An essay written by a 16-year-old for world history:

Sir William Wallace is a legend that has been around for some time, though it had begun to be forgotten. He was a large man who could kill Englishmen with his five-foot sword as if they were nothing, as well as a brilliant military tactician. It was revived with great strength a few years back with Mel Gibson's self-starring and self-directed movie, Braveheart. While it is inaccurate in several ways (much like Disney animated movies), it is an excellent movie that got good reviews. If you are interested in the legend, please go see it, but keep in mind that it isn't the whole truth. For a long time, the only records of Wallace were from 300 pages of rhyming verse by a blind poet named Blind Harry. However, more accurate facts have been uncovered today with modern historians.

Historians aren't quite sure when the Scottish hero, Sir William Wallace, was actually born. Nor are they totally sure of his ancestors. We do know that he was the second of three sons born to Sir Malcolm Wallace sometime between 1270 and 1276, most likely 1272. He was born in a town called Elerslie (now called Elderslie). Unlike how Scotland was usually portrayed, it was a fairly prosperous country at this time. On August 18, 1274, Edward I, more commonly known by the nickname Longshanks, was crowned King of England.

William Wallace was a very strong and rather large man. Not large as in fat, but relatively large in stature. He was around 6 feet 7 inches tall when the average height for men was only 5 foot! As one of the younger sons, and therefore ineligible for hereditary rights, he studied at the Church. One of his Uncles, who was a priest, taught him. It was probably he who buried in Wallace the great sense of morals and righteousness that he was famous for. The knowledge of equality and liberty.

Unlike in Braveheart, William's father hadn't died yet. He and his eldest son had run away because of not paying homage to Longshanks. It was just William, his younger brother, John, and mother, Margaret left. He and his family took off and came under the care of another uncle, probably from his mother's side. As Longshanks began stretching his arm for absolute control of Scotland, William reportedly had several bad run-ins with English soldiers, making him an outlaw. He split from his family for both their safety and lived with yet another uncle, Sir Richard Wallace. Still more problems with English soldiers drove him to hide in the woods.

According to a few Internet sites, this is where Robin Hood comes in. Here we have an outlaw in the forest, who ruthlessly attacked anything English in the forest. William was joined by about 15 fellow Scots. He had a friend from the Church, a Benedictine monk named John Blair, who joined him. John Blair also recorded all of the party's moves. Still more old friends joined his vendetta through the woods, Tom Halliday, and Edward Little. He also had a love, whom he never married, named Marion Braidfute. She was eventually murdered, driving William even more. We now have a band of outlaw men in a forest attacking troops, a mistress named Marion, a man with the name Little, and a Benedictine monk. Put two and two together, mix with the chaos of generations of storytellers, and you almost get the Robin Hood story (see also hamster dance).

William was also famously involved in raising armies of scots against the English and leading them to battle. He began his campaigne in May of 1297. He burned Lanark and killed its sheriff. He also helped organize an army that fought with English garrisons.* The next big battle hit in Sept 11, 1297 at Stirling. Wallace was outnumbered, overpowered. However, there was a catch. The English were across a narrow bridge from the battle field. When they attempted to cross it, Wallace's men trapped them and decimated them on the bridge. In July 22, 1298, Wallace was defeated at the Battle of Falkirk. Though Scotland had not been lost to the English, Wallace's undefeatable military reputation had. Starting around 1299, there are about 4 to 5 years Wallace is unaccounted for.

On August 5, 1305, he was arrested. At London he was declared a traitor to the crown. Wallace's only defense he claimed was that he had never sworn allegiance to Longshanks, so how could he be a traitor? Braveheart is rather accurate about this part. Wallace was hanged, disemboweled, quartered, and beheaded. His various body parts were sent to different key areas, meant as a warning to any who dare rebel. It had the opposite effect on the scots however. Robert the Bruce led the rebellion in 1306 and won independence for the Scottish people.

* Just because it says Garrison doesn't mean the history lesson was composed under the Influence by a cardboard cutout elementary school teacher.

Copyright © 2000 Samuel Seabold; used by permission.
Introduction - the early years

William Wallace was a Scottish patriot who led his country against an English occupation of Scotland under King Edward I. His exploits were romanticised in the film 'Braveheart', bringing him to global attention, although in Scotland he was already well-known (The Wallace Monument near Stirling is a tall tower visible for miles around, and statues of Wallace stand in many Scottish towns and cities). The film did not paint a wholly accurate picture of the man who became Guardian of Scotland, however, and this node will attempt to give a truer portrait of his life.

Wallace is often seen as being 'one of the common people' in comparison to his fellow countryman, Robert the Bruce , who was of more noble stock. Wallace's family was descended from Richard Wallace, a landowner under an early member of the Stewart family, which was later to become a royal line in its own right. Wallace was born at Elderslie near Paisley, in a year unknown, although he was almost certainly still a young man in his most famous years between 1297 and 1305.

There are few contemporary sources for information about Wallace's early life, and much reliance is placed on the account of Blind Harry, written around 1470, almost two centuries after Wallace's death. We are told that his father was Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie, and that he had two brothers, Malcolm and John. He was educated by two uncles who were priests, and was therefore well educated by the standards of the time, knowing both French and Latin. Blind Harry makes no mention of his ever having left the country, or having any military experience before 1297. A record from August,1296, makes reference to 'a thief, one William le Waleys' in Perth.

Scotland in Wallace’s time

The crisis in deciding Scotland's succession had led to England's King Edward effectively choosing the Scottish king, John Balliol. In March 1296, Balliol renounced his homage to Edward, and by the end of the month Edward had stormed Berwick-upon-Tweed, sacking the border town with much bloodshed. In April, Edward defeated the Scots at Dunbar in Lothian, and by July, Balliol had been forced to abdicate at Kincardine Castle. Edward went to Berwick in August to receive formal homage from some 2,000 Scottish leaders, having previously removed the Stone of Destiny from Scone Palace, seat of Scottish kings. Scotland was now effectively under English rule.

Wallace’s exploits begin

The following year, 1297, was to see the start of Wallace’s rise to prominence. William Haselrig, the English sheriff of Lanark, had murdered Marion Braidfute, Wallace's wife or mistress, and Wallace took his revenge by killing the Sheriff, and burning his castle. By May he was fighting with Sir William Douglas in Scone, routing the English justiciar, William Ormsby.Supporters of the growing popular revolt suffered a major blow when Scottish nobles agreed terms with the English at Irvine in July, and in August, Wallace left his base in Selkirk forest to join Andrew Murray’s army at Stirling. Murray had started another rising, and their forces combined at Stirling, where they prepared to meet the English in battle.

The battle of Stirling bridge

The 11th of September, 1297, saw a decisive victory for Wallace and the Scots at Stirling Bridge. The Scottish forces ambushed the English at the bridge over the Forth, led by Wallace and Andrew Murray, another low-ranking nobleman. 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; they were either killed on the end of the Scots’ long spears, or drowned in the Forth, dragged down by the weight of their own armour. Historians believe the marshy ground around the bridge also helped secure the downfall of the English. Hugh Cressingham, Edward’s treasurer in Scotland, was killed in the fighting.

Following his victory, Wallace was made a knight, and became Guardian of Scotland in March 1298.

The battle of Falkirk

A year later, however, the tables were to be turned. On the 25th of June, 1298, the English had invaded Scotland at Roxburgh. They plundered Lothian and regained some castles, but had failed to bring Wallace to combat. The Scots had adopted a scorched earth policy, and English suppliers’ mistakes had left morale and food low; but Edward’s search for Wallace would end at Falkirk.

Wallace had arranged his spearmen in four ‘schiltrons’ – circular, hedgehog formations surrounded by a defensive wall of wooden stakes. The English were to gain the upper hand, however, attacking first with cavalry, and wreaking havoc through the Scottish archers. The Scottish knights fled, and Edward’s men began to attack the schiltrons. It is not clear whether the infantry throwing bolts, arrows and stones at the spearmen was the deciding factor, or a cavalry attack from the rear.

Either way, gaps in the schiltrons soon appeared, and the English exploited these to crush the remaining resistance. The Scots lost many men, but Wallace escaped, though his pride and military reputation were badly damaged.

By September, 1298, Wallace had decided to resign his guardianship to Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick, and John Comyn of Badenoch, ex-King John Balliol’s brother-in-law. Bruce became reconciled with Edward in 1302, while Wallace spurned such moves towards peace.

Wallace’s capture and execution

Sir William managed to evade capture by the English until May 1305, when he was captured near Glasgow, by John Menteith, a Scot loyal to Edward. After a show trial, he was horribly executed by the English on 23rd August, 1305. He was hanged, then cut down to be disembowelled when still alive, and his head placed on a spike in London Bridge. His limbs were displayed in a grisly fashion in Newcastle, Berwick, Edinburgh, and Perth. Thus ended the life of one of Scotland’s true heroes, whose loyalty to his country cannot be questioned. Sources:
William Wallace, by Andrew Fisher (John Donald Publishers Ltd, 1986)
Chronicle of Britain (Chronicle Communications Ltd, 1992)

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