THE TRIAL OF WILLIAM WALLACE. AUG 23, 1305
William Wallace of Renfrew had managed to rally his disparate Scottish countrymen against the strict rule of England. There was a void amongst the Scottish royalty since 1286 and a bitter family dispute over who should be King divided the land. The English King, Edward I, seized upon the confused to march into Scotland and, in 1296, after brutal massacres, brought the Scottish noblemen to their knees. Edward then instituted a reign of terror in Scotland, sending English officials to run the government and to hold all positions of public authority. While the English were resented by the Scots, their noblemen continued squabbling.
In this context, Wallace had killed an English sherriff in Lanark and he had managed to rally the local men into a small fighting unit. When word of the revolt spread, Wallace's army quickly grew by the hundreds and then by the thousands. He marched upon English strongholds in Scotland and captured them one by one, always with fatal results to their English defenders. His army was finally defeated in 1298, and Wallace went into hiding. Scotland was an easy place to hide in spite of the English military occupation. Forests were thick and all of the peasants and many of the noblemen of Scotland considered Wallace to be a hero.
In 1304 a new Scottish King had been appointed by the approval of King Edward. Clemency was granted to many of the Scottish noblemen who had supported Wallace's uprising; but not to Wallace. A bounty was placed on his head and he was finally captuted in Glasgow on August 3, 1305, betrayed by a fellow Scotsman, Ralph Rae, a prisoner of war that the English had released that he lead them to Wallace.
Edward I had actually instituted many legal reforms in England, some of which still stand today. It was during his era that the professors of "barrister" and "solicitor" were spawned. He also supervised the development of civil procedures and extensive laws on property. But the law meant little when it came to William Wallace. One medieval historian's shows the contempt for which not only Edward I , but also the English people held the Scottish partiot:
"William Wallace, a runaway from righteousness, a robber, a committer of sacrilege, an arsonist and a murderer, more cruel than Herod and more debauched in his insanity than Nero."
In spite of Edwards committment to law, Wallace was given no legal rights or priveleges. His trial and punishment were typical of law and order in medieval ages. It stands as an example of primitive justice systems including government approved barbarism which is all but extinct today. Edward wanted Wallace's fate to serve as an example to any remaining Scottish insurgents. Bound, Wallace was marched through England in the middle of summer reaching London on August 22, where he was ceremoniously paraded to the heart of the city, as if he were a sort of military trophy.
On August 23, he was brought before a bench of noblemen in Westminster Hall. Then, a long and accurate indictment was read against him detailing all his military victories and the murder of many English prisoners-of-war. It mattered little to the bench, no doubt acting on Edward's direct orders. He was not allowed to speak, defend himself or his actions and the sentence was read. Wallace did try to speak at one point. Records show that he yelled out that he admitted to all the charges against him except treason. How could he be guily of high treason if he had never sworn allegience to the King of England? This defence was valid but of little avail to the bloodthirsty bench of medieval English judges. Revenge mattered more than justice.
The sentence of death was read and Wallace was quickly led outside and tied to a team or horses, where he was pulled to a field outside the city walls, jeered along the way onto the grounds of which is now St. Bartholomew Hospital. A massive crowd cheered as the executioners first hanged him until he was semi-conscious. Then he was tied down and, while he was still alive, his genitals were cut off and his stomach opened. His intestines were pulledf out and burned, all while he still lived. Finally and mercifully, he was beheaded. "A cruel yet fully deserved death", wrote an observer.
Edward was still not finished with Wallace. As an added deterent, he ordered Wallace's body cut into four and the pieces and the parts brought to the cities at the four corners of England, where they were displayed. Wallace's head was impaled on the spikes at London Bridge.
This was the actull indictment of William Wallace read by, Sir John de Segrave delivered sentance:
That the said William, for the manifest sedition that he practised against the Lord King himself, by feloniously contriving and acting with a view to his death and to the abasement and subversion of his crown and royal dignity, by bearing a hostile banner against his liege lord in war to the death, shall be drawn from the Place of Westeminter to the Tower of London, and from the Tower to Aldgate, and so through the midst of the City to the Elms.
And that for the robberies, homicides and felonies he comitted in the realm of England and the land of Scotland, he be there hanged, and afterwards taken down from the gallows. And that, inasmuch as he was an outlaw, and was not afterwards restored to the peace of the Lord King, he be decollated and decepitated.
And that thereafter, for the measureless turnitude of the deeds towards God and Holy Church in burning down churches, with the vessles and litters wherein and whereon the body of Christ and the bodies of saints and other relics of these were placed, that the heart, the liver and lungs as well as all the other intestiness of the said William, from which such perverted thoughs proceeded, be cast into the fire and burnt. And further, the inasmuch as it was not only against the Lord King himself, but agasint the whole Community of England and of Scotland, that he committed the aforesaid acts of sedition, spoliation, arson, and homicide, the body of the said William be cut up and divided into four parts, and that the head, so cut off, be set up on London Bridge, in the sight of such as pass by, whether by land or by water; and that one quarter be hung on a bigglet ast newcastle-upon-Tyne, another quarter at Berwick, a third quarter at Stirling, and the fourth at St Johnston, as a warning and a deterrent to all that pass by and behold them.
William Wallace: Brave Heart
Author James MacKay
Copyright James Mackay, 1995
mainstream publishin company, Edinburgh