On receiving the two letters from Emperor Yohannes, the British Government informed the British Museum that it would be a “gracious and friendly act”, if it complied with the Ethiopian request. The Museum authorities, on investigating the matter, found that they possessed two copies of the Kebra Nagast, both taken from Maqdala, and accordingly agreed to return one, in Dr Dieu’s view the less interesting.
This manuscript is noteworthy in that it was the only acquisition of the Museum ever to be restored to its former owners, and thus sets an interesting precedent for the return of loot not only to Ethiopia, but also to the Third World.
VIII. The missing icon
The icon, unlike the manuscript, could not be found. Queen Victoria accordingly replied to Emperor Yohannes, on 18 December, declaring: “Of the picture we can discover no trace whatever, and we do not think it can have been brought to England”.
In this belief Her Majesty was, however, completely mistaken, for the painting had been acquired by Holmes, who had kept it for himself. Having some time later left the Museum’s service, he was at that very moment none other than the Queen’s Librarian at Windsor Castle.