Monday, June 14, 2010

Letter of Sir William Wallace to be studied by historians

A group of historians and archivists will be taking a closer look at a letter widely believed to have been in the possession of the medieval Scottish warrior Sir William Wallace.

Scotland's Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop has asked the Keeper of the National Archives of Scotland to assemble a group of experts that would be best-placed to establish exactly where and why the letter was produced. The medieval history experts - from Scotland, England and France - will investigate the 700 year old document, held at The National Archives in London, and be reporting in the spring of 2011 to Scottish and UK Government Ministers that will then allow discussions on whether to move the document to Scotland.

The National Archives of Scotland also plans to develop a website about William Wallace and the surviving documents from  his time, which will include a voiced version and 3D virtualised images.

Ms Hyslop explained that, "There has always been tremendous interest in this letter and repeated claims that it should rightfully reside in Scotland's National Archives. It is right that we revisit such a case and I am delighted that such a distinguished group will be reviewing the evidence.

"The wonders of modern technology will allow people interested in this important document to follow the progress of the research group online and to make up their own minds on the letter by zooming in on the document in minute detail.

"I look forward to hearing the group's findings, which will no doubt be keenly anticipated by those interested in this document, in William Wallace and in this important part of Scotland's history."

George MacKenzie, Keeper of the Records of Scotland, said: "It is remarkable how a 700 year old document still stirs such emotion today. This letter is still a mystery, but I hope that working with our colleagues at The National Archives in London, and with the help of these distinguished historians and archivists, we can begin to solve that mystery."

Oliver Morley, Chief Executive of The National Archives, said: "The National Archives welcomes the opportunity for academic discussion on this subject and looks forward to concluding on the purpose and origin of this valuable and historic document."

Sir William Wallace was a minor Scottish noble who rose to fame in the late 13th century leading his countrymen in war against the English under Edward I. After winning the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, Wallace served as the 'Guardian of Scotland' until his forces were defeated at the Battle of Falkirk in the following year. He was later captured and executed by the English in 1305, but the story of his adventures has remained popular to modern times. The 1995 film Braveheart, which starred Mel Gibson as Wallace, won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

The letter being evaluated by the National Archives of Scotland was written in 1300 by the French king Philip IV where he calls on his agents at the Papal court in Rome to assist Wallace, who going to seek the support of the Pope in his battles against the English. Only three lines long, the Latin document 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 [Wallace] of Scotland, knight, recommen/ded to his favour in those things which he has to transact with him. Given at Pierrefonds on Monday after the feast of All Saints.

The document was discovered among the English chancery records in the 1830s and was deposited into the Public Record Office in London (later renamed the National Archives) in 1838.

Click here to view an image of the Letter

Sources Government of Scotland, National Archives of Scotland