Sir William Wallace Painting at Smith Museum
Trial of William Wallace
William Wallace statue in Aberdeen (Scotland)
Sir William Wallace (Medieval Gaelic: Uilliam Uallas; modern Scottish Gaelic: Uilleam Uallas; died 23 August 1305) was a Scottish knight and landowner who became one of the main leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence.
Sir Willliam Wallace formed an association among his fellow students for defending themselves and punishing the aggressions of the intruders, whenever the opportunity arose. Having been publicly insulted by a youth named Selby, the son of the governor of Dundee, Wallace drew his dagger and struck him dead on the spot. Although surrounded by the friends of the dead man, he was able to escape and killed two or three other Englishmen who attempted to stop him. Because of this action he was proclaimed a traitor, outlawed, and forced to hide in the woods and mountains. He had extraordinary personal strength, undaunted courage, enterprising spirit, and dexterity. Those atributes coupled with his ardent attachment to his native country and his inextinguishable hatred of his oppressors, rendered him well fitted to be the leader of a band of patriots burning to avenge the wrongs of their suffering fatherland. He soon attracted to his side a number of broken and desperate men, who, weary of the English yoke, resolved to join their fortunes with one who had so opportunely stood forth as the assertor of national independence. For a long time they seem to have lived chiefly by plunder attacking, whenever the occasion offered, the convoys and foraging parties of the English, and retreating to the woods and secret recesses of the country when pursued.
During this time Wallace was in the habit of visiting the garrisoned towns in disguise to see for himself the strength and condition of the enemy. During these visits he had various personal encounters with English soldiers, frequently having to escape difficult situations where he was heavily outnumbered. His heroic exploits became legendary and following the heavy Scottish defeat at the Battle of Dunbar in 1296, he became the focus of hope for many Scots and to the sacred cause of national liberty.
Among those who were drawn to the fame of The Wallace were Sir Andrew Moray of Bothwell, Sir William Douglas, Sir Robert Boyd, Alexander Scrimgeour, Roger Kilpatrick, Alexander Auchinleck, Walter Newbigging, Hugh Dundas, Sir David Barclay, Adam Curry and, closest of all, Sir John the Graham. In the various encounters Wallace had with the English in different parts of the country, particularly in Ayrshire, Clydesdale and the Lennox, he was always victorious, while the Lord of Douglas was no less successful in recovering the castles of Durrisdeer and Sanquhar from the enemy.
Sir William of Heslope, the English sheriff of Lanark, was one of those to feel the wrath of Wallace when he was put to death, in his apartment, for killing the heiress of Lamington, who was the sweetheart of Wallace. The people of the town gathered round Wallace and his men and drove the English garrison out. A further success was recorded when Wallace and his men surrounded 'the Barns of Ayr' and set on fire the camp of 500 English in another revenge attack, this time for the murder of his uncle Sir Raynauld Crawford. After taking Glasgow, and expelling Bishop Bek an English ecclesiastic from the recovered city Wallace marched quickly to Scone in May 1297. There he was able to surprise Ormsby, the English justiciary, and disperse the English forces and capture enemy treasure for his efforts.
Wallace now passed into the Western Highlands and was joined by a number of the nobility including the Steward of Scotland, with his brother, Sir John Stewart of Bonkill. The group also included Alexander de Lindesey, Sir Richard Lundin and Robert Wiseheart, the bishop of Glasgow. The future King, Robert de Bruce, embraced the cause of freedom and drew his sword with Wallace as well.
On hearing about the extent of Wallace's success, Edward I ( the 'hammer of the Scots') although engaged in events in France, sent a force of 40,000 foot soldiers and 300 horsemen under Sir Henry Percy and Sir Robert Clifford to resolve the 'Scottish problem'. Dissension had started to break out in the Scottish camp when the two armies met in July 1297 near the town of Irvine. Many of the Lords felt unhappy about being led by one they felt was inferior to them in status. They therefore deserted to the enemy with the exception of Sir Andrew Moray and Sir John the Graham. The only avenue left to Wallace was to retreat to the North, avoiding a battle. Percy and Clifford assumed that this was the end of the problem and retired back to the South only to be followed once more by Wallace and Moray. These two divided their forces and in a short time again forced the English south of the Forth. The English held only the castle of Dundee. While laying siege to the castle, Wallace heard that an English army was again advancing north, this time under the Earl of Surrey. The siege was abandoned so that the progress of the English army could be halted and at the Abbey of Cambuskenneth, Wallace and his men faced the might of the invaders. Outnumbered, the Scots refused to negotiate stating that they were there to show the English that Scotland was free. The English, under Cressingham, advanced to cross the Stirling Bridge and when only half were across the Scots attacked putting them to the sword. Those English who had not crossed the bridge saw the slaughter and retreated in disarray leaving their leader Cressingham among the many dead. This defeat on September 11, 1297, was followed by the surrender of the castle at Dundee and the total expulsion of the English from Scotland.
Soon after there was a meeting of the Scottish nobles where Wallace was elected regent of Scotland in the name of John Baliol who was captive in England. Due to years of war and neglect, Scotland's wealth was severely depleted so Wallace led a large force into England in search of booty. This he duly collected while traveling as far south as Newcastle. He showed scant regard for the local populace. Edward I returned from France after hearing the news of Wallace and his raids on to English soil. He mustered a formidable army of 100,000 foot soldiers and 8000 horse and prepared his vengeance on the Scots. Retreating in the face of the superior English force, Wallace adopted what is now known as a scorched earth policy and took all cattle and crops as he withdrew. The English were weakened by these tactics and were in ready to retire when the plans of Wallace were betrayed by two Scottish nobles, Patrick, Earl of Dunbar and Umfraville, Earl of Angus. The traitors conveyed to the Bishop of Durham that Wallace intended to surprise the English with a night attack. On hearing this Edward immediately ordered his army to advance coming across the Scottish army, less than a third of the size of the English army, at Falkirk. The Scots were heavily outnumbered and taken by surprise. The final nail in the coffin came when Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, leader of a large part of the Scots army, turned his banners and marched off the field with his men. The defeat was complete for the Scots and among their dead was Macduff and Sir John the Graham. Wallace was able to retreat and keep out of the hands of the English . By laying waste to the land in and around Stirling, Wallace forced the English host to retreat due to lack of provisions.
Finding that the nobles were combined against him and realizing the folly of his position in the light of the power of the English, Wallace resigned the Regency. It is believed he left for France to obtain assistance from Philip, the French King. Although popular with the French Court due to his personal prowess by his successes against the pirates who then infested the European seas, he was unable to gain any support from them and returned to Scotland in 1303. He returned to harassing the English with the help of a few of his faithful friends and veteran soldiers.
For the complete subjugation of the country, Edward had led five successive armies across the borders, and after several memorable defeats sustained by the English, he at last succeeded in subduing for the time the spirit of the Scottish people. Most of the Scottish nobles now submitted to him, some gaining more favor than others depending on trouble they had caused and dissention they had put up against Edward in the previous years. No such terms were offered to Wallace who was still unconquered and a heroic figure to the Scots. A ransom of 300 Merks was offered for the capture of Wallace, and Edward's captains and governors were issued with strict orders to use every endeavor to capture him and send him in chains to London. By the treachery of one of his servants named Jack Short, Wallace was betrayed, according to legend, into the hands of a Scottish Baron, John Monteith. His apprehension took place in the house of Ralph Rae near Glasgow, for which Monteith received a grant of land with the annual value of ú100. Wallace was first taken to Dumbarton Castle, and then to London under a heavy guard. On reaching London he was conveyed to Westminster Hall on August 23, 1305, and formally accused of treason. A crown of laurel was placed on his head in mockery as, it was alleged, he had aspired to the Scottish crown. The King's justice, Sir Peter Mallorie, then impeached him as a traitor to Edward, to which Wallace answered,
"I can not be a traitor, for I owe him 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."
In accordance with the predetermined result of the case, Wallace was found guilty and condemned to death with the sentence being carried out on the same day in the most inhumane way possible. He was dragged through the streets of London to a gallows erected in Elms in Smithfield. Where after being hanged for a short time he was taken down still breathing and his bowels torn out and burned. His head was then struck off, and his body divided into quarters, the punishment known as 'hanged, drawn and quartered'. His head was placed on a pole on London Bridge, his right arm above the bridge in Newcastle, his left arm was sent to Berwick, his right foot and limb to Perth and his left quarter to Aberdeen where it was buried in what is now the wall at St. Machars Cathedral. He bore his fate with a magnanimity that secured the admiration even of his enemies, and his name will be held in everlasting honor by the truehearted friends of freedom in every age and country.
The huge Wallace statue outside the theater in Aberdeen stands as a constant reminder of the independent nature of the Scots. Erected in 1888, it bears the inscription, allegedly told to Wallace by his uncle and guardian . . . 'I tell you a truth, liberty is the best of all things, my son, never live under any slavish bond'. It stands as a constant reminder to the individuality of the Scots and their turbulent link with their English neighbors. Since further integration with the rest of Europe may be the future for Scotland, the importance of maintaining that identity is as important today as at the time of 'The Wallace.'
In the early 19th century, Walter Scott wrote of Wallace in Exploits and Death of William Wallace, the "Hero of Scotland", and Jane Porter penned a romantic version of the Wallace legend in The Scottish Chiefs in 1810. G. A. Henty wrote a novel in 1885 about this time period titled In Freedom's Cause. Henty, a producer of Boy's Own Paper fiction who wrote for that magazine, portrays the life of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, The Black Douglas, and others, while dovetailing the novel with historical fiction. Nigel Tranter wrote a historical novel titled The Wallace, published in 1975, which is said to be more accurate than its literary predecessors. In 2010, the novelist Jack Whyte gave another fictionalized account of Wallace’s life, particularly his early life, in The Forest Laird, the first book in the The Guardians of Scotland trilogy.
A well-known account is presented in the film Braveheart, directed by and starring Mel Gibson, written by Randall Wallace, and filmed in both Scotland and Ireland. The film was a commercial success, and won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. However it is a highly fictionalised account of Wallace's life.