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The Lübeck letter, 1297

Image shows the Lübeck letter. Reproduced courtesy of Hansestadt Lübeck Archiv

(Image courtesy of Hansestadt Lübeck Archiv)


Andrew de Murray and William Wallace, leaders of the army of the kingdom of Scotland, and the community of the same kingdom, to their worthy, discreet and beloved friends the mayors and communes of Lübeck and Hamburg, greeting, and increase always of sincere friendship.

It has been intimated to us by trustworthy merchants of the said kingdom of Scotland that you by your own goodwill are giving counsel, help and favour in all causes and business concerning us and our merchants, although our merits had not deserved this, and therefore all the more are we bound to you to give you thanks and a worthy recompense, to do which we are willing to be obliged to you; and we ask you that you will make it be proclaimed amongst your merchants that they can have secure access to all ports of the kingdom of Scotland with their merchandise since the kingdom of Scotland, thanks be to God, has by arms been recovered from the power of the English. Farewell.

Given at Haddington in Scotland on the 11th day of October in the year of grace one thousand two hundred and ninety seven.

We request moreover that you will see fit to forward the business of John Burnet and John Frere, our merchants, just as you wish us to forward the business of your merchants. Farewell. Given as before.

(Translation made by Dr Alan Borthwick, National Records of Scotland, June 2012)

How the Lübeck Letter survived

The Lübeck letter was first discovered preserved in the Lübeck archives in the 1820s. It was often mentioned in books thereafter. In 1942, Lübeck, on the Baltic coast of Germany, was attacked by Allied aircraft. As a result, the town's archives, including the letter, were moved to a saltmine for safety. At the end of the war, the Soviet army took the papers east. The archives were later handed over to the archive administration of East Germany, but the medieval documents were not among the records. It was assumed that they had been lost. In the 1970s Lübeck documents were found in the archives of the USSR. In 1990, after some negotiation, the town's medieval records, including Wallace and Murray's letter, were returned to Lübeck where they remain today.

Enlarged image of the Lübeck letter seal, back and front

Image shows the front or obverse of the Lübeck seal. Courtesy of Hansestadt Lübeck ArchivImage shows the reverse of the Lübeck seal. Courtesy of Hansestadt Lübeck Archiv

The obverse or front of seal on the letter bears the lion rampant, a traditional emblem of the Scottish monarchy. The reverse or back of the seal shows a bow and string with a protruding arrow held by two fingers which is thought to be William Wallace's own seal, and is the only impression known to exist. The design suggests that he practised archery.

Reconstruction of reverse of the seal on the Lübeck letter

Image shows reconstruction of the reverse of the Lübeck seal

A cast of the seal was made in Glasgow in 1911. This drawing is based on the cast. Two historians have interpreted the Latin inscription to read William, son of Alan Wallace. Alan Wallace was a Crown tenant in Ayrshire, which throws doubt on William’s traditional association with Renfrewshire.




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