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Sir William Wallace

Sir William Wallace


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William Wallace – The True Story Behind Scotland’s Most Famous Hero

William Wallace: legendary warrior, scourge of the English, and fearless campaigner for Scottish freedom.

Most of us know this rugged, painted Scottish hero as a consequence of Mel Gibson’s 1995 blockbuster movie, a thrilling biopic that culminates in Wallace’s brutal execution at the hands of the English king, Edward I.

Although Braveheart is undoubtedly a movie classic, it’s far from historically accurate, and has actually perpetuated a number of myths about William Wallace himself.

Gibson (right) on set with 20th Century Fox executive Scott Neeson. Photo by Scott Neeson CC BY-SA 3.0

Modern historians now have to work twice as hard to debunk the myths, deconstruct the legends and find the truth about this elusive Scottish hero.

One of the reasons that so many myths have grown up around William Wallace is that there are very few surviving historical sources that can offer details about his life. Much of what we do know comes from the writings of Henry the Minstrel, otherwise known as Blind Harry.

William Wallace window. Photo by Rob Farrow CC BY-SA 2.0

According to the Scotsman, Blind Harry’s account of Wallace’s life and rebellion was composed 150 years after the great hero’s supposed death, and was written to entertain rather than educate.

As a result, his tale is filled with embellishments, anachronism and outright fiction. Nevertheless, Blind Harry’s writings have been particularly influential in shaping the legend that we are so familiar with today.

Wallace depicted in a children’s history book from 1906.

What, then, do we know of this revered Scottish warrior? According to the BBC, Wallace lived in a time of great political turbulence. The death of the Scottish king Alexander III in 1286 caused a succession crisis that threatened to tear apart the clans.

Seizing the opportunity to exploit the chaos, the English king Edward I appointed a new king, John Balliol, and then used his newfound influence to levy taxes on the beleaguered Scots.

Coronation of Alexander II on Moot Hill, Scone.

The Scots soon rose against the English, launching a series of bitter struggles that only seemed to cement English hegemony north of the border. It was within this volatile political context that William Wallace was to appear in the history books.

According to legend, and to the movie Braveheart, Wallace had lost his father to English tyranny when he was just a boy, and was raised by his uncle.

Wallace statue by D. W. Stevenson on the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh. Photo by Kim Traynor CC BY-SA 3.0

On his return to Scotland, he is said to have secretly married a woman named Murron, and it is her murder that pushes him into rebellion against the English. However, there is no clear evidence that any of these events actually took place.

We do know that Wallace appeared in Lanark in 1297, and there, leading a small group of men, he attacked the town, murdering the sheriff, William Heselrig.

William Wallace rejects the English proposals to put down his arms.

While Wallace may have been avenging a murdered wife, there are no sources that confirm this. Furthermore, it seems that he was already an outlaw by 1297, and intent on fighting the English.

Wallace was a violent and brutal guerilla leader — his early campaigns were intended to destabilize English rule in Scotland.

As his followers grew, Wallace was able to recapture more and more land from the English, and alongside other Scottish nobles, inflicted an unprecedented defeat over the English cavalry at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in September 1297.

A Victorian depiction of the Battle of Stirling Bridge in September 1297. The bridge collapse suggests that the artist has been influenced by Blind Harry’s account.

Following these significant Scottish gains, both in Scotland and in the north of England, Wallace and Andrew de Moray were appointed as Guardians of Scotland.

However, Wallace’s luck was not to hold. In July 1298, Edward I led an army against the Scots and inflicted a catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Falkirk. Wallace’s military reputation was left in tatters, and he was forced to seek help abroad, with England’s old foes, the French.

Wallace’s Trial in Westminster Hall. Painting by Daniel Maclise.

Upon his return to Scotland, and lacking the much-needed French support, Wallace was a hunted man. He was finally captured in August 1305 by men in the service of John de Menteith, and immediately tried. Wallace was sentenced to a terrible fate: to be hung, drawn and quartered, in the manner of a traitor.

His head was placed on a spike at London Bridge and each of his limbs were dispatched to different Scottish towns, a reminder of what happens to those who dare to defy the English.

The National Wallace Monument is a tower standing on the summit of Abbey Craig, a hilltop near Stirling in Scotland. Photo Credit BusterBrownBB CC BY SA 3.0

According to the Scotsman, the brutal reality of Wallace’s execution surpassed even the graphic re-enactment that took place in the film. English “justice” was often a particularly cruel fate for Scottish rebels, and it is this terrible execution that is seared into Scotland’s historical memory.

The legends that surround William Wallace tend to present him as a Scottish national hero, focused on modern ideals of freedom and liberty for all Scots.

This is, no doubt, an anachronism, and it should not be forgotten that Wallace himself was a violent and often cruel warrior, engaged in the pursuit of individual power and glory rather than the goal of an egalitarian society.

Nevertheless, his story remains an important landmark in the history of Scottish independence, and his legend will certainly continue to inspire poets, musicians and indeed, filmmakers, for many years to come.


Craigie Castle, Gaelic Caisteil Chreagaidh, was originally built for the Lyndesay or Lindsay clan. The castle passed to John Wallace of Riccarton through marriage about 1371 as the last heir was a daughter. This line of the Ayrshire Wallaces then lived at Craigie Castle until they moved to Newton Castle in Ayr in 1588. Craigie Castle was then left to fall into ruin. [5] [6] It was the belief of Mrs Frances Dunlop of Dunlop, a lineal descendant of William Wallace, that he was born at his grandfather's home of Craigie Castle. William only moved away after a number of years had passed due to the burgeoning size of the family and the lack of space at Craigie. [7]

Descriptions of the castle Edit

The present Gothic castellated ruins date mainly from the 15th century, [8] with some 12th or 13th century work. Another view is that the main part of the building was a hall house dating from the 12th or 13th century, incorporating an even earlier building [9] which may have been built by the predecessors of Walter Hose who held sway prior to Anglo-Norman control. [10]

The buildings were surrounded by ditches and natural lochans enclosing an area of about 4 acres (16,000 m 2 ). It had a high quality rib-vaulted hall consisting of three bays over an unvaulted basement, but architectural historians have found traces of an earlier hall which had a crenellated parapet rising flush with the main wall-face. In the centre of one wall was a round-arched doorway, and opposite this a late medieval fireplace, added in the 15th century, was built over another round-arched opening.

The castle contains one of the finest examples of a vaulted hall in Scotland, easily equal to any Scottish abbey or church. The only rivals of the same period are Tulliallan, Bothwell, and Auchendoun. [11] It has been stated that in its time Craigie was the most impressive building of its kind in Ayrshire. [12]

Due to the condition of the structures it has proved difficult to determine the original plan, but the remains suggest that it was originally a simple rectangle of suitable size for a building such as an early hall-house. Craigie Castle may originally have been a hall-house of the late 12th or early 13th century with a wide crenellate parapet enclosing a saddleback roof. During the 15th century it seems that these crenellations were built over and a new hall fashioned on the walls of its predecessor. [13]

The ruins stand upon a knoll rising out of a plateau, between what appears to have been two marshes or lochans, and the ditches were originally cut between them. One ditch cuts the ridge 117m NE of the castle to form an outer bailey. The castle would have been effectively isolated from the 'mainland', and a significant barrier raised by the water to any potential besiegers at the period when the use of gunpowder was unknown. Two crumbling gables, portions of walls, and shreds of battlements remain, and in the 19th century several underground vaulted chambers survived, although partly filled with rubbish, and home to foxes and bats. [14] The entrance to the castle was at the south-west side by a drawbridge, [15] of which the abutment still survives. [16] The entrance pend or arched passage had a circular watch-tower or bastion to defend it. Within the closing wall was a courtyard surrounded by buildings, and from this courtyard there was an entrance into the great hall, long blocked up. [17]

In 1895 Smith records that at a distance of 145 paces from to the north-east of the castle a deep trench has been cut in a north-west and south-east direction for a distance of 162 paces, to connect the two lochans. Near the south wall of the castle there is another trench, and a section of building is to be seen on the outside of it. On the west side there are the remains of a third trench. [18]

In 1863 Paterson records that the tower was undergoing some repairs at the end of the 17th century when a part of the roof fell in, after which the castle was completely abandoned. He praises the high degree of military science employed in the construction of the castle where besiegers would be exposed to raking crossfire even after crossing the ditches / moats and would be outflanked on nearly all sides. [19]

A 'Kragy' castle is marked on Timothy Pont's map of c.1600. It is shown on an elevated area with a prominent entrance way, wooded policies and a surrounding pale. [20]

Although now a minor road, the road running near the castle (B730) was the main route from Irvine to Dumfries via Sanquhar, with a nearby link to the Ayr–Kilmarnock road Craigie was therefore on one of the few reasonable standard communication routes in the area in the 18th and earlier centuries. The numerous rigs on Roy's 1752 map show that the whole area was intensively cultivated at the time. [21]

Crannog Edit

As late as the 19th century a likely crannóg was visible in the boggy hollow 'just to the south-west' of Craigie Castle it was described as a slight rise in the meadow. mostly composed of stones. When the hollow was drained an oar was found. [22] [23]

Moot hills Edit

Smith records moot hills near Craigie village, Knockmarloch and Highlangside. The barony would originally have had a Moot or Justice Hill and a gallows hill. [24]

Borland Farms Edit

Three Borland Farms have been recorded near Craigie village and this may relate directly to Craigie Castle. The name 'Boarland' could refer to the presence of wild boar, however a more likely origin is that a 'Boor' also meant a serf and Norman lords often apportioned lands near their castles for their servants. [25] The Borland or Bordland also meant the land that was specifically used to furnish food for a castle. [26] A 'Boirland' is marked on the Timothy Pont map as far back as the late 16th / early 17th century. [20]

An armorial plaque from the castle ruins [15] is set in the wall of the steading (NS 4 062 3174). The naive peasantry at one time believed that the stone showed two wild men playing at draughts. [27] It bears the impaled arms of the Lindsays and Wallaces.

James Kilpatrick of Craigie Mains was a great horseman who considerably improved the breeding lines of the Clydesdale horse [28] and was famous throughout Britain and the World. Some his champions were: 1918, Craigie Litigant 1921, Craigie Excellence 1924, Craigie McQuaid 1925, Craigie Exquisite 1929, Craigie Winalot 1930, Craigie Beau Ideal 1933, Craigie Realisation 1935, Craigie Magnificent 1939, Craigie Independent 1941, Craigie Topsman 1942, Craigie Chieftain 1947, Craigie Supreme Commander 1948, Craigie True Form. In 1951 Craigie Mains had about 80 head of horses. [29] James Kilpatrick regularly exhibited his Clydesdales, colts and fillies in all their finery at the annual Craigie Agricultural Show in the 1900s. [30]

The famous 'Baron of Buchlyvie' was purchased for £700 by Mr Kilpatrick in 1902 and was the stud horse at the mains in 1903. Mr William Dunlop of Dunure Mains had a half share and after much disagreement the 'baron' ended up at Dunlop Mains, having been sold at auction or £9,500 an unheard of sum for a Clydesdale at the time. The mounted skeleton of this horse is now on display at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow. [31]

Matthew Anderson the 'Policeman Poet' wrote a poem in honour of Symington and Craigie.

"The greatest place beneath the sky,
For Clydesdale horse and Ayrshire Kye,
In all the bliss of perfect joy,
They roam the fields sae lovely.
There's Craigie Mains and Laigh Langside,
In them we feel a special pride,
Their name and fame are World wide.
Then hip, hurrah for Craigie!"
[32]

In the 12th century Walter fitz Alan, Steward of Scotland, held these lands and Walter Hose held his fief from the Steward. [10] In 1177 Walter Hose of Cragyn had given the church of Cragyn to the monks of Paisley. John, probably Walter's son, inherited and his son Thomas had no heir, resulting in his sisters Christiana and Matilda inheriting. Walter de Lyndesay, Knight, was the son of Christiana, the father being William Lyndesey of Crawfurd. The male line ended with John de Lyndesey, whose daughter married John Wallace of Riccarton. [33]


Undiscovered Scotland

Sir William Wallace, or The Wallace, is one of the most powerful, most evocative, and most well recognised figures from Scottish history. It is a fair bet that today his name is better known worldwide than most if not all of Scotland's monarchs. Yet he was never a king his notable deeds took place over a very short period of time, part of which he actually spent in France he fought just two major battles and emerged with a score of won one and lost one he resigned from his job and in the end he was betrayed and executed. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.

There's a contradiction here. Behind it lies the stunningly good press that William Wallace has received over the centuries. Most notably, the bard Blind Harry wrote an epic 1470 poem, The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie. This introduced the story of Wallace as the heroic figure we now all know, at times without too much regard for the actual historical facts. When the Victorians got hold of the story the outcome was the construction of the magnificent National Wallace Monument near Stirling. Wallace's reputation in his native Scotland was secure.

But it was not Blind Harry who brought Wallace's story to the attention of a worldwide audience, it was Mel Gibson. His 1995 film Braveheart added another layer of artistic license to the one already applied by Blind Harry. The result has been criticised for its lack of historical accuracy. But critics of what is, without doubt, a superbly entertaining and enormously popular film, miss the point.

The point is that the historical accuracy of the film doesn't really matter. What matters is the fact that it sparked a resurgence in a sense of Scottish national identity that during much of the 20th Century had appealed to only a minority of Scots. Two years after the film's release, on 1 September 1997 (and on the 700th anniversary of William Wallace & Andrew Murray's victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge) the UK's new Labour Government held a referendum in which the Scottish people could vote whether to establish a devolved Government for Scotland: what would be the first Scottish Parliament since 1707. We share the believe that the "Yes" vote in that referendum owed a great deal to the effect of Braveheart on our image of ourselves as Scots.

So that's the ultimate contradiction in the Wallace story. Wallace's victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge only kept Edward I and the English at bay for a few months. But exactly 700 years later the myth that had built up around Wallace was powerful enough to persuade Scots to establish their own devolved government. Wallace the myth turned out to have far more historical significance than Wallace the man. But without the man there would have been no myth.

William Wallace was born during the 1270s: most say 1272. Arguments continue about his background and his place of birth, with both Elderslie in Renfrewshire and Ellerslie in Ayrshire laying claim to him. Wallace is said to have started his education with an uncle who was a priest at Dunipace near Stirling. He went on to complete his education at Dundee.

At some point fairly early in his life Wallace became an outlaw. This seems to have been for the killing of an Englishman called Selby, son of the English constable of the castle, who insulted him in Dundee. He then killed two English soldiers in Ayrshire who challenged him over his poaching of fish.

Wallace's transformation from common outlaw to freedom fighter came in May 1297. According to some sources Wallace had secretly married Marion Braidfoot. He was visiting her and their baby daughter in Lanark when English soldiers became aware of him. He escaped, but the Sheriff of Lanark, Sir William Heselrig, had Marion executed. That same night Wallace and his men entered Lanark Castle, and killed Heselrig and every English soldier present.

Scotland at the time was without a king. John Balliol had been forced to abdicate by Edward I of England in 1296 and was being held prisoner in the Tower of London. Scotland was being ruled as a province of England. An "official" revolt of Scottish nobles was under way, but this fizzled out at Irvine on 1 July 1297 without ever coming to a fight, but another revolt against the English was under way in Moray and Easter Ross led by Andrew Murray. Wallace always said that his struggle was on behalf of the deposed King John Balliol, though there was never any indication Balliol supported the rebellion.

Wallace became public enemy number one after the massacre at Lanark, and went on to besiege Dundee Castle. Meanwhile Edward I sent a large army north to ensure that the English fortress of Stirling Castle was not captured: and to suppress the rebellion. William Wallace and Andrew Murray met up en route to face the advancing English at Stirling.

The Battle of Stirling Bridge on 11 September 1297 took place around the original wooden bridge over the River Forth at Stirling, in the shadow of Stirling Castle. This lay a short distance upstream from the stone bridge known today as Old Stirling Bridge and shown in the header image. The Scots attacked when the English were half deployed across the bridge and won an overwhelming victory. After the battle, Wallace was knighted by an unnamed Earl and became Sir William Wallace "Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland and leader of its armies." Andrew Murray fared less well, dying some time later from wounds received during the battle. Wallace followed up the victory by leading the Scots into Northumberland and Cumbria, retreating only when the weather became too bad to continue the campaign.

The English returned to Scotland in early 1298, trying to draw Wallace into open battle. This eventually happened at the Battle of Falkirk, on 22 July 1298. Wallace placed his faith in massed groups, or schiltrons, of spearmen to repel the English knights. Unfortunately for him the English made much greater use of longbowmen than they had in the past, a weapon against which the Scots had little defence. When the Scottish cavalry abandoned the fight, perhaps through treachery, an English victory was assured.

Wallace survived the Battle of Falkirk, but resigned the guardianship of Scotland in September 1298 in favour of Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick, and John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch. It seems that William Wallace then spent some time in France, possibly seeking French support against the English.

On 3 August 1305, Wallace, now back in Scotland, was captured by the English in a barn at Robroyston in part of what is now Glasgow. He was betrayed to the English by a man he thought was a friend, Sir John Mentieth, who led him into a trap on the premise they were going to meet Robert the Bruce. Wallace was taken to Dumbarton Castle before being led on a 17 day journey though England in chains. On 23 August 1305, Wallace arrived for his trial in Westminster Hall and charged with range of charges. These included the murder of Sir William Heselrig at Lanark and treason.

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 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, then quartered, with the quarters going to be displayed in Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Perth. His head was placed on a spike on London Bridge.

Wallace is today remembered in many ways, including in the National Wallace Monument near Stirling in the William Wallace Statue in the Scottish Borders in a statue at Edinburgh Castle and perhaps most famously (though not very accurately) in the film "Braveheart".


The real Sir William Wallace

Some years ago the anglophobe film star and director Gibson made a Hollywood-backed movie called Braveheart. This tasteful work of art purports to be the story of a Scot called Wallace who led his (kilted) warriors to victory against a dastardly English king and won a major battle at Stirling in the cause of independence for Scotland from domineering, untrustworthy England. The film is so full of historical errors as to make it extremely funny, and therefore worth watching on your video machine at least once a year.

The real William Wallace was born around 1294. His was a knightly family, not a collection of crofters. Still young, he began the impossible task of gathering the Picts and Scots together – not the clans, they came later. Most northern Scots spoke Gaelic and nothing else, except some relics of their Norse ancestry. All lowland Scots spoke what went for English in the 13 th century, a heady mixture of French and Saxon tongues. One thing bound these fighters together, their joint hatred of the English, and of each other. William Wallace, who was born a knight, did indeed manage this tricky task, and the English were trounced at the battle of Stirling in 1297 when William was only twenty-three.

Unfortunately for William and Scotland, the English king was not known as ‘The Hammer of the Scots’ for nothing, and he led the army which defeated Scottish forces at Falkirk in 1298. The reference to ‘kilted’ warriors above refers to the fact that the kilt came into fashion about four hundred and fifty years after these bloodthirsty battles. The Scots wore trews or trousers, and very little else, but they did not paint their faces with woad, something popular with fighters around four hundred and fifty years before the wars of independence.

Sir William got away from the lost battle against the terrible Anglo-French king Edward, but was found in Glasgow in 1305, a disappointed man. He became even sadder when at his trial he was sentenced to the classic English execution of hanging, drawing and quartering. This abominable death happened to him at Smithfield in London, later famous as the chief meat market in the south. William was twenty-nine when he was first half-hanged, cut down, had his intestines and genitals cut off and burnt before his eyes, and both arms and legs axed off, by which time he was, unsurprisingly, dead. This was, and was for centuries, the prescribed punishment for treason.

King Edward died two years later (1307), having defeated the rebellious Scots, annexed half of Wales and built castles there. He never managed to control Scotland as he did in Wales, and even promoted a Scottish king, John Balliol. His son Edward II preferred male favourites to making war, and could not be said to have given his father much pride. Mel Gibson was of course much too old to play Sir William, but not too old to direct and produce the pantomime film mentioned before – Braveheart.


It seems unlikely that Wallace led a major successful military campaign in 1297 without some prior experience. Many believe he was the youngest son of a noble family, and ended up as a mercenary – perhaps even for the English – for several years before launching a campaign against them.

The Battle of Stirling Bridge took place in September 1297. The bridge in question was extremely narrow – only two men could cross at a time. Wallace and Andrew Moray waited for around half of the English forces to make the crossing, before launching an attack.

Those still on the south side were forced to retreat, and those on the north side were trapped. Over 5000 infantrymen were slaughtered by the Scots.

Statue of William Wallace at Edinburgh Castle. Image credit: Kjetil Bjørnsrud / CC


Wallace History, Family Crest & Coats of Arms

The history of the name Wallace begins in the Scottish/English Borderlands with a family of Strathclyde-Briton ancestry. It is a name for a person who was understood to be foreign. The name is actually an abbreviation of Wallensis, which meant Welsh is derived from the Anglo Norman French word waleis, meaning foreign. It is sometimes difficult for the layman to understand how such a renowned Scottish Clan could be called, literally, Welsh. Yet from the 3rd to the 8th century the Kingdom of Strathclyde stretched from the northern tip of France to the southern shores of the Clyde in Scotland.

This kingdom was composed of solely coastal territories, of regions including Wales, Lancashire, Westmorland and that part of southwest Scotland known as Galloway. Ironically, the first Scottish poem, dated about 1000 AD, was written in Welsh.

Hence, Richard Wallensis was a vassal in 1174 of Walter FitzAlan, the Norman/ Breton who had settled in Salop in England and then moved north to Scotland. He would later found the great line of Scottish Stewart Kings. The Wallensis were undoubtedly the original natives of the area rather than travelers who moved north from the Welsh border in the train of the Stewarts.

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Early Origins of the Wallace family

The surname Wallace was first found in Ayrshire (Gaelic: Siorrachd Inbhir Àir), formerly a county in the southwestern Strathclyde region of Scotland, that today makes up the Council Areas of South, East, and North Ayrshire where in 1173 AD Richard Wallensis obtained the lands that belonged to the former kingdom of Strathclyde called Richardstoun (now Riccarton) by a grant from the King. His son, Richard Walency (or Waleis) witnessed several charters between 1190 and 1220, showing his approval of transfers of land in Molle, Kelso, Cupa and Paisley. The Chiefship passed to his grandson, Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie in Renfrewshire, who had acquired those lands, the ancient Clan territories and other lands in Ayrshire. It was the younger son of Malcolm Wallace, William Wallace, born in 1275, who was Scotland's folklore hero. A knight of no small qualification and skill, throughout his life he had maintained a friendship with the House of Stewart. His many exploits started in 1297 when he killed the Sheriff of Lanark.

Wallace continued to harass the English occupying army with such skill and bewildering speed that the English were demoralized. Wallace unified the Clans of Scotland against a common invader. One of the English captains reported that Wallace was lying in Selkirk forest with his army of Clansmen.

An English force moved northwards to destroy him but found itself under siege in Stirling Castle. The Battle of Stirling Bridge was a decisive victory for Wallace, and he was awarded the guardianship of Scotland. He was probably the greatest unifying factor that Scotland ever had. But the English King once more invaded Scotland, set up his own government and Wallace became an outlaw. Betrayed by Sir John de Menteith near Glasgow, he was tried for treason in London and executed on August 23rd, 1305.

But the Clan Wallace lived on with some forty or fifty branches, most of them having their own lands and territories. The Chiefly line of the Wallaces of Riccarton took on the designation of Craigie after acquiring the Craigie estates by marriage. Other important branches started at Cessnock and Kelly in Renfrewshire. The life of Wallace was well documented by "Blind Harry," the minstrel.


Sir William Wallace

William Wallace is one of Scotland’s greatest national heroes and patriots, most notably honored for inflicting a famous defeat on the English army at Stirling Bridge to free Scotland from English rule.

During the Wars of Scottish Independence, Wallace was one of the men who led the charge to rebel against Edward I’s English forces. Wallace’s accomplished battle skills eventually led to his appointment as Guardian of Scotland.

William Wallace was born in the 1270s in Renfrew (near Paisley) and believed to be the son of a small farm owner of lower social origin. Very little is known about his early years and there are significant periods in his life for which there are no reliable sources.

To better understand Wallace’s motives, it is interesting to understand a bit of history leading up to his revolt.

In 1294 Edward, King of England declared war on France and demanded that the Scottish king, John Balliol should join his army. Balliol refused to support Edward, and with the support of the Scottish parliament, Balliol signed a treaty with France. This meant that the Scots were now at war with the English.

In mid-August of 1296, Edward marched through eastern and central Scotland. Edinburgh Castle surrendered in only a week. As Edward’s army approached Stirling, the defenders abandoned Stirling Castle and Edward took control.

Balliol was forced to confess that he had revolted against the English, had to give up his kingdom and was sent to England to be held as a prisoner. This allowed Edward I of England to take advantage of the succession crisis in Scotland by imposing himself as ruler of Scotland with an English administration. Within months, Scottish unrest was widespread, further sparking the War for Independence.

It was well-known that Wallace’s motivation for rebelling against English forces a year later was a reaction to the conquest of Scotland By Edward I. Edward had humiliated the Scottish king and kingdom. He imposed the English government upon the Scots and English officials were ordered to raise men and supplies for Edward’s planned campaign in France.

Other motives for Wallace’s rebellion may have been more personal. One legend speaks of Wallace having a wife that was killed by an English soldier. Another legend speaks of Wallace having a wealthy girlfriend named Marion Braidfute whose house Wallace had frequented. Marion was murdered and her house burnt to the ground. Rumors speculated that Marion was murdered at the hands of, or at the order of William Heselrig, Sheriff of Lanark and an unpopular English authority.

In May 1297, Wallace attacked the town of Lanark, killing the English sheriff. Unrest amongst the Scots quickly became an all-out rebellion against the English, and Wallace became their leader.

Perhaps Wallace’s motive to kill Heselrig was largely due to Heselrig having been an unpopular English authority or perhaps his disdain for English authorities heightened after the murder of Marion Braidfute. Maybe a little of both.

For his violent act at Lanark, Wallace was made an outlaw and became hunted by the English. Instead of going into hiding, Wallace set off to pursue them.

Men gathered to join Wallace and he began to drive the English out of Fife and Perthshire. More and more Scots were joining Wallace, including the Scottish chief Andrew Murray. Murray brought his own infantry and cavalry and assumed command with Wallace. Murray had already seized most of the castles in the north of Scotland being held by the English.

In September 1297, Wallace was victorious against the English forces at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

Stirling Castle held an advantageous position overlooking the bridge and River Forth. The holder of the castle commanded the main route to the north of Scotland. Edward I and his English forces had captured the castle the previous year.

Greatly outnumbered by the English, Wallace and Murray positioned their army just beyond the bridge on Abbey Craig. On the early morning of September 11, 1297, the English army advanced, two by two, across the bridge, then their commander, Earl of Surrey, recalled them. Apparently, Surrey had overslept but once awake, recalled the soldiers and instead sent two friars to invite Wallace to surrender. Wallace sent back his answer: “We are not here to make peace, but to fight for our country’s freedom. Let the English come on: we’ll meet them beard to beard”.

The Scots held position and when about half the English were over the bridge, Wallace sounded his horn, sending the entire Scottish army charging down the hill. Five thousand English cavalry and infantry were now trapped in a loop in the river. Surrey and his soldiers watched as their English comrades were slaughtered and many drowned after being pushed into the water.

Wallace gained an overwhelming victory by capturing Stirling Castle, and for the moment Scotland was nearly free of occupying forces.

Defeated, Surrey desperately escaped to Berwick.

Stirling Castle

Wallace and Murray, only in their twenties, took control of the Scottish government and signed themselves Commanders of the army of the Kingdom of Scotland.

Murray died a few weeks later from a wound he received at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. This enraged Wallace and further prompted his expedition into England to punish them. Wallace went on to invaded northern England and devastated the counties of Northumberland and Cumberland. He took the towns of Edinburgh, Roxburgh, and Berwick from the English. Leading his fierce Scottish soldiers, Wallace ravaged and burnt English villages, killing and looting along the way.

When Wallace tried to invade Durham, he was faced with blizzards and ice that was unusual for those parts. Wallace and his men decided they had enough and returned to Scotland.

Upon returning to Scotland early in December 1297, Wallace was knighted and proclaimed guardian of the kingdom, ruling in the name of Scotland’s deposed king, Balliol.

Meanwhile, Edward was still determined to have things his way. He ordered his army, which included ten-thousand heavily armored cavalry, to meet him in Roxburgh in June 1298.

The English hunted for the Scottish army, but when food stocks were getting low, Edward prepared to retreat to Edinburgh and possibly abandon the campaign. Then, Edward received a report from two Scottish earls, who were faithful to the English cause, that Wallace and his army were camped eighteen miles away, near Falkirk.

Edward finally found his enemies. On July 22, 1298, English troops advance towards Wallace’s army at Falkirk, Stirlingshire. Wallace and his men were defeated by Edward’s archers and cavalry at the battle known as the Battle of Falkirk.

Wallace escaped and little is known of his immediate movements. In December, he resigned from his guardianship position and was succeeded by Robert Bruce (later King Robert I) and John Comy “The Red”.

There is some evidence that Wallace went to France in 1299, seeking support for the Scottish cause. He returned to Scotland in 1303, but for those four years, nothing is documented of his activities.

Most of the Scottish nobles submitted to Edward in 1304. Robert Bruce had accepted a truce with Edward I and John Comyn came to terms with the English as well.

While most leading Scots were allowed to make peace with their new lord, Edward excluded Wallace from these terms and the English king offered a large sum of money to anyone who killed or captured him. Edward made several Scots agree to capture William and hand him over, as part of their pardons.

The English continued on a relentless pursuit to capture Wallace. On August 5, 1305, Wallace was seized in or near Glasgow by a Scottish noble, John Stewart of Menteith, and handed over to Edward’s officials. Later that year, William Wallace was tried and charged with treason and crowned with a garland of oak to suggest he was the king of outlaws. He responded to the treason charge, “I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject”.

Edward most likely used Wallace as an example to Scots, displaying the price of resistance, however, he had also created a powerful martyr for the cause of Scottish independence.

Following the trial, on 23 August 1305, Wallace was taken to the Tower of London where then stripped naked and dragged through the city at the heels of a horse to the Elms at Smithfield. He was hanged, released while he was still alive, beheaded, then cut into four parts. His preserved head (dipped in tar) was placed on a pike atop London Bridge. His limbs were displayed, separately, in Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling, and Perth.

In 1869 the Wallace Monument was erected close to the site of his victory at Stirling Bridge, on top of Abbey Craig, near Stirling. Wallace’s sword, which was held for many years in Dumbarton Castle, is now in the Wallace Monument.

National Wallace Monument


William Wallace and Robert The Bruce

There are two men whose names were a clarion call to all Scots.

Robert the Bruce, who took up arms against both Edward I and Edward II of England and who united the Highlands and the Lowlands in a fierce battle for liberty: and a humble Lowland knight, Sir William Wallace.

Sir William Wallace 1272 – 1305

Wallace killed the English Sheriff of Lanark who had apparently murdered Wallace’s sweetheart.

A price was put on his head, so Wallace took the bold course and raised the Scottish Standard. Supported by a few of the Scots barons, he inflicted a resounding defeat on the English at Stirling Bridge in 1297. The jubilant Scots made him Guardian of Scotland but their joy was short-lived.

Wallace then made a fatal mistake he took on the English Army who greatly outnumbered his men, and in a pitched battle at Falkirk in 1298, Edward I of England annihilated the Scots battalions and Wallace became a fugitive for 7 years.

While in Glasgow in 1305 he was betrayed and taken to London where he was tried for treason in Westminster Hall. He was one of the first to suffer the fearsome penalty of hanging, drawing and quartering. His head was ‘spiked’ on London Bridge and fragments of his body distributed among several Scottish cities as a grim reminder of the price of revolt.

Robert the Bruce 1274 – 1329

Robert the Bruce, as every school-child knows, was inspired by a spider!

Bruce had paid homage to Edward I of England and it is not known why he changed his allegiance later. Maybe it was ambition or a genuine desire to see Scotland independent.

In 1306 in the Greyfriars Church at Dumfries he murdered his only possible rival for the throne, John Comyn, and was excommunicated for this sacrilege. Nevertheless he was crowned King of Scotland a few months later.

Robert the Bruce was defeated in his first two battles against the English, and became a fugitive, hunted by both Comyn’s friends and the English. Whilst hiding, despondent, in a room he is said to have watched a spider swing from one rafter to another, time after time, in an attempt to anchor it’s web. It failed six times, but at the seventh attempt, succeeded. Bruce took this to be an omen and resolved to struggle on.

His decisive victory over Edward II’s army at Bannockburn in 1314 finally won the freedom he had struggled for. Bruce was King of Scotland from 1306 – 1329.

Robert the Bruce is buried in Dunfermline Abbey and a cast taken of his skull can be seen in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.


Sir William Wallace - History

William Wallace (c. 1270-1305) was a Scottish country gentleman who led his nation in several battles against the English. Although he was a brilliant military strategist, he was eventually captured and executed in London. After his death, Wallace became one of the iconic figures of Scottish nationalism and has been greatly celebrated in both literature and film.

Early Life

Wallace was born c. 1270 near Kilmarnock. Not much can be said with certainty about Wallace’s childhood, as almost no contemporary records of this period have survived. According to a chronicler writing two centuries later, Wallace was one of three brothers, the others named John and Malcolm. He was educated by two of his uncles, who were also clergymen, and was taught Latin and French.

In 1290, a conflict emerged about the right of succession to the kingship of Scotland. Edward came forward. He entered Scotland at the head of a great army and considered himself the lord of a vassal state. After hearing each candidate’s claim to the throne, Edward chose John Balliol to serve as a puppet ruler.

In the spring, Balliol announced that he would no longer pay homage to the English king, which prompted Edward to sack the border town of Berwick-upon-Tweed. He continued with victory at the Battle of Dunbar, and by the summer Balliol was compelled to renounce his throne. In August, Edward came to Berwick and two thousand local leaders paid him homage. Edward ultimately brought Scotland under his own rule.

Emergence as a Military Leader

In 1297, Wallace began what would become a definitive campaign against Edward. A petty dispute about the right to catch fish grew into a serious conflict during which Wallace killed two English soldiers. A warrant for his arrest was issued. Wallace resented the English, because his father had been killed by Englishmen in 1291.

Determined to avenge his father’s death, he was victorious in the battles of Loudoun Hill and Ayr. In May, Wallace won a further victory at Scone, fighting alongside Sir William Douglas. Despite these triumphs, in the end, the Scottish nobility agreed on terms with Edward in July, and the following month Wallace went to Sterling to meet up with the army of Andrew de Moray who was leading another rebellion.

The Battle of Stirling Bridge

On September 11, 1297, Wallace won his most significant military victory. The Scottish rebels at Stirling Bridge were outnumbered by their English adversaries and de Moray and Wallace realized the strategic importance of Stirling bridge. Because of its narrowness, the English could not cross it in wide formation, which would have allowed the Scottish rebels to attack from a distance as the English attempted to advance.

As English soldiers realized what was happening they decided to retreat only to be driven again by the Scottish who were continuing to advance from farther back. Many men were now on the bridge, and so it collapsed drowning many of the Englishmen.
A portion of the Scottish army crossed the river a small distance upstream, which allowed them to mount a pincer movement. This strategy forced the English soldiers back to the river.

The defeat over and English armies gave the Scottish army more confidence. Wallace was knighted for his bravery, and in March 1297 he was made the Guardian of Scotland. De Moray was not so lucky. He eventually passed away three months later from wounds he had received in battle. Wallace would now have to lead the campaign alone.

The Battle of Falkirk

Although the Scottish fighters gained an advantage after the Battle at Stirling Bridge, the tide of the war turned the following year. In June 1298, Edward’s men crossed into Scotland at Roxburgh and succeeded in taking back a few castles. They took a considerable amount of treasure. However, this did not draw William back to the battlefield. Errors in supplies and organization left the English with scarce food and particularly low morale.

Men with spears were arranged in four roughly circular groups, each one guarded by an circular wall made of wooden stakes. Despite the strength of these defenses, the English gained an advantage by mounting a rapid cavalry attack. This caused panic in the ranks of the Scottish archers and many of Wallace’s knights retreated. Meanwhile, Edward’s infantry hurled spears stones, arrows and bolts at the Scottish soldiers.

After a short time, gaps opened up in the Scottish defenses, and it became clear that the English to needed to suppress the resistance which remained. Wallace’s reputation as a military strategist was damaged because he lost many of his soldiers. By 1298, Wallace gave up his position as the Guardian of John Comyn and Robert Bruce. Bruce made peace with Edward four years later, but Wallace, who visited France at this time, refused.

Wallace’s Death and Legacy

William Wallace remained a free man until the spring of 1305. In May, he was taken prisoner by Sir John de Menteith outside Glasgowl. He was Scottish but maintained allegiance to Edward. Wallace was accused of treason because he had never submitted to Edward’s rule. The outcome of his trial was clear. Wallace was condemned to death.

On August 23, 1305, Edward I had William Wallace drawn, quartered, and then hanged. In the end, his head was placed on a pike at London Bridge, and his severed limbs were showcased in four cities in Scotland and northern England. In 1869, a William Wallace Monument was built at Stirling Bridge, and today the life of William Wallace is celebrated as a symbol of Scottish independence.


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