THE export bar on the Bruce Seals remains in place more than a year after it was instituted to stop a foreign buyer acquiring one of the few historical items directly connected to King Robert the Bruce.

Former UK culture minister Ed Vaizey banned their export on March 22 last year – and The National can reveal that enquiries into “new information” about the seals are ongoing and that an export licence will not be granted soon, if at all.

Bruce commissioned the two-part bronze seal matrix from engravers in 1322. It was used to seal customs documents by Dunfermline Abbey as proof of their authority and end- orsement by the King, who is buried within the Abbey except for his heart which is buried at Melrose Abbey.

In July, 1322, Bruce wrote to the Magistrates of Bruges in modern-day Belgium saying he had commissioned the cocket seal, as it is known, and asking them to honour Dunfermline Abbey’s right to charge customs duties on items traded between Scotland and Flanders. Bruce wrote: “Wherever and whenever your merchants with their merchandise shall present to you in due form the seal of the said religious men, your whole community should be requested ... to receive it as our own proper seal.”

The seal matrix later became the property of the Library of the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh where it is known to have been exhibited in the early 19th century. It was sold in December 2014 as the “property of a London gentleman” who has not been identified. Vaizey originally gave potential “buyers for the nation” just two months to raise £151,000 to match the price accepted for the seals at auction in London.

The export bar was extended until September last year and The National then revealed it had been extended indefinitely while “new information” was considered by experts working for the Arts Council of England which takes charge of all export bar items. It is understood the Scottish Government hopes to gain the seals for a Scottish institution and has been in talks over the historic item with potential buyers. There have also been reports of doubts about the authenticity of the seals but The National has obtained the report by the expert adviser to the Arts Council which confirms the date of the seal matrix is 1322. The adviser states: “Crucially, this seal matrix also illustrates how Robert the Bruce himself acted out his authority across Scotland and shows his close connection with Dunfermline Abbey.

“The commissioning of the matrix on July 10, 1322, in a declaration for the Magistrates of Bruges also shows us how Robert the Bruce interacted with medieval Flanders and how Dunfermline Abbey was able to prosper as a result.”

They added that the seals “are executed to a very high standard and have been engraved with great delicacy. Comparison with the small number of surviving cocket seal matrices shows the Dunfermline matrix is a piece of the highest quality”.

Sean Clerkin, of the Scottish Res- istance group, has been campaigning for the seals to be brought to Scotland. He said: “I think it is a scandal that the English Arts Council has taken more than a year to examine the seals and has still failed to come to a conclusion. This historical item should be brought back to Scotland as it is one of the most precious icons in Scottish history.”

A spokesman for the Arts Council would only say: “The export deferral process for the seal matrix has been suspended to allow new information to be considered.”