should be on to be returned. Lubeck, as said, have looked after their letter and have looked after it admirably.

I feel that the people in charge of our museums should be doing much more. I think they are of the feeling that they can basically turn up at Kew and ask to see such an item. They can don white gloves and look upon it, so what is the problem?

But the time has come when our museum staff should be pressurising for the return of the many thousands of documents kept elsewhere in the world that are Scottish, and as what makes us Scottish is our shared history and experiences, much of the missing “brickwork” of that should be being put back in place.

I hope you have all had a good New Year, and I look forward to catching up with many of you at this year’s meetings and commemorations.

I remain, yours for Scotland,

David R. Ross, Convenor.

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