• December 21, 2011

London based cultural institutions should be more mature in their attitudes to the restitution of artefacts from the Celtic countries. That is the view of the Celtic League commenting as the `Wallace Passport’ is returned to Scotland (see below).

The William Wallace Letter is to be returned to Scotland from London following a campaign that has lasted many years. The Letter is also known as the letter of safe conduct or the `Wallace Passport’ will be on loan in Scotland from January 2012.
The Letter, written by King Philip IV of France, was given to Wallace commanding his agents in Rome to recommend `our beloved William le Wallace of Scotland’ to the Pope. It is believed that the letter is dated to 1300 and was written by King Philip IV on 7th November 1300 to assist Wallace in his journey across Europe to Rome, commanding them to ask Pope Boniface VIII to support Wallace in some unspecified business.

When Wallace was seized in 1305 by the English, following his betrayal by the Scottish nobleman and Governor of Dumbarton castle, Menteith, it is recorded that Wallace had three safe conduct letters on his person, from the Kings of France, Norway and Scotland. To date only the letter of safe conduct from the King of France has been found, where it was discovered in the Tower of London in the 1830’s and subsequently kept at the national archives in Kew, in Surrey, England.

As a result of a parliamentary motion by Member of the Scottish Parliament Christine Grahame MSP calling for the document to be returned to Scotland, campaigning from a variety of pressure groups, a petition to bring the document back to Scotland and a written request to the Ministry of Justice by SNP Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop, the `national archives’ in London finally relented, agreeing to loan the letter to Scotland from January 2012 until at least December 2014. The future of the document after 2014 remains unclear, but the huge efforts undertaken to ensure the return of the `Letter’ is largely endemic of the unwillingness of English institutions to return artefacts to the Celtic countries that have been `acquired’ through dubious means.

Legally there is little reason why artefacts and manuscripts that are kept by institutions in England, which are `national treasures’ in the respective Celtic country from where they originate and are within the same state as England, should not be returned. If these artefacts and manuscripts are likely to have been obtained through dubious means and there are places where they can be appropriately kept in the Celtic country from where they belong, the Celtic League sees no reason whatsoever why they should not be returned for prosperity. The only legal difficulty arises when an application to return an artefact is made by a country from outside of the political state, as in the case of The An Gal Gréine, (Sunburst) banner of Na Fianna Éireann, which is being requested by organisations in the Republic of Ireland from London’s Imperial War Museum in England.


Celtic League site:

For comment or clarification on this news item in the first instance contact:

Rhisiart Tal-e-bot, General Secretary, Celtic League:

Tel: 0044 (0)1209 319912
M: 0044 (0)7787318666


The General Secretary will determine the appropriate branch or General Council Officer to respond to your query.



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