Monuments to Scotland's Past
On the 23rd June 1861, it was raining in Stirling. Not an unusual occurrence for Scotland with its swirling mists and unpredictable weather. On this particular June day, however, a monument was being opened to the public, a monument which still stands today in the 21st century as a reminder of William Wallace, one of Scotland's famous heroes.
By midmorning the sun came out, and the crowds began to flock to the festivities. Stirling Station was decked out with flags and other emblems and commercialism was rampant even then as visitors found on sale special medallions to commemorate the event. Others arrived in Stirling by horse drawn carriages and many walked towards the Abbey Craig where the Wallace monument had been built. It was even reported that local holidays had been declared in surrounding areas such as Falkirk and Alloa, which accounts for the fact that some 80,000 visitors converged on Stirling that day to swell the town population of around 100.000. You can well imagine the mass crowds approaching this 220ft tower which dominates the surrounding plain and enjoying the spectacular views from the well appointed position of the monument.
In the 1830’s a committee had been set up to build a monument to the ‘Great Patriot’, Sir William Wallace. A tide of nationalism swept the world in the 1850's and the Wallace monument was one of the ways this was expressed in Scotland. A number of revolutions had taken place in Europe in 1848. These nationalist forces in Italy led to the unification of Italy in 1860 and the German states were finally united in 1871.
Other expressions of this Scottish nationalism were seen in the setting up in 1853 of the National Association for the Vindication of Scottish Rights. Concerned was being raised that some of the terms of the Act of Union were being broken. In particular, England was displaying the St. George's flag in the navy when it had been agreed that the Union Jack was to be used in all circumstances. At one point a meeting was held in Glasgow when 5000 people attended. This campaign fizzled out, however, with many seeing it as a rather minor grievance. Nevertheless, patriotic feelings had been aroused and the Wallace monument campaign no doubt gained momentum from these earlier nationalist feelings.
In 1850 the Rev Charles Rogers, chaplain of Stirling Castle, had been appointed secretary in charge of raising funds for the monument. A funding campaign had been launched throughout Europe, eliciting support from any leaders, including the Italian patriot Garibaldi. Donations were pouring in from expatriate Scots on every continent, and by 1859 the sum of £3,387 had been raised. It was decided to commission the architect J T Rockhead to design and build a fitting tribute. The monument was not completely finished until 1869 at a cost in excess of £10,000.
It may surprise some to realise that it took some 564 years before Scots decided to raise a major monument to this national hero. It may also surprise us to realise that many of those who gathered in Stirling in 1861 may well have had a variety of notions about Wallace's place in Scottish history and an even vaguer understanding of the facts surrounding the rebellion against Edward I of England.
For those who have seen the modern version of Wallace's exploits in the film "Braveheart", there is clearly an issue of how far the events in the film were embellished to make for good drama. There is one scene in the film, for example, where Wallace's army is lined up against the English forces. The well known mystery of what a Scotsman wears under his kilt is exploited by the Scots raising their kilts to reveal their bare buttocks to the opposing army. What a cheek! But hardly historically accurate one might think.
So why is it important to think of the past? And is it important that we get our facts right? The Wallace monument is one of many landmarks still in Scotland which illustrate that history is all around us. The growing interest in tracing our ancestors is another example of our fascination with the past. Perhaps we want to understand how we came to be the people that we now are or perhaps we want to learn from our mistakes. History can make us proud of our past but it can also cause division and hatred, as witnessed in the Balkan conflicts of recent times or the troubles in Northern Ireland.
Yet we are drawn to the past by a human desire to understand humanity in all its tragedy and triumph.
Perhaps you have some connections with Scotland, or simply have a love for history. There are all sorts of opportunities for studying history and Cumbernauld College in Scotland has developed three online Scottish History courses as one option you might like to investigate. The courses are designed to allow access for students at varying levels of ability and can be started at any time of the year.
The course relating to Wallace is "Scotland in the days of Wallace and Bruce" where you will be able to explore the background to the Wallace rebellion, follow the course of events, and look further to the rise of Bruce and his enthronement as King of Scots.
In the course "Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite Rebellions" you can pick up on the career of another leader who led a rebellion, partly in response to the 1707 Act of Union, though you will find that there were other motives behind Charlie's ill fated campaign.
Finally, you can dig in to the social and cultural changes which took place in Scotland in the 18th and 19th century by signing up for the course "Scotland: 1700 to 1850". Find out what changes took place in industry and agriculture as a result of Scotland's union with England.
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