Sunday, 30 January 2011

Luebeck letter


If he had stuck to tennis at least he wouldn't have lost his head. William Wallace, even without the Braveheart hype, has all the endearing features of the Scottish hero, the brutal underlying savagery being totally submerged in the unjustness of his end. It would be nice to think that the image above, albeit done a few hundred years after his death, was reasonably accurate. He certainly looks like the sort of fellow you can expect to meet today in places like the Lismore Bar, but I wouldn't recommend commenting on his choice of hat.

Very little authentic material about Wallace survives and one of the few documents is the famous letter of 11 October 1297, a month after the defeat of the English army at the battle of Stirling. It was sent to Luebeck and Hamburg and the former survives. Here is an image:-

And here is a transcription of the original text:-


In looking for the text online, as my Latin is rusty, I was interested to discover that the letter is now being promoted as a teaching aid in Scottish schools. National Archives of Scotland helpfully provide teachers with a translation, as follows:-

"Andrew Moray and William Wallace, leaders of the army of the Kingdom of Scotland and the Community, to their worthy and beloved friends, the Mayors and citizens of L├╝beck and Hamburg, greeting. We have been told by trustworthy merchants of the Kingdom of Scotland that you are giving help and favour in all business concerning us and our merchants for which we thank you. We ask that it be made known among your merchants that they will now have safe access to all ports in the Kingdom of Scotland, since Scotland, blessed be God, has been rescued from the power of the English by force of arms. Given at Haddington in Scotland, on the 11th day of October in the year of grace one thousand two hundred and ninety seven."

But hang on a minute, isn't there a bit missing? The whole thing actually translates as:-

"Andrew of Moray and William Wallace, leaders of the Scottish army, and the community of the same kingdom send to the prudent and discreet men, our good friends, the nobles and the commoners of Luebeck and of Hamburg greetings and a continuous increase of sincere affection. We have been informed by trustworthy merchants of the said kingdom of Scotland, that you on your own part have been friendly and helpful in counsel and deed in all things and enterprises concerning us and our merchants, even though we did not merit this. We are therefore the more beholden to you, and wishing to prove our gratitude in a worthy manner we ask you to make it known among your merchants that they can now have a safe access with their merchandise to all harbours of the Kingdom of Scotland, because the Kingdom of Scotland has, by the grace of God, been by war recovered from the power of the English. Farewell. Given at Haddington in Scotland on the eleventh day of October in the Year of Grace one thousand two hundred and ninety seven.
We also pray you to be good enough to further the business of John Burnet and John Frere, our merchants, just as you might wish that we should further the business of your merchants. Farewell. Dated as above."
I'm sorry to be an old cynic, but to me it looks as if the postscript is quite important and the  copy letter a much better teaching aid with it. It would be fascinating to know if letters like these were in fact issued in numbers to better the chances of merchants like Burnet and Frere. Perhaps  more letters will come to light in the archives of the other old Hanseatic ports.

P.S. For anyone confused by the first sentence of this post, it was first published just after the start of Andy Murray's recent spell of bad luck! 

P.P.S. The above postscript was added before his Gold!

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The Wherrymen

The Wherrymen
Two old friends on the water