Appeal to return 'William Wallace letter'

William Wallace statue
Image caption Wallace was arrested by English forces in 1305 at Robroyston

A letter reportedly taken from William Wallace when he was captured by English forces should be returned to Scotland, historians have said.

The Scottish government wants the note, granting Wallace passage to visit the Pope in 1300, handed to Scotland's national archives.

The "safe conduct" letter is one of a small number of documents thought by some to have belonged to Wallace.

However, the National Archives in London said it would consider any new evidence on the origin of the document.

It also said there was no firm evidence the letter was ever in Wallace's possession and there was nothing in the document to prove that Wallace either visited or intended to visit the papal court.

A group of historians, convened by the National Archives and the National Archives of Scotland, is examining the document's history and authenticity.

The first meeting of the William Wallace Working Group, made up of academics from Scotland, England and France and specialists from both national archive organisations, concluded that it was an original.

Minutes from that first meeting read: "The experts are unanimous in judging that the letter itself, far from being a copy, is an original produced in the French royal chancery."

The letter was reportedly in Wallace's possession when he was captured in Robroyston in 1305 - eight years after he had led a Scottish army to victory against English forces at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

It was written by King Philip IV of France to urge the Pope to "hold our loved William le Walois of Scotland, knight, recommended to his favour" during a proposed visit to Italy.

The nature of the business Wallace hoped to discuss with the Pope is unclear, and no surviving evidence exists that Wallace ever made the trip.

The disputed document has been held in England since Wallace was hanged, drawn and quartered on 23 August 1305 after being found guilty of treason.

Many experts favour the theory that the letter was taken from Wallace after his arrest but others suggest that an emissary delivered it - only to be intercepted by English spies.

The Wallace working group is due to meet in the next two months, with its final report not due until at least the end of 2011.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "There has always been tremendous interest in this letter and repeated claims that it should rightfully reside in Scotland's National Archives.

"However, its origins and precise link to William Wallace is a mystery, one which this expert group is working to solve.

"We look forward to receiving the group's final report which should help establish the letter's place in Scottish history and support discussions between Scottish and UK government ministers on the status of the document."

A spokeswoman from the National Archives said they would consider new evidence about the origin of the document, if it came to light during the academic study.

"However, the decision to return the document to the country it originated from would require approval from both The National Archives' management board and the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor," she added.

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