Born In: Elderslie, Renfrewshire, Scotland
William Wallace was a Scottish knight. He was a central figure in the ‘Wars of Scottish Independence.’ Regarded as one of Scotland’s greatest national heroes, he led the Scottish resistance forces during the early years of Scotland’s struggle for independence from English rule. Wallace grew up during the reign of King Alexander III of Scotland, which was marked by peace and economic stability. But chaos regarding the inheritance of the throne ensued after the king’s untimely death and John Balliol was named the king. However, King Edward I of England deposed and imprisoned the Scottish king and declared himself the ruler of Scotland. The citizens started resisting the rule of the English king and William Wallace gathered a group of men and burned the Scottish town of Lanark and killed its English sheriff. He then recruited a bigger army and began attacking the English forces, emerging as one of the main leaders during the ‘Wars of Scottish Independence.’ Along with Andrew Moray, Wallace defeated an English army at the ‘Battle of Stirling Bridge’ in September 1297. In this battle, Wallace’s army was greatly outnumbered by the English army, yet he managed to achieve a resounding victory. Appointed the Guardian of Scotland, he fought the English with great valor till the very end when he was captured and executed brutally on charges of high treason.
Also Known As: Sir William Wallace
Died At Age: 35
Spouse/Ex-: Marion Braidfute
father: Malcolm Wallace
mother: Lady Margaret Crawford
siblings: John Wallace, Malcolm II Wallace
Born Country: Scotland
Died on: August 23, 1305
place of death: Smithfield, London, England
Cause of Death: Hanged, Drawn And Quartered
William Wallace was born in 1270 in Elderslie, Renfrewshire, Scotland, as a member of lesser nobility. Not much is known about his parentage. Some sources state that his father was Sir Malcolm of Elderslie. According to William’s seal, his father’s name is Alan Wallace. It is known from other sources that he had two brothers named Malcolm and John.
There are records that claim that members of Wallace’s family held estates at Riccarton, Tarbolton, Auchincruive in Kyle, and Stenton in East Lothian. It is also claimed that they were vassals of James Stewart, 5th High Steward of Scotland.
Wallace grew up during the reign of King Alexander III of Scotland, which was a period of peace and economic stability. The king died in a horse riding accident on 19 March 1286. The heir to the throne was Alexander's granddaughter Margaret, Maid of Norway, who was still a child. Thus, the Scottish lords set up a government of guardians to rule on her behalf until she came of age.
Four years later, Margaret fell ill on her voyage to Scotland and died in Orkney on 26 September 1290. This left Scotland without a direct heir to the throne and several families laid claim to the throne.
A period of chaos ensued and it was feared that Scotland would be subjected to civil war. The Scottish nobility invited King Edward I of England to arbitrate. Edward proclaimed himself the Lord Paramount of Scotland and insisted all contenders recognize him. In November 1292, a feudal court was held in the castle at Berwick-upon-Tweed and it was adjudged that John Balliol had the strongest claim to the throne. Thus, John Balliol was made the king.
However, John proved to be a weak king and was often called by names, such as ‘Toom Tabard’ or ‘Empty Coat.’ Making use of the opportunity, King Edward I stormed Berwick-upon-Tweed in 1296 and went on to defeat the Scots at the ‘Battle of Dunbar’ in East Lothian. He then forced John to abdicate the throne and took over the control of Scotland and declared himself ruler of Scotland.
Many of Scottish citizens were unhappy with this development and people protested against the English rule sporadically. In May 1297, William Wallace gathered a group of 30 men and burned the Scottish town of Lanark, killing William de Heselrig, the English High Sheriff of Lanark.
He then joined William the Hardy, Lord of Douglas, and they carried out the raid of Scone. At that time, several rebellions were taking place in Scotland, including the ones that were led by Andrew Moray in the North.
Wallace and Moray, who were leading separate rebellions at the beginning, met and combined their forces. Together, they led an army in September 1297 and faced English army under John de Warenne, earl of Surrey, near Stirling.
The English army, with 3,000 cavalry and 8,000 to 10,000 infantrymen, outnumbered the Scottish forces. However, the shrewd Scottish leader came up with a plan to outwit the English. To reach the Scottish forces, the English would first have to cross over to the north side of the River Forth using a narrow bridge.
The bridge was so narrow that only a few men could cross it at a time. Keeping this in mind, Wallace and Moray placed the Scottish forces strategically, and let about half of the English soldiers cross over, giving the English the false impression that it was safe to cross over the bridge.
The English fell into this trap. As soon as the latter half of the soldiers began crossing, the Scots attacked them quickly and killed them. One of Wallace’s captains led a valiant charge that forced some of the English soldiers to retreat as others pushed forward on the bridge. The bridge gave way under the overwhelming weight of the English soldiers and many of them drowned in the river below. Thus, Wallace and Moray were able to secure a resounding victory for Scotland.
This victory over the English boosted the morale of the citizens of Scotland. The humiliating defeat of the English ensured that Scotland was nearly free of occupying English armies for a while.
After the battle, both Moray and Wallace were given the title ‘Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland’ on behalf of King John Balliol. Unfortunately, in 1297, Moray died of wounds which he had suffered on the battlefield.
Around November 1297, Wallace invaded northern England and ravaged Northumberland and Cumberland counties. He was known for his brutality towards the English. He reportedly skinned a dead English soldier and kept his skin as a trophy.
Towards the end of the year, Wallace was knighted in a ceremony at the 'Kirk o' the Forest.'
Wallace’s victories over the English revealed a lot about his moral character. The opportunistic tactics employed by Wallace greatly differed from the contemporary views on chivalric warfare. Following their defeat, the English’s contempt for Wallace grew manifold.
Seething from his disgraceful defeat at the hands of the Scots, Edward ordered a second invasion of Scotland in April 1298. He reportedly had more than 25,000 foot soldiers, more than half of them were Welsh, and roughly around 1500 horses under his command.
The English army stormed into Lothian, plundered the region, and managed to recapture some castles. The castles were being recaptured while Wallace was yet to enter the battle. At first, the Scots tried to shadow the English army, intending to avoid battle until the English were forced to withdraw their forces due to shortage of supplies and money. Wallace planned to attack the tired English forces after they were depleted of their resources.
Meanwhile, the English’s supply fleet was delayed. By the time they reached central Scotland, the forces were tired, frustrated, and demoralized. Riots erupted within the English army and had to be put down by Edward’s cavalry. During this time, Edward received the news that Wallace and his men had taken position near Falkirk, all set to attack the English.
The English proceeded to attack the scheming Scots. This time around, the English were in a strategically superior position and forced the Scottish cavalry to withdraw. Edward’s men fought aggressively in the battle and crushed the Scottish resistance, killing several of their major warriors. Wallace somehow managed to escape alive, but his military reputation was ruined forever. Following this inglorious defeat, Wallace resigned as Guardian of Scotland.
The details regarding Wallace’s whereabouts over the next few years are obscure. Some sources suggest that he went to France to request King Philip IV to send French support for Scotland’s rebellion. It is also said that Wallace may have intended to travel to Rome, although it is not known if he did.
By 1304, most of the Scottish leaders had submitted before Edward and had accepted him as their king. Meanwhile, Edward continued to pursue Wallace relentlessly. Wallace was back in Scotland by 1304 and successfully evaded arrest for a while. He was finally arrested on 5 August 1305 and was taken to Westminster Hall, where he was tried for treason and atrocities against the civilians during war.
William Wallace, along with Andrew Moray, led the Scottish forces in the ‘Battle of Stirling Bridge’ in 1297 against the combined English forces of John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey, and Hugh de Cressingham. The Scots were able to defeat the English in spite of being vastly outnumbered. This victory proved to be an important milestone in Scotland’s struggle for independence against English rule.
‘The Battle of Falkirk’ was another major battle that featured Wallace. When the English army, led by Edward, stormed into Scotland, Wallace planned to shadow the English until their resources were depleted and then launch his attack. However, his plan backfired and the English gained a strategic advantage in the battle and proceeded to defeat the Scots.
It is not known for sure if William Wallace ever married. However, some sources state that he was married to a lady named Marion Braidfute.
After his arrest by the English, Wallace was put on trial for high treason. He was brutally executed on 23 August 1305. He was first stripped naked and dragged through the city. He was then strangled by hanging, but released moments before his death so that further tortures could be inflicted upon him. His stomach was cut open; the bowels pulled out and burned before his eyes. Finally, he was beheaded and his body was chopped into four pieces.
After his gruesome death, his head was dipped in tar and placed on a pike atop London Bridge. His sacrifice for his country did not go in vain as Scotland was able to achieve independence a few years later.
He is regarded as a prominent national hero in Scotland. In 1869, the ‘Wallace Monument’ was erected close to the site of his victory at Stirling Bridge.
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