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An Entire Military Career in Letters: Archive of the “Hero of Quebec” now at risk of export

01 August 2013

Museums and Libraries

One of the most comprehensive series of letters from any significant military figure of the eighteenth century is at risk of being exported unless a UK buyer can be found, it was announced today.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has imposed a temporary export bar on the archived letters of Major James Wolfe - a British Army officer remembered chiefly for his audacious victory over the French at the Battle of Quebec in Canada in 1759. This victory was a decisive moment in the Seven Years’ War and important contributor to the development of the British Empire. It was Wolfe’s final battle – he was killed during the conflict and his sacrifice inspired a massive wave of culturally significant paintings and artefacts.

The archive includes 232 letters from Wolfe to his parents, spanning the entirety of his military service; a volume of commissions documenting the careers of both James Wolfe and his father Edward Wolfe, 1702-1758; and correspondence and papers of Wolfe’s mother, Henrietta, regarding the settling of his estate and her claim for War Office pension, prior to her death in 1764.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey took the decision to defer granting an export licence for the archive following a recommendation by the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), administered by Arts Council England, on the grounds that they are of outstanding significance for the study of James Wolfe and for the study of British army life in the mid-18th century.

It is not the first time that an item relating to General Wolfe has come before the RCEWA. A portrait of Wolfe by J S C Schaak was subject to an export bar in 2007/8 and was subsequently purchased by the National Army Museum, saving it for the nation.

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said:

“I hope that by delaying the export of this incredible archive, a UK buyer can be found to secure this fascinating series of letters for the nation. Letters documenting over 20 years of the life of an important military figure, all held together in an archive like this is very rare, if not unique, and it would be great pity if a home cannot be found them in the UK.”

Christopher Wright from the RCEWA commented:

“Wolfe was the greatest British military hero of the second half of the eighteenth century. Pitt the Elder lamented his death at the moment of his victory at Quebec as ‘a loss to England which nothing can repair’. He had, however, effectively changed the course of world history. His destruction of French power in North America laid the foundations of the future British Empire and his career, charted in these letters, served as the model which in a later war with France Nelson consciously sought to emulate.”

The decision on the export licence application for the archive will be deferred for a period ending on 30 September 2013 inclusive. This period may be extended until 30 January 2014 inclusive if a serious intention to raise funds to purchase the archive at the recommended price of £900,000.


Notes to editors

1. Organisations or individuals interested in purchasing the archive should contact RCEWA on 0845 300 6200.

2. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by Arts Council England, which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria.

3. Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. Between 2010 and 2015, it will invest £1.9billion of public money from government and an estimated £1.1 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country.

Contact information

Arts Council England
Arts Council England
Job Title
Duty Press