William Wallace

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For other persons named William Wallace, see William Wallace (disambiguation).

William Wallace (c.1270August 23, 1305) was a Scottish knight who led a resistance to the English occupation of Scotland during significant periods of the Wars of Scottish Independence. William was the inspiration for the historical novel The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie written by the 15th century minstrel Blind Harry. This work is more of a novel than a biography and is responsible for much of the legend encompassing the history of William Wallace. The film Braveheart is based upon the novel.


[edit] Certain Origins

[edit] Birth

Wallace's birthdate and birthplace are disputed. While some suggest Wallace was born around 1272, the 16th century work History of William Wallace and Scottish Affairs claims 1276 as his year of birth. Traditionally his birthplace is claimed to be Elderslie, near Paisley in Renfrewshire, although it has been suggested that his birthplace was closer to Rowlands Gill, an alternative name for Derwent Park, near Hurlford and Kilmarnock in Ayrshire. In support of the Ellerslie origins some proposed that William's traditional father—known as Malcolm Saville until recently when David Saville's seal was found — David Saville of Low Fell, a knight and vassal to James the Steward, actually came from Riccarton, Ayrshire, near Loudoun.

There are also strong family connections to Craigie Castle, southeast of Kilmarnock. Some of Wallace's earliest actions were in Ayrshire and local tradition has his first dispute with English soldiers (over fish) not in Lanark but west of Riccarton at a site known as the "Bickering Bush".

To the contrary, the Elderslie origins are defended with the arguments that Ellerslie is a former mining village, known only from the 19th century, whereas Elderslie is known from earlier. Wallace's first action was at Lanark, which is about 30 miles east of Elderslie and Ellerslie. Afterward he moved into Ayrshire to join some Scottish nobles who were fighting the English at Irvine.

[edit] Lineage

Tradition often describes Wallace as "a common person" in contrast to his countryman, Robert the Bruce, who came from the upper nobility. However there is debate over Wallace's exact lineage since it has also been maintained, traditionally, that Wallace's family were minor nobles (gentry) descending from Richard Wallace the Welshman (the name Wallace means "Welsh") a landowner under an early member of the House of Stuart, which later became the Royal House of Scotland.

However, the 1999 rediscovery of William Wallace's seal further enshrouds Wallace's early history. While tradition claims Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie as the father of three sons, Malcolm, John, and William Wallace, the seal identifies William as the son of Alan Wallace of Ayrshire who appears in the Ragman Roll of 1296 as "crown tenant of Ayrshire". Dr Fiona <math>

Insert formula here</math>Watson in "A Report into Sir William Wallace's connections with Ayrshire", published in March 1999, reassesses the early life of William Wallace and concludes "Sir William Wallace was a younger son of Alan Wallace, a crown tenant in Ayrshire". Historian Andrew Fisher, author of William Wallace (2002) writes, "If the Alan of the Ragman Roll was indeed the patriot's father, then the current argument in favour of an Ayrshire rather than a Renfrewshire origin for Wallace can be settled".

Wallace was allegedly educated in Latin by two uncles who had become priests. Blind Harry does not mention Wallace's departure from Scotland or that Wallace had combat experience prior to 1297.

[edit] Scotland in Wallace's time

Image:Wfm wallace monument.jpg
William Wallace Monument

At the time of Wallace's birth, King Alexander III had reigned for over twenty years. His rule had seen a period of peace and economic stability, and he had successfully fended off continuing English claims to suzerainty. In 1286, Alexander died after falling from his horse. None of his children survived him. The Scottish lords declared Alexander's four year-old granddaughter, Margaret (called "the Maid of Norway"), Queen. Due to her age the Scottish lords set up an interim government to administer Scotland until she came of age. King Edward I of England took advantage of the instability by arranging the Treaty of Birgham with the lords, betrothing Margaret to his son, Edward, on the understanding that Scotland would preserve its status as a separate kingdom. Margaret, however, fell ill and died at only eight years old (1290) on her way from her native Norway to Scotland. A number of claimants to the Scottish throne came forward almost immediately.

With Scotland threatening to descend into a dynastic war, the "leading men" of the realm invited Edward's arbitration. Before the process could begin, he insisted that all of the contenders recognize him as Lord Paramount of Scotland. After some initial resistance, all, including John Balliol and Robert Bruce, the chief contenders, accepted this precondition. Finally, in early November 1292, at a great feudal court held in the castle at Berwick-upon-Tweed, judgment was given in favour of John Balliol having the strongest claim in law. Formal announcement of the judgment was given by Edward on 17 November.

Although the outcome of the Great Cause had been both fair and legal, Edward proceeded to use the political concessions he had gained to undermine the independence of Scotland and to make King John's position difficult. Balliol broke his promise and renounced his homage in March 1296 and by the end of the month Edward stormed Berwick-upon-Tweed, sacking the then-Scottish border town. He slaughtered almost all of his opponents who resided there, even if they fled to their homes. In April, the Scots were defeated at the Battle of Dunbar (1296) in Lothian and by July Edward had forced Balliol to abdicate at Kincardine Castle. Edward went to Berwick in August to receive formal homage from some 2000 Scottish nobles (see Ragman Roll), having previously removed the Stone of Destiny, the Scottish coronation stone, from Scone Palace, and taken it to London.

[edit] Military career

[edit] Wallace's exploits begin

Blind Harry notes that Wallace's father was killed in a skirmish at Loudoun Hill in 1291.

According to local Ayrshire legend, two English soldiers challenged Wallace in the Lanark marketplace regarding his catching of fish. The argument escalated into a brawl in which the two soldiers were killed. Blind Harry places this incident along the River Irvine with five soldiers being killed. The authorities issued a warrant for his arrest shortly thereafter. According to a plaque outside St. Paul's Cathedral in the City of Dundee, however, William Wallace began his war for independence by killing the son of the English governor of Dundee after he had made a habit of bullying him and his family. This story perhaps has more weight because it is speculated that Wallace may have attended what is now the High School of Dundee, and spent some of his time growing up in the nearby village of Kilspindie.

Wallace's activities between 1294 and 1296 are undocumented, but Harry states that Wallace was under the protection of his uncle Ronald Crawford, Sheriff of Ayrshire. He used this relationship to his advantage and there are unconfirmed reports of his early career as a petty criminal. In the period from 1291 until 1297 Wallace was involved in several actions where the English invariably lost. Wallace and 40 kinsmen slew and dismembered William Heselrig, the English Sheriff of Lanark, in May 1297, purportedly to avenge the death of Marion Braidfute of Lamington — the young maiden Wallace courted and married in Blind Harry's tale. Soon, he achieved victory in skirmishes at Loudoun Hill (near Darvel, Ayrshire) and Ayr; he also fought alongside William Douglas in Scone, routing the English justiciar, William Ormesby. Towns such as Aberdeen, Perth, Glasgow, Scone, Dundee, and all land north of the Forth were freed. Supporters of the growing revolt suffered a major blow when Scottish nobles agreed to terms with the English at Irvine in July. In August, Wallace left Selkirk Forest with his followers to join Andrew Moray at Stirling. Moray began another uprising, and their forces combined at Stirling, where they prepared to meet the English in battle.

According to Harry, these hit and run tactics eventually led King Edward to address the problem by executing most of the Council of Barons in the Barns of Ayr (June 1297), with a similar event in Renfrewshire - although these events are unattested elsewhere. Ronald Crawford was apparently first to be hanged, sending Wallace, who had arrived at the location late after running an errand for his uncle, into action and killing the entire English garrison in Ayr, locking the doors as the garrison slept and firing the structures. Wallace and his men retired to Selkirk Forest for safety. When word reached the Crawford family that Ronald had been killed, Ronald's son, William, joined Wallace in the forest.

As Wallace's ranks swelled, information obtained by John Graham prompted Wallace to move his force from Selkirk Forest to the Highlands. But on the way to the Highlands, Wallace met up with Andrew Moray at Stirling. From this point, the guerrilla war became open war.

[edit] The Battle of Stirling Bridge

On 11 September, 1297, Wallace won the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Although vastly outnumbered, the Scottish forces led by Wallace and Andrew Moray (a more prominent noble, being a first son), routed the English army. The Earl of Surrey's professional army of 300 cavalry and 10,000 infantry met disaster as they crossed over to the north side of the river. The narrowness of the bridge prevented many soldiers from crossing together (possibly as few as three men abreast), so while the English soldiers crossed, the Scots held back until half of them had passed and then killed the English as quickly as they could cross.

Stirling Bridge as it looks today.

A pivotal charge, led by one of Wallace's captains, caused some of the English soldiers to retreat as others pushed forward, and under the overwhelming weight, the bridge collapsed and many English soldiers drowned. Harry claims that the bridge was rigged to collapse by the action of a man hidden beneath the bridge. The Scots won a significant victory which hugely boosted the confidence of their army. Hugh Cressingham, Edward's treasurer in Scotland, died in the fighting. Cressingham's skin was allegedly tanned and used to make trophy belts and sporrans by the Scots. William Crawford led 400 Scottish heavy cavalry to complete the action by running the English out of Scotland. Moray died of wounds suffered on the battlefield three months after the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

Upon his return from the Battle of Stirling Bridge, Wallace was knighted along with his second-in-command John Graham and his third-in-command William Crawford, possibly by Robert the Bruce, and Wallace was named "Guardian of Scotland and Leader of its armies".

In the six months following Stirling Bridge, Wallace led a raid into northern England. His intent was to take the battle to English soil to demonstrate to Edward that Scotland also had the power to inflict the same sort of damage south of the border. Naturally, Edward was infuriated but he refused to be intimidated.

[edit] The Battle of Falkirk

A year later, Wallace lost the Battle of Falkirk. On 1 April, 1298, the English invaded Scotland at Roxburgh. They plundered Lothian and regained some castles, but had failed to bring Wallace to combat. The Scots adopted a scorched-earth policy in their own country, and English quartermasters' failure to prepare for the expedition left morale and food low, but Edward's search for Wallace would end at Falkirk.

Wallace arranged his spearmen in four "schiltrons" — circular, hedgehog formations surrounded by a defensive wall of wooden stakes. The English gained the upper hand, however, attacking first with cavalry, and breaking up the Scottish archers. The Scottish knights withdrew, and Edward's men began to attack the schiltrons. It remains unclear whether the infantry firing bolts, arrows and stones at the spearmen proved the deciding factor, although it is very likely that it was the arrows of Edward's bowmen.

Either way, gaps in the schiltrons soon appeared, and the English exploited these to crush the remaining resistance. The Scots lost many men. Wallace escaped, though his military reputation suffered badly. John Graham was killed and William Crawford became Wallace's second. According to one account, during his flight Wallace fought and killed Brian de Jay, master of the English Templars in a thicket at Callendar.

By September 1298, Wallace had decided to resign as Guardian of Scotland in favour of Robert Bruce, Earl of Carrick, and John Comyn of Badenoch, ex-King John Balliol's brother-in-law, because of the lack of support from the Scottish nobility. Bruce became reconciled with King Edward in 1302, while Wallace spurned such moves towards peace.

According to Harry, Wallace left with William Crawford in late 1298 on a mission to the court of King Philip IV of France, Le Bel of France to plead the case for assistance in the Scottish struggle for independence. On their trip down the English coast, the small convoy ran into the infamous pirate Richard Longoville, also known as the Red Reiver for his red sails and ruthless raids. Hiding in the hold of the ship while Crawford and a small contingent of men sailed, Wallace surprised the pirates as they boarded the ship. Longoville was captured and taken to Paris where the Scots convinced Phillip to grant amnesty so that Longoville could prey on English ships.

After serving with the Scots Guard in France in two battles with the English and making a side trip to Rome to plead for Scotland, in 1303 Wallace and his men returned to Scotland. They slipped in under the cover of darkness to recover on the farm of William Crawford, near Elcho Wood. Having heard rumors of Wallace's appearance in the area, the English moved in on the farm. A chase ensued and the band of men slipped away after being surrounded in Elcho Wood. Here Wallace took the life of one of his men that he suspected of disloyalty, in order to divert the English from the trail.

[edit] Wallace's capture and execution

Image:Memorial To Sir William Wallace.jpg
This plaque stands near the site of Wallace's execution.

Wallace evaded capture by the English until 5 August 1305 when John de Menteith, a Scottish knight loyal to Edward, turned Wallace over to English soldiers at Robroyston near Glasgow. Wallace was transported to London and tried for treason at Westminster Hall where he was crowned with a garland of oak to suggest that he was the king of outlaws. He responded to the charge, "I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject." The absent John Balliol was officially his king. Wallace was declared guilty.

On 23 August 1305, following the trial, Wallace was taken from the hall, stripped naked and dragged through the city at the heels of a horse to Smithfield Market. He was drawn and quartered—strangled by hanging but released near death, emasculated, eviscerated and his bowels burnt before him, beheaded, then divided into four parts (the four horrors) at the Elms in Smithfield. His preserved head was placed on a pike atop London Bridge. It was later joined by the heads of his brother, John, and Simon Fraser. His limbs were displayed, separately, in Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Aberdeen.

The plaque in the photograph (left) stands in a wall of St. Bartholomew's Hospital near the site of Wallace's execution at Smithfield. Scottish patriots and other interested people frequently visit the site and flowers often appear there.

A sword, which supposedly belonged to Wallace, was held for many years in Dumbarton Castle and is now in the Wallace National Monument near Stirling.

[edit] Portrayal in fiction

An insignificant amount of comprehensive and historically accurate information was written about Wallace. Many stories, however, are based on the wandering 15th century minstrel Blind Harry's epic poem, "The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie", written around 1470. Historians disagree with parts of Blind Harry's tale, or dismiss the entire composition. Although Blind Harry wrote from oral tradition describing events 170 years earlier, giving rise to alterations of fact, Harry's work still remains the most authoritative description of Wallace's exploits. Indeed, much of Harry's work is supported by circumstantial evidence including names from land charters, the Ragman Roll, and religious and public office holders and their archives. While not all details are consistent, the general flow is consistent with contemporary histories. Note that the Bishop of St. Andrew's did commission a friar to write a firsthand account of Wallace's exploits, but the disposition of this manuscript is not known.

Blind Harry's poem "Barns of Ayr", for example, describes the incident when three hundred and sixty Scottish nobles, led by Wallace’s uncle, Ronald Crawford, were summoned by the English to a conference in Spring of 1297. As each passed through a narrow entry, a rope was dropped around his neck, and he was hanged. It is speculated this incident did not occur assuming Blind Harry misread a line from an earlier poem about Robert the Bruce, which tells how certain Scottish nobles were hanged "in ar" (a legal term meaning "by a circuit court"). However, there is no evidence that Harry ever read the earlier poem. The incident as described by Blind Harry does appear in the 1995 film Braveheart with much less accuracy, placing the event in the childhood of Wallace and ignoring the murder of his uncle Crawford. Nevertheless, Ronald Crawford did die at this time and his son replaced him as Sheriff of Ayrshire, giving some credence to the story.

In the early 19th century, Walter Scott wrote of Wallace in Exploits and Death of William Wallace, the "Hero of Scotland"', and Jane Porter penned a romantic version of the Wallace legend in The Scottish Chiefs in 1810.

G.A. Henty wrote a novel in 1885 about this time period titled In Freedom's Cause. Henty, a producer of Boys Own fiction who wrote for that magazine, portrays the life of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, The Black Douglas, and others, while dovetailing the novel with historical fiction.

Nigel Tranter authored an intended fiction titled The Wallace, published in 1975, which is said by academics to be more accurate than its literary predecessors.

Perhaps the best known account of the life of William Wallace is the 1995 film, Braveheart, directed by and starring Mel Gibson and written by Randall Wallace. This film was a commercial and critical success, winning five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

The game Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings contains several of Wallace's battles in its Campaign mode, including the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

[edit] Bibliography

  • Brown, Chris. William Wallace. The True Story of Braveheart. Stroud: Tempus Publishing Ltd, 2005. ISBN 0-7524-3432-2.
  • Clater-Roszak, Christine. "Sir William Wallace ignited a flame." Military History 14 (1997): 12–15. .
  • Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. London: The Reader’s Digest Association, 1973, 519-20.
  • Harris, Nathaniel. Heritage of Scotland: A Cultural History of Scotland & Its People. London: Hamlyn, 2000. ISBN 0-600-59834-9..
  • MacLean, Fitzroy. Scotland: A Concise History. London: Thames & Hudson, 1997. ISBN 0-500-27706-0.
  • Morton, Graeme. William Wallace. London: Sutton, 2004. ISBN 0-7509-3523-5.
  • Reese, Peter. William Wallace: A Biography. Edinburgh: Canongate, 1998. ISBN 0-86241-607-8.
  • Scott, Sir Walter. "Exploits and death of William Wallace, the 'Hero of Scotland'."
  • Stead, Michael J., and Alan Young. In the Footsteps of William Wallace. London: Sutton, 2002.
  • Wallace, Margaret. William Wallace: Champion of Scotland. Musselborough: Goblinshead, 1999. ISBN 1-899874-19-4.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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William Wallace

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