William Wallace letters

FOI request reference: F0061351
Publication date: October 2020

Hi. I’d like to enquire why the national archives holds the letter of William Wallace and the letters written by Scottish Jacobites. I would like to know why these key parts of Scottish History have not been returned to Scotland permanently and how long The National archives intends to hold them.

Information provided.

William Wallace letter
For the benefit of this request we have understood the reference to ‘the letter of William Wallace’ as referring to the following document.

EXT 11/163 – Item extracted from SC 1/30/81. Philip by the grace of God, king of the French, to his beloved and loyal agents appointed at the Roman Court, greetings and favour. We command you that you ask the Supreme Pontiff to consider with favour our beloved William le Wallace of Scotland, knight, with regard to those things which concern him that he has to expedite. Dated at Pierrefonds on the Monday after the feast of All Saints [1300]. [Endorsed]: 4th letter of the King of France.

This document is a letter from King Philip IV of France to his agents in Rome, commanding them to ask Pope Boniface VIII to support Wallace in (unspecified) business. Sir William Wallace, having led resistance to the English king, Edward I, travelled to the court of King Philip in 1299 to try to persuade him to support the Scots against Edward. On 7 November 1300, a year after Wallace’s arrival in France, Philip wrote this letter to Rome concerning Wallace.

The document the letter is extracted from, SC 1/30/81, is part of the Ancient Correspondence class, artificially created in the nineteenth century from records in the Tower of London.

By the Public Records (Scotland) Act of 1937, provision was made for the transfer of certain specified documents from the Public Record Office to the General Register House, Edinburgh. These were documents “relating exclusively or mainly to Scotland” and judged to be public records of Scotland. The Scottish Records Advisory Council was also constituted as part of the Act to provide advice on these and other matters.

It was decided by the Master of the Rolls at that time that those documents concerning foreign relations with Scotland should remain in the custody of the Public Record Office; those brought to England with the records accruing during the Lordship of Edward I or generated during that period could be considered for transfer.

Two essential criteria were employed in order to make a decision: first, whether the document came from an independently administered Scotland; second, whether the documents had originally formed part of a series created by a single government department of the United Kingdom.

Judged against these criteria SC 1/30/81 cannot be said to fall into the definition of documents generated by an independent kingdom of Scotland or seized by Edward I and brought back to London. The document has therefore remained within the custody of The National Archives.

In 2011, in response to the growing political and media interest in the provenance of the document, The National Archives and the National Records of Scotland (NRS) have since worked together to make the document accessible to a wide range of audiences.

The Wallace letter has been on loan from The National Archives in Kew to the NRS since 2012. Although the age and fragility of the letter means that it can only be put on display for limited periods of time, it has been displayed twice during that period, in the Scottish Parliament in 2012 and at Stirling Castle in 2014, extending access to this important historic and cultural asset.

In our role as leader of the archives sector, we work closely with the devolved administrations and NRS in particular. The continued loan of this politically significant document furthers relations between our national institutions and reinforces the close collaborative ties that exist. We have worked closely with NRS and each loan arrangement has been subject to The National Archives’ loan procedure which assesses the suitability of the proposed storage, display, security arrangements and location for the document.

In agreement with both institutions, the document will remain at NRS until 2023, subject to any request for a further extension by NRS. The document is available for viewing at NRS on request to them.

The National Archives is bound to actively preserve and uphold the integrity of the records in its collections, of which this document is an important part. It would therefore be inappropriate to permanently remove it from The National Archives of England and Wales.

Jacobite letters
The National Archives holds a number of Jacobite letters and papers collected by the Secretary of State as part of his role to track anti-government activity in the eighteenth-century. The Secretary of State authorised the interception of letters and papers by warrant to obtain intelligence concerning both domestic and foreign threats, and this included those letters written by suspected Jacobites. The papers assembled by the Secretaries of State and left in the State Paper Office became the custody of the Master of the Rolls under the Public Record Office Act of 1838.
There are three discrete series containing papers of Jacobites in State Papers George II, SP 36 (1718-1760):

SP 36/105 James Carnegy (described in detail on Discovery, our online catalogue)
SP 36/162 Papers regarding Fitzgerald Family (not yet described in Discovery)
SP 36/163 Jacobite Papers, chiefly regarding Cameron of Lochiel. Miscellaneous papers, mostly fragments (not yet described in Discovery).

As well as individual letters from Jacobites interspersed through SP 36, SP 35 (State Papers George I, 1714-1727) and SP 54 (State Papers Scotland, 1688-1783) also contain letters from Jacobites. A search of these series for ‘Jacobite letters’ returns these results. The term ‘Jacobite letters’ includes more general letters, not just the intercepted letters. However, if you read through the results you can find plenty of examples.

We also have a research guide https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/jacobite-risings-1715-and-1745/ that outlines all the material we hold relating to the Jacobite risings.

The proposal to transfer the State Paper series containing the Jacobite papers to Scotland was also considered in 1946; the Scottish Records Advisory Council decided that since they were records of the central administration of the UK they should remain in the Public Record Office.
There are currently no plans to reverse this decision, but we remain committed to improving access to the collections. There are currently cataloguing projects underway to improve the online catalogue descriptions of material within SP 35 and SP 36, which will result in detailed descriptions of the Fitzgerald and Cameron of Lochiel papers mentioned above.