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William Wallace

William Wallace

William Wallace
(c. 1270-1305)


Scotland’s greatest patriot., Wallace was one of the few to emerge from the Wars of Independence with uncompromised honesty and selfless motive. He was a minor noble from Elderslie and one of the few to take on Edward I when he assumed the overlordship of Scotland. After English forces murdered his father, brother and wife, he retaliated, killing the English sheriff at Lanark in May 1297 and joining forces with Sir Andrew Murray before going on to win a great victory at Stirling Bridge.

He became Guardian of Scotland in the name of John Balliol. But further successes, some in the north of England, did not draw to his cause the Scots nobles, preoccupied with in-fighting and not wanting to follow a leader of lower social status. Defeat at Falkirk began the decline; missions for support abroad distracted his efforts, and by the early 1300s he was back to waging low-scale guerrilla warfare. With a price on his head, he was betrayed in 1305 by one of his own followers outside Glasgow and handed over to be sent to London for trial. Wallace was accused of treason, a charge he refuted on the grounds that he never acknowledged Edward as king and was his enemy, not a rebel. But the trial was a formality, and on 23 August he was dragged in chains through the streets to Smithfield where before a baying crowd he was hanged, cut down before he was dead, disembowelled and quartered; his limbs were sent as a warning to Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Perth. Wallace was recognised as a patriotic hero in his own lifetime, and modern times have seen his name brought to the fore again by Mel Gibson’s Braveheart movie.

More About William Wallace. Wallace's tragic flaw was his birth. He wasn't a claimant to the throne, or even an aristocrat. He was nothing higher than a 'sir'. When he led the Scots against English domination, he was very much ignored by the upper classes, and supported by the common people. He made his first strike in Glasgow, crossing the Clyde from the south and advancing up High Street to defeat the English at the Bell o' the Brae. His uncle, the laird of Auchinleck, attacked the city from the other direction

.Some people dismissed the men Wallace led as a crowd of brigands. Rabble or not, they were brilliantly led at the battle of Stirling Bridge, where the English charged across the narrow bridge only a few abreast. Wallace's army totally routed them. They fled the country and Wallace carried out a punitive raid on the north of England. When he came home, he was chosen governor of Scotland. But he wouldn't hold this post for long. In the following year the 'hammer of the Scots', Edward I of England, invaded with a big force, and Wallace was forced to face them at Falkirk. His cavalry, the aristocrats, deserted in the face of the enemy, his infantry were raked by English arrows and the result of Stirling Bridge was reversed. Wallace's army was routed and their leader barely escaped. He went to France, probably to ask for help against the 'auld enemy', but got none.

He returned to Scotland in 1303, but two years later was betrayed at Glasgow and arrested by Sheriff Menteith of Dumbarton. Dragged off to London, Wallace faced a kangaroo court in a trial for treason, when his only crime was to want to defend his country. The verdict came as no surprise.

Wallace suffered hanging, drawing and quartering. The bits of his body were sent north to various places and displayed 'pour encourager les autres' as the French used to put it.

Wallace didn't die in vain. He had lit a lamp that wouldn't die out, and in less than 10 years Bruce, who was indeed an aristocrat, was able to arouse Scotland and smash the English at Bannockburn. Scotland owed its independence to the doughty pioneering work of the commoner from Elderslie. It would be left to a descendant of Bruce's to move Scotland's throne to England, and to a collection of corrupt upper-class politicians to let its parliament be absorbed by Westminster.