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Scottish Historical Figures: Sir William Wallace

Born

~1270, Renfrewshire

Died

23rd August 1305, London

Son of Sir Malcolm Wallace, a landowner of Elderslie, Refrewshire.

The Scottish King, John Balliol, was deposed in 1296 by King Edward I of England. Edward declared himself ruler and thought he had added Scotland to his empire. Some resistance began across Scotland but the first significant event occured when William Wallace with around 30 men killed the English sheriff of Lanark in May 1297 probably to avenge the death of his, or a close friend's, wife or girlfriend. An army of common men took up the cause at Wallace's side attacking English garrisons across central Scotland. On 11th September 1297 an English army under the Earl of Surrey was caught attempting to cross a narrow wooden bridge over the River Forth at Stirling. This force was slaughtered at this Battle of Stirling Bridge and the strategically crucial fortress of Stirling Castle fell to Wallace.

Occupying forces had been virtually cleared from Scotland and Wallace went on to ravage the North of England. In late 1297 Wallace was knighted and proclaimed guardian of Scotland in the name of Balliol. Wallace's power base was among the common people and small land owners but support from the nobles, many like Edward himself of Norman descent, was limited.

Edward of England, who had been campaigning in France, returned to England in early 1298 and by the summer was on his way to Scotland at the head of a powerful army. Wallace's army of common folk could not stand up to Edward's archers and heavy cavalry in the Battle of Falkirk on 22nd July. Wallace escaped, but his army had been destroyed. Edward was given the dubious title of 'Hammer of the Scots'.

He may have travelled to France to find help for the Scottish cause. Nothing was heard of him until 1305 when he was betrayed  by Sir John Mentieth governor of Dumbarton. In 1306 the recently introduced English punishment for High Treason was enacted on Wallace - publicly hanged, disemboweled, beheaded and quartered. His body parts being displayed in Newcastle, Berwick, Perth and Stirling.

Wallace's legacy to his Nation was to keep alive in the population the believe that they were an independent and sovereign people who should not be absorbed by their powerful southern neighbour. In the same year Wallace died, Robert Bruce (Robert I) took up the cause and soon won lasting independence for Scotland.

Most of the stories concerning Wallace actually came from a 15thC minstrel, Blind Harry and most popular tails of Wallace's daring-do have no documentary evidence. But Wallace holds a special place in the imagination of the Scots People and in the 1860's a massive tower to Sir William Wallace was build on Abbey Craig at Stirling overlooking the location of 'his finest hour'- the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

 

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