Sir William Wallace (1270-1305)
We all enjoy the visions we hold of historical figures. Many conjure up visions of freedom, national pride and bravery tempered with valor. And Sir William Wallace was just such a figure to those of us who love Scottish history. A larger then life man born in the misty past of long ago when brave people wishing for a better life took arms against tyrant kings and shed their precious life’s blood all in the name of "FREEDOM”.
William Wallace was the the 2rd son of a knight named Malcom Wallace. He is said to have been born in Elderslie (Renfrewshire) around 1270. Others say he was born in Ayrshire, which is where he spent his youth. Wallace's family owned land, but were not wealthy enough, or powerful enough, to give him the connections to rise through the ranks of the military. So he went to live with his uncle and took the only other path to success open to him; he went to train for the priesthood at Paisley Abbey.
When an English knight named Fenwick at Loudon Hill in Ayrshire in 1291 killed his father, William's hatred of the English occupiers of Scotland was incensed forever. William Wallace formed an alliance among his fellow students and they would defend themselves and punish the aggressions of the English intruders, whenever the opportunity arose. History records that a youth named Selby, the son of the governor of Dundee, publicly insulted William Wallace; so Wallace drew his dagger and struck him dead on the spot. Although Wallace was surrounded by the friends of the dead man, he was able to escape and killed two or three other Englishmen who attempted to stop him. For this action he was proclaimed a traitor, an outlaw, and was forced to hide in the woods and mountains.
He possessed extraordinary personal strength, undaunted courage, an enterprising spirit, and great dexterity. Those attributes coupled with his passionate attachment to his beloved Scotland and his undying hatred of his oppressors, rendered him well suited to be the leader of a band of patriots burning to avenge the injustices of their suffering homeland. He soon attracted to his side a number of broken and desperate men, who, weary of the English yoke, were resolved to join their fates and fortunes with one who had so successfully stood forth as the assertor of national independence. For a long time they seem to have lived chiefly by attacking and plundering, whenever the occasion offered, the convoys and foraging parties of the English, and retreating to the woods and secret recesses of the country when pursued. Many people believe that the legend of Robin Hood is based on William Wallace’s exploits; collecting a band of supporters, helping the poor, harassing the English and evading ambush and capture many times. It was during this time that Wallace would visit the garrisoned towns in disguise to see for him self the strength and condition of the enemy. During these visits he had various personal encounters with English soldiers, frequently having to escape difficult situations where he was heavily out numbered. His heroic exploits became legendary and following the heavy Scottish defeat at the Battle of Dunbar in 1296, he became the focus of hope for many Scots and to their sacred cause of national liberty.
It was on 11 September 1297 that he began his military campaign, culminating in the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Wallace routed the English Calvary and won his victory because the horses were unable to maneuver on the marshy ground and their supporting troops had been trapped on a narrow bridge; that along with Wallace’s invention of the Schiltron (long pointed pikes twice the size of a man) made it possible for the first time ever for a heavily armored cavalry charge to be defeated by infantry.
In October of 1297, Wallace invaded northern England and ravaged the counties of Northumberland and Cumberland. In early December 1297, upon returning to Scotland Wallace was knighted and proclaimed guardian governor or Regent of the kingdom in the name of Sir John Balliol who was being held captive in England. In little less than six years, he had risen from obscurity to become Sir William Wallace, holder of one of the most powerful post in the Scotland.
At the battle at Falkirk, in 1298, Wallace and his heroic Scotsman were not to be so victorious; the English cavalry was able to maneuver much better this battle and they along with conscripts of Welch archers inflicted heavy damage on the massed ranks of the Scots. Wallace never again found himself in command of a large army of troops. After his defeat a Falkirk Wallace retreated to the thick woods of the nearby countryside and resigned his guardianship. William Wallace’s title of guardian and regent of the kingdom was passed to Robert de Bruce and Sir John Comyn "the Red".
On August 22 in 1305, William Wallace after being betrayed by Sir John Menteith to the English’ was taken to London and accused of treason. At his mock trial he refuted the allegation and stated:
"I cannot be a traitor, for I owe him no allegiance. He is not my Sovereign; he never received my homage; and whilst life is in this persecuted body, he never shall receive it. To the other points where of I am accused, I freely confess them all. As Governor of my country I have been an enemy to its enemies; I have slain the English; I have mortally opposed the English King; I have stormed and taken the towns and castles, which he unjustly claimed as his own. If I or my soldiers have plundered or done injury to the houses or ministers of religion, I repent me of my sin; but it is not of Edward of England I shall ask pardon".
Wallace was hanged, disemboweled, beheaded and quartered. His head was impaled on a spike and displayed at London Bridge, his right arm on the bridge at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, his left arm at Sterling, his right leg at Perth, and the left leg at Aberdeen. No one is sure of William Wallace’s final resting place; but some say that his left arm after it had drop it’s flesh was removed by some monks from Cambuskenneth Abbey in the dead of night and buried in the Abby grounds near where it hung. It is said that his arm was buried with the hand outstretched and pointing toward Abbey Craig, the site of Wallace's victory at Sterling Bridge. And it was his death that stirred Robert the Bruce’s heart to stand in his place and defend the Sovernity and Freedom of Scotland.
Somewhere in the mist of the hills and heather of the highlands I hope his spirit along with that of his wife; Marian Braidfoot;, who was killed by an Englishman named Heselrig, a Sheriff , in the town of Lanark, are enjoying the beauty of the Scotland.