William Wallace was a formidable Knight, a great nationalist and a brave revolutionary fighter/leader who led Scotland to its victory and made his nation taste brief freedom from the shackles of British rule in the late 13th century. Wallace was a great warrior who fought till he died fighting and was captured and hanged by King Edward I of England in 1305. Wallace is known to be one the finest and first line of leaders to have led the Wars of Scottish Independence. Wallace’s greatness have found many references in literature the notable ones being the literary works by Sir Walter Scott and Jane Porter. William Wallace is a prominent figure in the history of Scotland and his ancient age contribution has found relevance even in the modern times with the Academy Award winning epic film ‘Braveheart’, which was directed by Mel Gibson, being made to depict his life and role as a true war hero. William Wallace led Scotland become a powerful force to reckon with and he became a world figure as his name and deeds started being upheld by several people, common and uncommon around the world. The protagonist of the 15th century epic poem The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie, by Blind Harry which upholds William Wallace in the poem. Wallace’s name is iconic in the pages of world history.
William Wallace Childhood & Early Life
Dates cannot be confirmed about the birth and the growing years of William Wallace. His family and background also remains quite unclear to historians. A rough sketch of his birth shows that he was born somewhere around 1270 in Elderslie in Renfrewshire which has again been reaffirmed as Ellerslie in Ayrshire in the recent times. He was born to a family of Scottish nobility. His family comprised of feudal landowners. Wallace himself was a minor member of the noble lords of Scotland. William went to the High School of Dundee to receive his formal education. It was in 1297 that a sealed letter, sent to the Hanse city of Lübeck, made his father Alan’s name appear on it. Wallace’s had his brothers Malcolm and John. According to another source, Alan Wallace is known to have been named in a noble and gentries’ Ragman Rolls where Alan is believed to have been a crown tenant in Ayrshire in south west of Scotland. Wallace’s family members held estates at Riccarton, Tarbolton, and Auchincruive in Kyle, and Stenton in Haddingtonshire. During the birth period of Wallace, Scotland was ruled by King Alexander III. During his rule Scotland was a land of peace and stability. There was no evidence of war and it has been recorded that the King of Scotland maintained peaceful terms with the kings of England. Alexander did not let the English rule over Scotland.
Scenario in Scotland leading to the wars
In 1286 Alexander, the then king of Scotland died while riding a horse leaving no survivor to his throne. Alexander’s only survivor (legal heir to the throne) granddaughter Margaret, Maid of Norway who was just 4 years old was declared the Queen by the noble lords of Scotland. An interim government was set up to rule Scotland till Margaret grew up to take up as the Scottish ruler. This made way for the instability of rule in Scotland and King Edward I of England struck upon a plan to formulate the Treaty of Birgham and pledged a future marriage of Margaret to his son, Edward, Prince of Wales. Scotland managed to hold on to its status as a separate kingdom. However, Margaret became ill and died in 1290 while travelling from Norway (her birth land) to Scotland. This led to the starting point of all the wars (that were to follow) military pursuits and battles between the independent Kingdom of Scotland and the Kingdom of England (to make Scotland come under the British rule) in the late 13th and early 14th centuries. Scotland was in the midst of fears of a civil war breaking out when King Edward successfully became Lord Paramount (on 17 November 1292) of Scotland (after his arbitration with the Scottish lords). It was in 1296 that Scottish nobles started be taken as prisoners of war by Edward and his forces. In April and July 1296 Scotland was defeated at the Battle of Dunbar in East Lothian and King Edward removed all Scottish power and took away around 1800 Scottish nobles as prisoners of war.
William Wallace’s arrival
All the accounts of Wallace’s arrival and briefs surrounding the revolutionary leader have been recorded by ‘Blind Harry’ or Henry the Minstrel who is the famous author of “The Actes and Deidis of the Illustre and Vallyeant Campioun Schir William Wallace” (a long poem) which recounts the life of William Wallace.
It was in 1291 that William’s father died in a battle that took place in Loudoun Hill. Soon after this an incident occurred where Wallace was stopped from fishing by two British soldiers. Wallace was allegedly asked to give away his catch to the British soldiers when he braved them and fought with a fishing rod before taking away an approaching soldier’s sword. Wallace killed the British soldiers in the fight. Wallace started his life as a revolutionary patriot by killing the son of the English governor of Dundee who had allegedly bullied Wallace and his family. In 1291 or 1292 William allegedly killed the son of an English noble, named Selby, with a short dagger. However there is no real evidence to prove this incident.
William’s actual entry into history was with the assassination of William de Heselrig, the English High Sheriff of Lanark, in May 1297. William had allegedly taken a revenge for the murder (carried out by the Sheriff) of Marion Braidfute of Lamington the young heiress who had married Wallace only recently.
Willaim started with battles at Loudoun Hill (near Darvel, Ayrshire) and Ayr in which he became victorious. Supporters of the Scottish revolution got a major jolt when Scottish nobles came into a pact with the English at Irvine in July 1297. In August 1297 William left his hideout in Selkirk Forest along with his followers and joined Andrew Moray, who had begun another uprising, at Stirling. Together William and Moray made preparations to confront English forces in battle. Soon Wallace gained strength and moved his forces from Selkirk Forest to the Highlands.
William led his forces to win the Battle of Stirling Bridge on 11 September 1297. This was the first major battle against the English forces and is recorded as one of the topmost battles in the First War of Scottish Independence. William was accompanied by Andrew Moray to defeat a formidable British challenge that came from a combined British forces comprising of John de Warenne, 7th Earl of Surrey and Hugh de Cressingham who met William’s forces near Stirling. With a minor force William and Moray confronted a huge British professional army of 3,000 cavalry and 8,000 to 10,000 infantry. The war made the Scot revolutionary army bolster a very significant historical victory that raised the confidence of Scottish army. It was William’s captains who led from the forefront to drive away the British forces out of Scotland. The Battle of Stirling Bridge left Moray dead from his war wounds in the 1297 winter.
After returning from the Battle of Stirling Bridge William was knighted. His second-in-command John de Graham was also made a Knight. William Wallace was soon named the “Guardian of Scotland and Leader of its armies”. Within the six months of the victory William led his forces to storm into northern England. William’s aim was to let the English rule take note of the Scottish power.
On 1 April 1298 English Army made an invasion into Roxburgh (or Rosbroch) in Scotland. English Army destroyed Lothian in Scotland but could not capture Wallace or bring him to appear before the British Army. King Edward continued with his search for Wallace.
William arranged his forces dividing them into “schiltrons” (known as sheltron or schiltrom or shiltron) which was a compact troop formation having a shield wall like structure designed for war. It was on 22 July 1298 that another major battle, The Battle of Falkirk took place. William Wallace and his forces were defeated by the English Army led by King Edward I of England. The English Army crushed the Scottish resistance completely. Many Scottish men died in the battle and William escaped leaving his Army disbanded and killed and also earning a bad name.
William decided to step down as Guardian of Scotland in September 1298. Robert Bruce became the new ruler of Scotland (on William’s intimation). However, Bruce arbitrated with the English Army for reconciliation which was not liked and rejected by Wallace. In 1302 Bruce struck a peace move with British King Edward. William hated all the peace moves between Scotland and England. In the late 1298 William Wallace and William Crawford went on their mission to the court of King Philip IV of France for pleading assistance into their revolution which was a major Scottish struggle for independence. In 1303 Squire Guthrie went to France to bring back Wallace and his men to Scotland. Wallace and his men returned to Scotland in 1303. Wallace and his men hid in a farm of William Crawford, near Elcho Wood where they in the darkness of the night. Hearing William Wallace’s arrival English Army moved towards the farm. A chase followed soon after this and the band was captured and surrounded in Elcho Wood. The band of men soon slipped away from British forces. Wallace had reportedly killed one of his men who had allegedly helped the British with their search. In July 1304 Wallace involved himself in British encounters fighting in the Battle of Happrew. In September 1304 William took part in a skirmish, The Action at Earnside which is known to be his last fight.
William escaped capture by English forces for long but was given away to British forces (every time finding his escape routes) several times resulted by disloyalty of Scottish nobles and knights. It was on 5 August 1305 that John de Menteith, a Scottish knight who had his loyalty to King Edward of England handed over Wallace to English soldiers at Robroyston near Glasgow. William Wallace was taken to London and presented in Westminster Hall where he was tried for treason. William responded to the treason charge, “I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject.” On 23 August 1305 William was taken away from the hall, after his trial was completed. He was dragged from the hall, naked and drawn to the heels of a horse before being taken away to the Elms at Smithfield. William’s execution was gruesome as he was hanged and released when he was alive. His abdomen was cut open and his bowels were burnt before him before being beheaded, castrated and cut into four parts. William’s head was dipped in tar and preserved before placing it on a pike atop London Bridge. His limbs were made to display separately, in Newcastle upon Tyne, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Stirling, and Aberdeen.