Born in the 1270s very little is known about his early years and there are significant periods of his life for which there are no reliable sources, he was killed on August 23, 1305, London, England), one of Scotland’s greatest national heroes and the chief inspiration for Scottish resistance to the English king Edward I. He served as guardian of the kingdom of Scotland during the first years of the long and ultimately successful struggle to free his country from English rule
Wallace was the second son of Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie in Renfrewshire. The elder Wallace was a minor land owner, his father was a knight, minor noble, and vassal of James Stewart, the 5th High Steward of Scotland. Tradition has it that Wallace was born in Elderslie near Paisley in Renfrewshire or Elderslie in Ayrshire. Wallace was traditionally portrayed as a commoner in later medieval sources or even as a thief or outlaw in posthumous biographies, but this is likely because Scottish writers wished to portray him as a ‘man of the people’ and English ones as an ignoble enemy. Technically, Wallace was an outlaw in English eyes because his family did not sign their name to the ‘Ragman Rolls’, a list compiled in the summer of 1296 of all the Scottish tenants who promised allegiance to the English Crown. In 1296 King Edward I of England had deposed and imprisoned the Scottish king John de Balliol and declared himself ruler of Scotland. Edward I was known for his fiery temper and self-confidence was nicknamed ‘Longshanks’ because of his height: 1.9 metres (6 ft. 2 in), an unusually impressive stature for the period. The English king was already a battle-hardened campaigner. He had participated in the Ninth Crusade (1271-1272 CE), helped defeat the rebel English barons who had plotted against his father, and fought with distinction in Wales. Now Edward turned his sights on Scotland. Sporadic resistance had already occurred when, in May 1297, Wallace attacked the town of Lanark, killing the English sheriff and unrest quickly became full-blown rebellion. Men flocked to join Wallace and he began to drivethe English out of Fife and Perthshire. The Scottish steward, Robert the Bruce (later King Robert I), and others now gathered an army, but it was forced to surrender at Irvine by Sir Henry de Percy and Sir Robert de Clifford (July 1297). Wallace, however, remained in action “with a large company in the Forest of Selkirk,” according to a contemporary report made to Edward. Wallace had laid siege to Dundee but abandoned it to oppose, with Andrew de Moray, the English army that was advancing quickly toward Stirling under John de Warenne, earl of Surrey
Surrey failed to bring Wallace to Edwards terms outside Stirling, and, on the morning of September 11, 1297, the English began to file across the narrow bridge over the Forth. Wallace and Moray, in a position northwest of the Abbey Craig, held back their troops until about half the English had crossed. Using the confines of a narrow bridge crossing the River Forth, which partially blocked the enemy army’s progress, Wallace attacked the isolated English vanguard when it reached the other side of the river. Forced back to the bridge, this structure collapsed under the weight of men and many drowned in the river weighed down by their armour. Alternative accounts of the battle have the Scots deliberately destroying the bridge or the English doing so to prevent the Scots pursuing them back across the river. The Scots had taken advantage of their position up on a slope and hurled spears and other missiles down onto the advancing English knights. Whatever the details, the outcome was clear: a resounding Scottish victory. Over 100 English knights were killed in the battle, including Sir Hugh de Cressingham, Edward’s treasurer in Scotland, who had been hacked to pieces on Stirling Bridge. Legend has it that Cressingham’s skin was used to make sporrans and sword belts to be worn by the victors. Those English soldiers yet to cross the bridge fled the scene, ceding victory to William Wallace and the Scots. It was a bitter and an ignominious defeat. Losses: Scottish, unknown of 2,300; English, 5,000 of 8,000-12,000. Surrey, with the rest of his army, retreated hastily, having first destroyed the bridge, but the Scots crossed by a ford and pursued them. With only a small following, Surrey escaped to Berwick and York. For the moment Scotland was almost free of occupation. A letter long survived in which Moray and Wallace, writing from Haddington urged the Hanseatic towns of Hamburg and Lübeck to resume trade with Scotland, now “recovered by war from the power of the English.” Moray, who had been badly wounded at Stirling Bridge, sadly died soon afterward, Wallace now turned south where he ravaged Northumberland and Cumberland, burning Alnwick and besieging Carlisle. To the monks of Hexham, however, he granted special protection, the shock of the defeat at Stirling rallied the English around Edward, who marched north with an army. Wallace’s strategy was to avoid confrontation and gradually withdraw. He he did he destroyed the countryside as he went, forcing Edward to march deeper and deeper into Scotland. In July 1298, the Scottish and English armies met near Falkirk.
GUARDIAN OF SCOTLAND AND THE BATTLE OF FALKIRK
Wallace was knighted (it is not known by whom) and was elected or assumed the title of guardian of the kingdom. In the name of King John de Balliol, then a prisoner in London, Wallace set himself to reorganize the army and regulate the affairs of the country. He seems to have acted wisely and vigorously and said to have been supported by Bishop Robert Wishart of Glasgow, the steward’s brother Sir John Stewart, Sir John Graham of Dundaff, Sir John Comyn (“the Red”), Robert the Bruce, and others. Some nobles, many of whom had English estates and also hostages in Edward’s hands, were only lukewarm to Edward, however he crossed the Tweed on July 3 and moved toward Stirling with a strong force of heavy cavalry, a huge body of archers, and a huge amount of both Irish and Welsh auxiliaries. Wallace retreated slowly, wasting the country behind him so Edward’s force could not resupply itself on the march. Edward, with his army half-starved and mutinous, was on the point of retreat when, early on July 21 near Kirkliston, he learned that Wallace was awaiting him near Falkirk. Edward advanced and on the following day found Wallace on a carefully chosen sloping ground, his front protected by a small river. The English cavalry, having with some difficulty crossed the river and the adjacent marshy ground, launched repeated charges on the four schiltrons (circular battle formations like hedgehogs but with bristling long spears instead of short spines) but made no impression on the schiltrons and suffered considerable losses. They drove off the field the small body of Scottish horse under Comyn. But what Edward’s army had was a large contingents of the much-feared longbow archers and English cavalry, and these routed the Scottish spearmen who had been arranged in front of Callendar Wood in their familiar battle order of four schiltroms Thousands of the Scots were slain in the pursuit, and among the dead were Sir John Stewart and Sir John de Graham. Wallace retired northward with the survivors, burning Stirling and Perth as he went20,000 Scots were killed, compared to 2,000 on the English side. Significantly, most of the Scottish nobles survived to fight another day. Early in 1298 Surrey returned and relieved the English-held castles of Roxburgh and Berwick but by Edward’s orders advanced no farther. Edward, unable to maintain his forces in Scotland, returned south, reaching Carlisle on September 8. His military reputation ruined, Wallace resigned the guardianship in December 1298 and was succeeded by Bruce and Comyn
THE MISSING YEARS
The events of the next few years are poorly documented. With a vacant throne, a ruling council had been established consisting of Wallace, John Comyn, and then Bishop Lamberton. Robert the Bruce did not initially support this council. Part of the problem was the Bruce’s had long been rivals of the Comyns, who supported the Balliols. On the other hand, Bruce did not now fully support Edward either, and he seems to have bided his time to better see the outcome of what has become known as the First War of Independence. After Falkirk and Wallace’s resignation as Guardian, the ruling council was led by the Bruces and Comyns, who temporarily settled their differences. Robert the Bruce was at various moments clearly fully on the Scottish side and was involved, for example, in the attack on English-held Ayr Castle. However, in 1302 Robert’s marriage to Elizabeth, daughter of an ally of Edward I, coupled with the release of John Balliol from the Tower of London meant that Robert once again sided with the English lest Balliol’s Scottish allies succeed in reinstating the ex-king. The Bruce had ambitions for the throne himself. Edward had sent more armies to Scotland in 1300, 1301, and 1303, recovering Stirling Castle in the process and so the situation in Scotland and who would rule was as complex as ever. After the debacle of Falkirk, the Scottish nobles studiously avoided any direct confrontation with English armies. However, Edward the English war-king was reaching the end of his long and active life, and Scotland could afford to bide its time. Wallace, meanwhile, disappeared from public view, and although he was a wanted man, he managed to evade capture until 1305. In some accounts, he spent this period as a guerrilla fighter based in the Highlands, while other sources have him escape to France in the ship of the pirate Richard Longoville. Wallace may have sought French financial and military support to continue the fight for independence. An even more unlikely tale is that the Scottish hero made it to Rome where he pleaded with the Pope for aid in his fight with the English.
CAPTURE AND EXECUTION
The rebellion that Wallace had led nevertheless continued until 1304, at which point most Scottish nobles submitted to Edward. How much this continued resistance was due to Wallace’s influence is uncertain however in his absence Robert Bruce had accepted a truce with Edward I and, in 1304, John Comyn came to terms with the English as well. Wallace was excluded from these terms and the English king offered a large sum of money to anyone who killed or captured him, On August 5, 1305, Wallace was betrayed and then arrested near Glasgow by Sir John Menteith, and, according to two early chroniclers, by treachery. He was carried to Dumbarton Castle and then to London, having possibly been brought before King Edward along the way. On August 23, 1305, Wallace was conveyed to Westminster Hall, where he was indicted and condemned to death. There was no trial because he was declared a traitor to the king; Wallace emphatically denied this charge, as he had never sworn allegiance to Edward. Wallace was said to have been made to wear a crown of oak leaves to signify his lowly status as an outlaw. Wallace was formally charged with promoting Scotland’s allegiance with England’s enemy France, accused of killing innocent men, women, and children, including clergy during his raids in northern England, and charged with having led armies against the English Crown. Wallace was found guilty, stripped, and dragged on a hurdle behind two horses by a roundabout route through London to the gallows at Smithfield. Here he was hanged until he was almost dead through strangulation; revived; emasculated; then had his intestines and other internal organs “drawn” from his body before being burned. His body was decapitated, and then he was quartered, with the quarters of his body sent to be displayed in Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Perth. His head was placed on a spike on London Bridge William Wallace then became a martyr, the ultimate heroic patriot, and the subject of countless legends, ballads, and poems. He did not live to see it but Scotland did indeed gain its freedom under the rule of Robert the Bruce when in 1306 Bruce raised the rebellion that eventually won independence for Scotland.
LEGACY AND INFLUENCE
Wallace was unmarried and is not known to have fathered any children. There is no portrait of him and no contemporary description of his appearance. Many of the stories surrounding Wallace have been traced to a late 15th-century romance ascribed to Harry the Minstrel, or “Blind Harry.” The most popular tales are not supported by documentary evidence, but they show Wallace’s firm hold on the imagination of his people and the fact that he fought not for a Crown or lands but for independence from the English oppressor he is and will always remain the Greatest Scottish Patriot. A huge monument (1861–69) funded not by landed gentry but by ordinary folk who all gave what they could to erect a symbol of what he meant to the Scottish nation stands atop the rock of Abbey Craig near Stirling. It is a fitting tribute to a man who gave his life trying to free his fellow man and women and children from English tyranny, and gave Scotland her Independence.
To me it’s shameful that his legacy has been distorted by Hollywood’s portrayal which in many ways is so factually incorrect and I think every Scot should take some of their precious time and find out more about this extraordinary man
The Wallace Sword has pride of place on display in the National Wallace Monument in Stirling it is an antique two-handed sword purported to have belonged to William Wallace the famous Scottish patriot and knight who led a resistance to the English occupation of Scotland during the Wars of Scottish Independence. It is said to have been used by William Wallace at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 and the Battle of Falkirk (1298). The blade of the sword measures 4 feet 4 inches in length and including the hilt is 5 feet 4 inches, the breadth of the blade varies from 2.25 inches at the guard to 0.75 inches before the point. The sword weighs 5.95 pounds, it’s designed to be used two-handed, but even so, Wallace would have had to be around six feet seven inches to use it. In 13th century Scotland, the average man was just five feet tall so Wallace must have been of great stature. It has been alleged that after William Wallace’s execution in 1305, John de Menteith, governor of Dumbarton Castle received the sword in August of that year, but there are no records to that effect. Two hundred years later, in 1505, accounts survive which state that at the command of King James IV of Scotland, the sum of 26 shillings was paid to an armourer for the “binding of Wallace’s sword with cords of silk” and providing it with “a new hilt and plummet” and also with a “new scabbard and a new belt”. This repair would have been necessary because, according to legend, Wallace’s original scabbard, hilt and belt were said to have been made from the dried skin of Hugh de Cressingham, who was killed at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. No other written records of the sword are found for a further three centuries. In 1875 a letter from the War Office informed that the sword, in 1825 was sent to the Tower of London to be repaired. At that time it was submitted to Samuel Meyrick by the Duke of Wellington for examination. Dr Meyrick was an authority on ancient swords, but he estimated the age of the sword by examining the mountings only, which were replaced early in the 16th century. Thus he concluded that the sword could not date from earlier than the 15th century. However, he did not take account of the blade, which must have been of some importance for James IV to have it bound in silk and give a new scabbard hilt and belt, and it was also described then as the “Wallas sword”. Wallace’s sword has been of great symbolical importance to people down the centuries, and every Scot should look at it, study it and think of what it means in the history of Scotland. In the nineteenth century, the people fighting for the reform of the political system used a drawing of the Wallace Sword at the top of their daily newspaper, “The Liberator”. They saw themselves as fighting for political freedom in the same way as Wallace had fought for freedom from English oppression. Wallace was taken to Dumbarton Castle after his capture, before being sent to London to be killed. His sword was left at Dumbarton for centuries. When the Stirling people asked for it to be sent to the Wallace Monument, the army refused, because they said the sword was not real. When the sword was finally sent to Stirling, the people of Dumbarton protested against this,
The sword was recovered from Dumbarton by Charles Rogers, author of The Book of Wallace. Rogers, on 15 October 1888, renewed a correspondence with the Secretary of State for War, with the result that the Major General commanding forces in North Britain was authorised to deliver the weapon to his care for preservation in the Wallace Monument. More recently, it was taken to New York as the centrepiece of the 2005 Tartan Day celebrations. This sword was seen at Dumbarton Castle by the famous poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy when they toured Scotland in 1803. One of the soldiers in the garrison told them it was Wallace’s. This is the first time the sword is known to have been associated with the Scottish hero – was the soldier deliberately telling a tale for these English visitors? Maybe it doesn’t matter if the sword isn’t the one used in battle by Wallace. It’s now the main focus of the cult that has developed around his memory. In the popular imagination it’s highly appropriate – large, plain and business like for a man of action, a man of the people.
Monument William Wallace Glasgow.
There are lots of big name outlets, housing and retail developments that encroach on an historic site just off Glasgow’s M80 motorway at Robroyston take the slip road to Wallacewell, drive along the B765 on to Robroyston Road, turn right at the next roundabout into Lumloch road and there it is A beautiful celtic cross, here you can still stand on the ground where William Wallace slept on a fateful August night over 700 years ago; you can still walk a short distance from the monument to the well that has for centuries borne his name; and you can still view the source of the water at which the great warrior-patriot knelt and drank. If nothing else, this in itself would be significant, as so little is truly known of the life of Wallace that to be so sure of his exact location at any point in time is something special.
But what really matters, what makes Robroyston so special, so important, is that that night’s sleep was to be his last, and that drink was to be his final, as a free man. On the night of 3rd August 1305, the man who had dedicated his life to fight for the freedom of his country ultimately lost his own personal fight for freedom.
In death, the legend of Wallace was to grow so strong that within less than a decade Bruce would climb on Wallace’s shoulders to wrench freedom for Scotland on the field of Bannockburn in 1314.
Some ten years ago, as part of the Glasgow 1999 celebrations to honour the city’s new-found pride in its built environment, the curator of the now-closed Springburn Museum, Dr Gilbert T. Bell, crafted an informative and inspiring series of information sheets about the history of Springburn and the surrounding area.
One of those information sheets was entitled ‘Wi’ Wallace Bled’, William Wallace: Local Hero and Guardian of Scotland. In the leaflet Dr Gilbert detailed both the reasons why the site of the Glasgow Wallace Monument is so important to this country, as well as the dangers and opportunities of future developments which might take place in the green belt area around the Robroyston monument.