• March 31, 2011


The Scottish Government is committed to campaigning to have the Lewis Chessmen reunited in an independent Scotland.

The position is set out in reply to a query from the Celtic League (see link below) about the return of the chessmen pieces held in London to Scotland.


The Scottish position contrasts markedly with the more ambivalent stance of the Welsh Assembly government over the return to Wales of the `Gold Cape of Mold’
(see link):


“Scottish Government
Riaghaltas na h-Alba

Stiuireachas Cultar agus Didseatach
Culture and Digital Directorate
Roinn Cultar
Culture Division

Ar faidhle/Our ref: 201 1/00052150R

24 March 2011

Dear Mr Moffatt

Thank you for your letter of 17 February addressed to the Minister for Culture and External Affairs. I have been asked to reply.

The Lewis Chessmen are regarded as one of the most significant archaeological discoveries ever made in Scotland and are of international importance. They consist of the remains of four complete gaming sets, probably made in Norway in the late 12th or early 13th century.

The set was broken up after being exhibited by the Scottish Society of Antiquaries in 1831, which could not afford to buy it. The British Museum legitimately acquired 82 of the Chessmen when they were sold by an Edinburgh dealer for 80 guineas. The remaining 11 are held by the National Museum of

There have been a number of discussions between the British Museum and the Scottish Government about the location of the Chessmen. However, the repatriation of items from museums and galleries is always a sensitive issue whether they be human remains or cultural objects. The British Museum have strongly resisted the transfer of ownership or even a permanent loan and consider that the Lewis Chessmen are one of their top 10 British treasures.

As you say, the Scottish Government has previously stated that it believes that it is unacceptable that only eleven Lewis Chessmen rest at the National Museum of Scotland while the other eighty two remain in the British Museum. Current Scottish Ministers have also said that they will continue to campaign for a
reunited set of Lewis Chessmen in an independent Scotland.

Temporary loans however, do occur with pieces having gone to Stornoway in 1995 and 2000 and currently, the Lewis Chessmen are on a tour of Scotland, including the Western Isles where they were discovered. This is the first time in more than a century that the pieces have been reunited. While this is obviously not a
permanent situation, Ministers recognise this to be a very good example of partnership working between the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland that has enabled people across Scotland to see and enjoy the Chessmen.

Thank you for your interest in the Lewis Chessmen and I hope that this information is of assistance to you.

Yours sincerely

Gail Clapton
Cultural Excellence”

Related link here:


J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information
Celtic League


The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights
human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues.

TEL (UK)01624 877918 MOBILE (UK)07624 491609

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