William Wallace

Scotland was prospering in 1286, but when King Alexander III dies, Scotland is plunged into despair. There is only one rightful heir, his 3 year-old Granddaughter Margaret, Maid of Norway. But in1290 the Maid dies on a remote island en route to her new kingdom. Scotland is left with no heir to the throne. Its leaders must look back several generations, for someone worthy of being king. 14 men set forth attempting to be crowned, the two most prominent are John Balliol and Robert Bruce both from prominent families. As the scent of a Scotland Civil war looms in the air in the autumn of 1290, in steps the King of England Edward I, nicknamed Edward the Longshanks due to his great stature, to assess each contender's rights to the Scottish Crown. It is the entrance of a lion into a flock of sheep. Edward I, one of the most ruthless kings in English history, having conquered Wales, seizes this opportunity to rule another nation. In May 1291, Edward I demands all candidates for King recognise him as the supreme leader of Scotland, fearing Edward’s massive army, they comply. Edward’s long deliberations now begin, in Nov 1292 he selects John Balliol to be king of Scotland, but in reality, Balliol is nothing more than a puppet King for Edward I whom takes advantage and in 1294 Edward I threatens to draft Scottish Nobles into his new war against France. Angered at this, in late 1295, the Scots secretly turn to King Phillip IV of France and a treaty between them is signed. Expectedly King Edward I sees this as act of war. The Scots ratified the treaty in 1296 and immediately assemble their army to invade Northern England. In response Edward I aged 58 leads forces to the Scottish town of Berwick and shows no mercy, massacring men, woman and children, tossing their bodies into the sea. The Scots army confront the English on April 27th 1296; the Scots were decimated. With this victory the Edward I goes North and King John Balliol is captured and forced to renounce his kingship and his France treaty and is imprisoned in a tower in London. Scotland is no longer an independent country; they are now under King Edward’s rule. Scotsmen were no longer to be governed by Scotsmen but by Englishmen. Englishmen Hugh Cressinham was made treasurer, Sir Walter of Amersham made chancellor and Sir William Ormesby was made Chief Justice. The castles throughout Scotland were garrisoned by English troops, the church benefices filled with English priests and the day to day Scottish business was now controlled by English bureaucrats. The Ragman Roll was issued in which every landholder in Scotland was summoned to sign homage to the English King, those who didn’t sign were made Outlaws and became hunted. Edward I it appeared had finally made Scotland, along with Wales, part of his desired single English Kingdom. But although Scotland was at it’s knees, it was not completely subdued. Not all Scots were ready to submit, in spring 1297 Rebellions spring up all over Scotland. In the North East, Andrew Murray, heir of one noble family, leads an armed group. In the South West, several prominent nobles assemble in open rebellion, among them is Robert Bruce the 22 year-old Grandson of original contender for throne also whom had the same name. However the nobles delaying tactics before the battle begins allow another group of rebels to gather men and hide in the dense forest of Selkirk, this rag tag band of guerrilla warriors is not led my a noble, but by an unknown commoner, named William Wallace. The new rebel that emerged from the mist of the Scottish countryside in the spring of 1297, William Wallace is still a man shrouded in mystery. For Wallace the man we have very little information, but we do have some. A lot of information we have on him came from a poet in the 1470’s called Blind Harry who claimed his poems are based on the writings of Wallace’s Chaplin John Blair, but these writings have never been found. According to Harry, the English sheriff of Lanark, William Heselrig, killed Wallace’s wife, later named Marion Braidfute. In revenge Wallace killed the sheriff in revenge and rises up against the English. However there is no solid evidence of Wallace ever being married to a Marion Braidfute, and many historians believe Wallace did not fight for a woman but only for his country’s freedom. Although this possibility is considered to perhaps be true, that indeed Wallace's wife/spouse was killed by the unspeakable Heselrig after a unsucessful attempt to capture Wallace after his wife/spouses family had aided his escape. Wallace in revenge gathered some desperate men and fell by night on the Sheriff and his armed guard, with Wallace himself slaying the Sheriff, legend says hewing him into pieces with his sword, and then burning the buildings with the English guards inside. From here on there was no turning back, for the first time one of the high officials of the hated conquerers had been slain and a ripple of unrest and jubilation soon spread through the opressed Scottish. Men soon flocked to Wallace's banner as he became a magnet for the discontented. Little is known for certain about Wallace until he killed the sheriff of Lanark, not even where or when he was born. Most Scots believe Wallace to be born around 1270, many claiming 1272 in Ellerslie. Blind Harry named his father as Malcolm Wallace, a landowner. However one recent discovery proves that Harry was wrong, in 1998 a researcher in Glasgow completed his close examination of Wallace’s personal seal. Including the long unseen reverse side, which clearly states William the son of Alan Wallace. Wallace was one of three children having two brothers, Malcolm and John. The seal of Wallace also includes the sign of the archer backing up the notion what some historians believe, that Wallace was a poacher before rising up against the English. Some believe he may have been a Robin Hood type Outlaw up until leading his Band. This theory is probably true, because we do know that William, along with his eldest brother Sir Malcolm refused to sign the Ragman Roll, hence they would have been outlawed. Either way it is for certain that Wallace became a Scottish guerrilla leader in his early 20’s. Wallace is believed to have been well educated; Paisley Abby is believed to be where Wallace received his learning from monks, Wallace spoke French, Latin, and possibly Gaelic. Wallace from the beginning was a man of high faith, he would have most likely become a priest if he had been able to lead a normal life. He was supposedly taught the praise of freedom as a boy, "I tell you truthfully, freedom is the best of all things, never live under the yoke of slavery, my son" he was told. Most genuine historians and storytellers agree that Wallace was large man, although there are no portraits of him from his times, through descriptions of the man, he was believed to have been around 6’7 and a man of great strength, with a long mane of brown hair, a thick beard and piercing eyes. His alleged sword stored at The New Wallace Monument in Stirling is 5ft 7 inches long. This sword is so long and heavy it is obvious that the man that used it had to be both of great physical stature and over well over 6’, many believe Wallace to have been around 6’5 to 6’7, a large man, whom in violent and brutal times could, like any other man, himself be violent and brutal, capable of both mercy and violence and determined to impose his will on those who would not accept it. He had no time for traitors or cowards and nothing would stand in the way of his fighting for his country's freedom. Proud Scottish Historians, and myself, think Wallace must have been a hell of a man, an invicible fighter of sorts and a good companion with a grim humour about him, his men really loved him would follow him into the depths of hell, Wallace’s rise from obscurity to command is meteoric.

Enraged by the state Scotland is in, Wallace gathers like mended men, of no nobility, and begins his war against the imperial English. There are stories of Wallace and his band engaging in many battles with English forces, and Wallace slaying many English in the process. One such battle was when Wallace and his band raided Scone and almost captured King Edward’s Chief Justice in Scotland. Reports were that Wallace and his men moved quickly, they moved rapidly to strike at targets before a proper defence could be made, a smart tactic against superior mounted or heavy armed enemies. At Dundee in 1297, Wallace joined forces with fellow rebel Andrew Murray. Although from different backgrounds, Wallace a commoner, Murray of Nobilty, they worked very well together and decided to lay siege to Dundee Castle, In response one portion of the English Army, 10 000 men, head north, and realising the best advantage the Outnumbered Wallace Murray Army can get is to get to a superior position, they raced to beat the English to Scotland’s primary River crossing at Stirling. For all intents, the English not anxious to fight and they sent to Dominican fryers to speak to Wallace whose response was in essence “Were here to fight, and to protect our kingdom, let them come on and we will show them in their very beards!” And at Stirling on September 11 1297, a clear day, Wallace and Murray gather their forces on the hills that overlooked Stirling Bridge on the river forth and waited patiently as the English slowly crossed the narrow bridge. It takes several hours for a few thousand English to cross, lead by King Edward’s appointed treasurer in Scotland, the glory seeking Hugh Cressingham. The English most likely thought the Scots would let em form up after crossing, but Wallace and Murray were not about to pass up this advantage and as the English were still in the process of crossing, the Scots charged. As Wallace and his men charged in on them the English they were hemmed in, it was too tight on the narrow bridge and as the battle raged it was basically a case of the Scots killing until nobody was left in sight to kill. The impact must have been horrific. While the main Scottish rebel force ripped through the English lines, those who tried to escape floundered with their mounts in a sea of mud and were speared to death, while the survivors were sent sprawling on to the ground only to be trampled into mud by the advancing rebels. The ferocity and speed of the rebels' attack caught the English off guard. Within the chaos and mayhem of the English ranks, its foot soldiers were being trampled to death, by the hooves of their own cavalry, or by their own colleagues, and those knights who were thrown off their mounts also suffered a similar fate. Others jumped or fell into the river and drowned due to their heavy armour. When the battle was all but over, the Scots had wiped out almost all of the one hundred heavy cavalry, and five thousand foot soldiers, including three hundred Welsh archers, who had crossed the bridge that day. This clearly demonstrated that an army of 'common men' with the discipline, the courage to fight and die for their country, were able to shatter the myth of English invincibility. For one of first time ever spear-carrying foot soldiers defeated one with heavy cavalry and archers and the English withdraw from most of Scotland. The Scots losses were negligible; it would be Wallace’s greatest victory. The treatment of Cressingham’s body after the battle has gone down in notoriety, it is said that his body was flayed and parts of his skin were carried around, it is also said that Wallace had a belt made out of a strip of his skin, but they were violent times and to be expected. After Stirling the Scottish Nobility named Wallace and Murray as joint Guardians of Scotland, meaning they will fill many of the responsibilities of the absent King. And on October 11th, Wallace and Murray sent a letter to Lubeck, Germany in effort to assert Scotland’s independence. Within a week, Wallace proceeded to invade Northern England to obtain needed supplies and for revenge. This invasion gave English propagandists the chance to pounce and make Wallace out to be a bloodthirsty Monster, many savage stories were told about him. In November 1297, Andrew Murray died, probably from injuries sustained at Stirling. William Wallace, once a commoner, and only in 20’s became the sole guardian of Scotland, a remarkable accomplishment for a comman man, and upon his return from Northern England he was given Knighthood, he was now Sir William Wallace. Wallace never attempted to claim the throne of Scotland, always fighting in name of King John, but his fighting, courage and self confidence hold the nation together, when King Edward summoned the Scottish Nobles to a parliament in York, they Refused under Wallace’s advice. He was the single minded hard liner at the negotiation table, he wasn’t interested in politics or wealth, only fighting for the freedom of his country. In March of 1298, King Edward I returned from France to England to personally lead his army against the Scots. Edward was obsessed with beating the Scots and conquering Wallace. Outraged over the current state, In late June 1298 Edward heads north into Scotland with 25000 troops and 2000 cavalry, Wallace had an estimated 10 000 foot soldiers and was able to recruit a small cavalry under the command of Nobles lead by John Comyn the Red. Wallace follows a scorched earth policy luring the English north and destroying supplies the English might use along the way, his plan was to at first avoid battle and wear enemy down. But at dawn on July 21st spies inform King Edward that Wallace is only 18 miles away near Falkirk, Edward and his tiring army march on to face the Scots. Outnumbered Wallace settles on a radical strategy, assembling his 10 000 men in four schiltrons (A mass of Scottish spearmen wielding unusually long 12 foot spears in tight oval ring formations) designed to repel cavalry, and waiting on the sidelines were the Scottish cavalry. The battle raged on and the oncoming English cavalry were unable to break the tightly packed ranks of spearmen and many were impaled by spears until the key moment of the battle when Wallace called on Comyn and his Cavalry to attack the vast numbers of English archers, they retreated, some labelled Comyn and his forces as traitors. The Scottish Schiltrons were not able to defend themselves when King Edward’s Archers showered them with arrows and their lines were decimated. Then Edward loosed the rest of his cavalry and the battle was all but over. Thousands of Scots died, however Wallace, although fighting on the frontline with his men, managed to survive and escape with some followers, (some say he was personally rescued by Robert Bruce). Wallace left the field not as a coward but determined to acknowledge the truth and battle on. Despite winning this battle, Edward still can’t win the war. The English cannot sustain themselves or conquer Scotland. Edward returns to England as the English only remain in control of Southern Scotland. Wallace is forced to resign as guardian by the Scottish Nobles and the Scots appoint two new guardians, John Comyn and Robert Bruce who argue over political interests.

Perhaps disgusted with the return of politics, Wallace departs for Europe in 1299 to argue the Scottish cause in Paris and possibly Rome but by the end of 1300, Wallace exact whereabouts are unknown for the next 3 years. In May 1303, King of France Phillip IV agrees to a peace treaty with Edward I from which the Scots are excluded. King Edward, now aged 63, leads his troops North against the isolated Scots with little resistance, John Comyn, now the sole guardian of Scotland surrenders in 1304 and the Scots last stronghold, Stirling Castle, falls in July. The defeated Scots give in to English rule and are allowed to keep there lands, but there is one man who continues to fight, William Wallace. Returning to the scene in 1303, Wallace leads a small band of supporters and continue the fight for freedom against the English. Wallace and his band clashed with the English near Peebles in Febuary 1304 and again at the Bridge of Earn in September 1304, pursued they hide in forests and peasant homes until finally, Wallace is betrayed by one of his own men, and captured by the English on August 3rd 1305 near Glasgow. He was quickly transported to London for a show trial. On Aug. 23, 1305 in England's Westminster Hall, the English justices read the large list of charges against him. Wallace was not allowed to speak or to defend his actions. At one point, he is believed to have yelled, “I cannot be a traitor, for I owe him (King Edward I) no allegiance. He is not my sovereign. He never received my homage, and whilst life is in this persecuted body, he never shall receive it. To the other points whereof I am accused, I freely confess them all. As governor of my country, I have been an enemy to its enemies. I have slain the English. I have mortally opposed the English King. I have stormed and taken the towns and castles which he unjustly claimed as his own. If I or my soldiers have plundered or done injury to the houses or ministers of religion, I repent me of my sin, but it is not of Edward of England, I shall ask pardon.” Wallace’s defence that he could not have committed treason because he never accepted Edward as his King later become part of his legend, but carried no weight at the trial. Wallace was found guilty of treason, sacrilege, murder and a host of other offences. Wallace was sentenced to be drawn, hanged and quartered. His torture began by him being dragged along the ground behind horses to the place of execution, a four and a half mile journey. Once dragged naked to the butcher yards at Smithfield in London, Wallace died the most horrific death you could possibly imagine. He was hung until semi conscious, stretched, his penis and testicles were sliced off, his stomach was opened and his intestines pulled out and set on fire while still attached to him, his rib cage was cut open to show his still beating heart, all this done before his very eyes, only the actual tearing out of his heart finally ended his life. Within sight of Saint Bartholomew’s church Wallace was beheaded and quartered, his head placed on a spike on London Bridge, other parts of his body sent to leading towns in Scotland as a warning to all other would be “traitors”. Edward may have believed that with Wallace's capture and execution, he had at last broken the spirit of the Scots. He was wrong. In executing Wallace, Edward had martyred a popular Scots military leader and fired the Scottish people's determination to be free, particularly one, Robert Bruce, the 2nd Earl of Carrick, whom soon ended his submission to England. At first it indeed appeared Wallace’s horrific death had caused Scotland’s crusade for freedom to die also, however on March 25th 1306, Robert the Bruce is crowned King of Scotland. King Edward again heads north with his Army to vanquish this new traitor, but on July 7th 1307, at age 68, he dies at Scottish boarder. His army and kingdom are now in the incompetent hands of his son, Edward II, known more for his rampant homosexuality than his military ambitions, who returns with his forces to England. Learning from Wallace’s triumphs and mistakes, Bruce wins back most of Scotland over the next 7 years. Edward II finally leads his army north meeting Bruce and the Scots at Bannockburn on June 23rd 1314 and in a ferocious two-day battle, the Scots defeat the English. Inspired by Wallace, Robert the Bruce wins Scotland’s independence for the next 400 years. In the 18th and 19th century the legend of Wallace experienced a resurgence of popularity, recognised as an icon for Scotland’s Freedom. Wallace Monuments were built throughout the country, such as the National Wallace Monument in Stirling, built in 1861. But after World War 2, Scotland’s greatest hero was on the way to being forgotten. That is until Wallace’s remarkable and heroic story came to life again in 1995 in the film Braveheart, starring Mel Gibson as Wallace. Although historically inaccurate in many places, such as featuring the battle of Stirling Bridge without an actual bridge, Wallace being involved with the Princess (rather ludicrous considering the real princess was about 5 or 6 years old at the time), the film starting in 1280 with Scotland and England at war (which they were not) and many Scottish historians considering Gibson’s actual portrayal of Wallace as more of a Lethal Weapon in drag than Scotland’s greatest hero, the film did do very well and was deserving of the best picture academy award it one. The film also inspired Millions in its drama of Wallace. Thanks in part to the movie Braveheart, the story of William Wallace has stretched beyond Scotland boarders, and his name is even remembered on the map of Scotland itself. Every Generation of Scots recognises Wallace’s selfless devotion and his love of his native soil. William Wallace was not just an icon for political change, he was a selfless brave warrior who never gave up and always fought with heart and soul until the very end and even his martyr death was an inspiration of courage and heart. Scots today remember Wallace as their greatest hero, the savior of their nation, and he is remembered by me as one of my personal heroes and idol.