The state archives handed over to Liège on Tuesday more than 550 documents stolen by an organized gang from France, including a letter from Louis XIII dating from 1628. “A very moving moment is the edition of several years of hunting, of stalking, you are archive stalkers!», Commented the Ambassador of France in Belgium, Hélène Farnaud-Defromont.
After 25 years of investigation and lengthy legal proceedings, the last installment of more than two tonnes of stolen documents has been returned to France. These public archives were stolen between 1980 and 2001. For 20 years, an organized band that traded in these documents scoured the public archives of France, Germany, or Belgium. It was in Liège that one of the thieves was finally arrested.
These archives arouse the interest of criminals who see in them a financial interest
The stolen documents date from the revolutionary, consular and imperial periods. These archives arouse the cultural interest not only of collectors but now also that of criminals, which sees a financial interest, explained, during the ceremony of handing over these archives, Claude de Moreau de Gerbehaye, honorary head of the general archives department. of the Kingdom of Belgium.
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“The financialization of archives is recent, dating from the end of the 1990s and we need the means to fight against this drift.“, he pleaded. A signature of Napoleon can thus reach 2000 euros within specialized circles. Tens of thousands of Belgian archives should also be found in nature today, often in the hands of individuals.
A real investigation
Since the early 2000s, the work has been tedious to identify and restore these archives. The process was long, in particular because the legal procedures delayed the work of the archivists. Some documents also need a real investigative effort to determine who was responsible for them. “It is very difficult to identify a document when it is isolated», Underlines Michel Trigalet, head of the State archives in Liège.
A letter from Louis XIII addressed, it seems to Richelieu
The centerpiece of all the documents submitted this Tuesday is a letter from the hand of Louis XIII and dated 1628. “We suppose that it is addressed to Richelieu, the context lets us think“but without certainty, explained Mr. Wilkin. This document,”full of erasures and spelling mistakes – we know that King Louis XIII did not write very well – begs the recipient not to go to battle“in La Rochelle, which was then under siege.
Passports, a musical score …
Among these documents are also a hundred acts of francization of ships, which date from the time of the French monarchy until the Third Republic. “This tells us about French trade or tax measures.“, explained Bernard Wilkin, the archivist in Liège who has carried out this identification work since the beginning of the year.
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There are also 200 Home passports, which allowed movement on French territory, a musical score written for Notre-Dame de la Treille or a funeral extract of a Russian prisoner of war who died in Strasbourg.
Doubt about the legality of a document? Contact the archives
These documents are now returned to the public archives of France, their legitimate manager. The ceremony organized on Tuesday was an opportunity to mark the “good relationship between France and Belgium and the collaboration for more than 15 years between the Belgian and French archives“, underlined Karel Velle, general archivist of the Kingdom. It is about a”special event because the archives are intended to be discreet and remain in the shadows to be effective“, a statement by M. de Moreau de Gerbehaye.
The Belgian archives call on anyone who has any doubts about the legality of documents in their possession to contact them. They recall that public archives belong to the public authorities and are therefore inalienable.