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Thirteenth Century Scottish Warrior


Statue of William Wallace

When and Where was William Wallace Born?

1270, Elderslie, Renfrewshire, Scotland.

Family Background:

William Wallace was the second son of Malcolm (or Alan) Wallace, Laird of Elderslie and Auchinbothie, a small landowner. His mother was the daughter of Sir Hugh Crawford, Sheriff of Ayr.

Education:

From members of his family.

Chronology/Biography of WIlliam Wallace:

1270: Wallace was born in a medieval fortification, the foundations of which now lie below the monument to him in Elderslie. Little of his youth is known but a wandering minstrel called "Blind Harry" told many tales of the deeds of Wallace in the 15th Century. How reliable these are is anyone's guess but it is likely that there was a good deal of romantic embroidery involved in the stories. Harry claims that Wallace was already a powerful individual by his late teenage years and had killed many Englishmen who had crossed him.

1292: The Scottish nobles asked for the help of Kind Edward the First of England (Longshanks) to help solve the dispute as to who should be King of Scotland. Edward appointed commissioners and after due consideration John Balliol was decreed to be the right choice.

1296: King Edward the First of England had become more and more annoyed that John Balliol, King of Scots was not supplying him with soldiers for his continental wars. Edward took his army to Berwick upon Tweed to teach the Scots a lesson. His men sacked the town and it is believed 15,000 people were killed. Berwick was to become an English town. The Scots fought back at the English army now besieging the castle at Dunbar but were cut to ribbons by superior forces. One of the Scottish nobles Andrew de Moray (Murray) was captured and imprisoned at Chester.

Wallace Monument, Aberdeen
Wallace statue near His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen
which was erected in 1888

(© Anthony Blagg)

1297: The first indisputable fact about William Wallace comes when he slays Haselrig, the English Sherrif of Lanark. Harry tells us that this was in retaliation for the murder of his sweetheart Marion by Haselrig. From now on Wallace was to become a magnet for disaffected young man and his army attacked many English held fortifications. Andrew de Moray also escaped from Chester and raised his standard at Avoch in the Black Isle. Wallace operating in the Southern parts of Scotland eventually joined forces with Moray at Dundee. Once they heard of the English army being sent to attack them they realised that the English would have to cross Stirling Bridge on their way north and so they moved their army to the nearby Abbey Craig. Once a section of the English army had crossed the narrow bridge Wallace and Moray attacked and cut the head of the the army to pieces. The Battle of Stirling Bridge was a severe blow to English Morale. In the absence of a King, Balliol having now been discredited, Wallace and Moray were promoted to be Guardians of their country. Moray died later in the year from wounds believed to have been received in the battle. Late in the year Wallace invaded England and the Scots attacked many northern towns including Hexham and Brampton. An attempt on Carlisle Castle failed as they did not have the necessary siege equipment. As harsh winter weather set in the Scottish army retreated back across the border but took with them large amounts of booty and livestock. Wallace was knighted and made Guardian of Scotland officially at a ceremony at the Kirk of Ettrick Forest near the town of Selkirk.

1298: William Wallace sent a letter to Alexander Scrymgeour the official standard bearer of Scotland to prepare for battle. Edward the First of England raised another army which he sent north crossing the border at Berwick and following the east coast. Wallace had put into effect a "scorched earth" policy burning the lands in that area so that no succor could be given to the English troops in the hope that their morale would be broken. The English advance stopped at Kirkliston west of Edinburgh. The Scots were however betrayed by one of their number and Edward found out that they were gathered at Falkirk 18 miles away. At the Battle of Falkirk on the 22nd July the English cavalry charged again and again but Wallace's spearmen held fast, however his cavalry left the field. Was it in fear or because these noblemen disliked his lowborn status? Edward brought his longbowmen to the fore and they killed thousands of Scotsmen opening up their ranks for a successful attack by the English cavalry. The day was won for the English. Wallace escaped the field with his life. After the battle he ceased to be known as the Guardian of Scotland and spent much of his time abroad arguing Scotland's case in France and at the Vatican.

1303: Wallace returned to Scotland to find it more firmly under the grip of the English. He returned to his earlier guerilla warfare attacking English garrisons. He had narrow escapes at Happrew near Peebles and Black Earnside near Lidores.

photo of Hexham Abbey
Hexham Abbey, Northumberland, one of the many northern English
religious buildings sacked by Wallace

(© Anthony Blagg)

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1305: William Wallace's capture finally came at Robroyston just outside Glasgow when he had been on a mission to meet Robert Wishart, the Bishop of Glasgow and well known Scottish nationalist. Wallace was betrayed by Sir John Stewart of Menteith. Wallace was asleep in a barn on 3rd August with a single companion called Kerlie when they were surprised. Kerlie was killed outright and Wallace was taken first to Dumbarton Castle and then south. It took three weeks to reach London as he was paraded through towns and villages in England en route as a bogeyman. He was kept in a house in Fenchurch Street in London as the crowds around the Tower of London were too great to make his entry there safe. The following day he was tried at a hastily arranged court in Westminster Hall (now part of the present day Houses of Parliament). He was condemned as a traitor to be hung drawn and quartered. Although he was given no right of reply he shouted that he could never be a traitor as he was a Scot and did not recognise England as his sovereign nation. Wallace was then taken outside and dragged by horses through he streets of London for 5 miles to Smithfield where he was tortured and hung and his entrails pulled out inch by inch. Edward thought that by making an example of his horrible death it would put fear into the Scots but instead it made a martyr.

Monument to Wallace
Monument to William Wallace attached to St Bartholomew's Hospital, London.
It marks the spot nearby in Smithfield Market where Wallace was executed and
Scottish patriots lay flowers underneath it to this day.

(© Anthony Blagg)

Marriage:

Some reports suggest that Marion, murdered by Haselrig was already his wife.

When and Where did he Die?

Executed 23rd August 1305, Smithfield. London, England.

Age at Death:

35.

Site of Grave:

Head put on a spike on London Bridge. His body was quartered and sent to be displayed as a deterrent above the sewers of Newcastle, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Perth and Aberdeen. Some of his remains found their way to St. Machar's Cathedral, Aberdeen.

Smithfield Market
Modern day Smithfield Market near the spot where Wallace was executed
(© Anthony Blagg)

Smithfield Notice
Notice explaining the significance of Smithfield in Wallace's Day
(© Anthony Blagg)

Places of Interest:

ABERDEEN:

Monument to Wallace near His Majesty's Theatre.

ELDERSLIE:

Wallace monument on the site of his birthplace.

FALKIRK:

Site of Battle of Falkirk.

LONDON:

Plaque commemorating his trial, Westminster Hall, Houses of Parliament.
Granite Plaque nearby the site of his execution in a wall at St. Bartholomew's Hospital overlooking the square of West Smithfield.

STIRLING:

National Wallace Monument, Abbey Craig.

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