William Wallace

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William Wallace
William wallace.jpg
Imaginative 18th-century engraving of Wallace
Born Elderslie, Renfrewshire, Scotland
Died 23 August 1305
Smithfield, London, Middlesex, England
Cause of death
Hanged, drawn and quartered
Resting place
London England in unmarked grave
Nationality Scottish
Occupation Commander in the Scottish Wars of Independence
Religion Roman Catholicism
Children None recorded
Parents Father: Alan or Malcolm Wallace

Sir William Wallace (Medieval Gaelic: Uilliam Uallas; modern Scottish Gaelic: Uilleam Uallas; Norman French: William le Waleys;1 died 23 August 1305) was a Scottish landowner who became one of the main leaders during the Wars of Scottish Independence.2

Along with Andrew Moray, Wallace defeated an English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in September 1297, and was appointed Guardian of Scotland, serving until his defeat at the Battle of Falkirk in July 1298. In August 1305 Wallace was captured in Robroyston near Glasgow and handed over to King Edward I of England, who had him hanged, drawn, and quartered for high treason and crimes against English civilians.

Since his death, Wallace has obtained an iconic status far beyond his homeland. He is the protagonist of the 15th-century epic poem The Wallace, by Blind Harry. Wallace is also the subject of literary works by Sir Walter Scott and Jane Porter and of the 1995 Academy Award-winning film Braveheart.

Background

Statue of Wallace at Edinburgh Castle

William Wallace was a member of the lesser nobility, but little is definitely known of his family history or even his parentage. Blind Harry's late 15th century poem gives his father as Sir Malcolm of Elderslie, however William's own seal, found on a letter sent to the Hanse city of Lübeck in 12973 gives his father's name as Alan Wallace.45 This Alan Wallace may be the same as the one listed in the 1296 Ragman Rolls as a crown tenant in Ayrshire, but there is no additional confirmation.6 Blind Harry's assertion that William was the son of Sir Malcolm of Elderslie has given rise to a tradition that William's birthplace was at Elderslie in Renfrewshire, and this is still the view of some historians,7 but William's seal has given rise to a counter claim of Ellerslie in Ayrshire. There is no contemporary evidence linking him with either location, although both areas had connections with the wider Wallace family.8 Records show early members of the family as holding estates at Riccarton, Tarbolton, and Auchincruive in Kyle, and Stenton in Haddingtonshire.9 They were vassals of James Stewart, 5th High Steward of Scotland as their lands fell within his territory. His brothers Malcolm and John are known from other sources.10

The origins of the Wallace surname and its association with south west Scotland are also far from certain, other than the name being derived from the Old English wylisc (pronounced "wullish") meaning "foreigner" or "Welshman". It is possible that all the Wallaces in the Clyde area were medieval immigrants from Wales, but given that the term was also used for local Cumbric speaking Strathclyde Welsh it seems equally likely that the surname refers to people who were seen as being "Welsh" due to their Cumbric language.

Political crisis in Scotland

Coronation of Alexander

When Wallace was growing up, King Alexander III11 ruled Scotland. His reign had seen a period of peace and economic stability. On 19 March 1286, however, Alexander died after falling from his horse.

The heir to the throne was Alexander's granddaughter, Margaret, Maid of Norway. As she was still a child and in Norway, the Scottish lords set up a government of guardians. Margaret fell ill on the voyage to Scotland and died in Orkney on 26 September 1290. The lack of a clear heir led to a period known as the "Great Cause", with several families laying claim to the throne.

With Scotland threatening to descend into civil war, King Edward I of England was invited in by the Scottish nobility to arbitrate. Before the process could begin, he insisted that all of the contenders recognise him as Lord Paramount of Scotland. In early November 1292, at a great feudal court held in the castle at Berwick-upon-Tweed, judgement was given in favour of John Balliol having the strongest claim in law.

Edward proceeded to reverse the rulings of the Scottish Lords and even summoned King John Balliol to stand before the English court as a common plaintiff. John was a weak king, known as "Toom Tabard" or "Empty Coat". John renounced his homage in March 1296 and by the end of the month Edward stormed Berwick-upon-Tweed, sacking the then-Scottish border town. In April, the Scots were defeated at the Battle of Dunbar in East Lothian and by July, Edward had forced John to abdicate. Edward then instructed his officers to receive formal homage from some 1,800 Scottish nobles (many of the rest being prisoners of war at that time).

Silent years prior to the Wars of Independence

Wallace depicted in a children's history book from 1906

Some historians, such as Andrew Fisher, believe Wallace must have had some earlier military experience in order to lead a successful military campaign in 1297. Campaigns like Edward I of England's wars in Wales might have provided a good opportunity for a younger son of a landholder to become a mercenary soldier.12

Wallace's personal seal bears the archer's insignia.13 If Wallace was indeed an archer, he must have been a professional, worth paying a reasonable sum of money for military services. The first class long bow (as probably used by Wallace) had a draw weight of up to 170 lbs.

Walter Bower states that Wallace was "a tall man with the body of a giant ... with lengthy flanks ... broad in the hips, with strong arms and legs ... with all his limbs very strong and firm".14 Blind Harry's Wallace reaches seven feet.15

The start of the uprising

Wallace statue by D. W. Stevenson on the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh

The first act definitely known to have been carried out by Wallace was his assassination of William de Heselrig, the English High Sheriff of Lanark, in May 1297. He then joined with William the Hardy, Lord of Douglas, and they carried out the raid of Scone. This was one of several rebellions taking place across Scotland, including those of several Scottish nobles and Andrew Moray in the north.7

The uprising suffered a blow when the nobles submitted to the English at Irvine in July. Wallace and Moray were not involved, and continued their rebellions. Wallace used the Ettrick Forest as a base for raiding, and attacked Wishart's palace at Ancrum. Wallace and Moray met and joined their forces, possibly at the siege of Dundee in early September.7

Battle of Stirling Bridge

The later Stirling Bridge

On 11 September 1297, an army jointly led by Wallace and Andrew Moray won the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Although vastly outnumbered, the Scottish army routed the English army. John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey's professional army of 3,000 cavalry and 8,000 to 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. The infantry were sent on first, followed by heavy cavalry. The Scots' schiltron formations forced the infantry back into the advancing cavalry. 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. Thus, the Scots won a significant victory, boosting the confidence of their army. Hugh Cressingham, Edward's treasurer in Scotland, died in the fighting and it is reputed that his body was subsequently flayed and the skin cut into small pieces as tokens of the victory. The Lanercost Chronicle records that Wallace had "a broad strip [of Cressingham’s skin] ... taken from the head to the heel, to make therewith a baldrick for his sword".16

After the battle, Moray and Wallace assumed the title of Guardians of the Kingdom of Scotland on behalf of King John Balliol. Moray died of wounds suffered on the battlefield sometime in late 1297.

The type of engagement conducted by Wallace was characterized by opportunistic tactics and the strategic use of terrain. This was in stark contrast to the contemporary views on chivalric warfare which were characterized by strength of arms and knightly combat. Therefore, the battle embittered relations between the two antagonistic nations, whilst also perhaps providing a new departure in the type of warfare which England had hitherto employed. The numerical and material inferiority of the Scottish forces would be mirrored by that of the English in the Hundred Years' War, who, in turn, abandoned chivalric warfare to achieve decisive victory in similar engagements such as Crécy and Poitiers.

Around November 1297, Wallace led a large-scale raid into northern England, through Northumberland and Cumberland.7

About this time, Wallace was knighted. This would have been carried out by one of three Scottish earls — Carrick, Strathearn or Lennox.71718

Battle of Falkirk

Stained glass portraying the Warrior William Wallace

In April 1298, Edward ordered a second invasion of Scotland. He had an army of 3000 men from 23 clans.dubious They plundered Lothian and regained some castles, but failed to bring William Wallace to combat; the Scots shadowed the English army, intending to avoid battle until shortages of supplies and money forced Edward to withdraw, at which point the Scots would harass his retreat. The English quartermasters' failure to prepare for the expedition left morale and food supplies low, and a resulting riot within Edward's own army had to be put down by his cavalry. In July, while planning a return to Edinburgh for supplies, Edward received intelligence that the Scots were encamped nearby at Falkirk, and he moved quickly to engage them in the pitched battle he had long hoped for.

Wallace arranged his spearmen in four schiltrons — circular, hedgehog formations surrounded by a defensive wall of wooden stakes. The English, however, employed Welsh longbowmen, who swung strategic superiority in their favour. The English proceeded to attack with cavalry, and break up the Scottish archers. Under the command of the Scottish nobles, the Scottish knights withdrew, and Edward's men began to attack the schiltrons. It remains unclear whether the infantry shooting 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. Gaps in the schiltrons soon appeared, and the English exploited these to crush the remaining resistance. The Scots lost many men, including John de Graham. Wallace escaped, though his military reputation suffered badly.

By September 1298, Wallace resigned as Guardian of Scotland in favour of Robert the Bruce, Earl of Carrick and future king, and John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch, King John Balliol's nephew.

Details of Wallace's activities after this are vague, but there is some evidence that he left on a mission to the court of King Philip IV of France to plead the case for assistance in the Scottish struggle for independence. There is a surviving letter from the French king dated 7 November 1300 to his envoys in Rome demanding that they should help Sir William.19 It also suggests that Wallace may have intended to travel to Rome, although it is not known if he did.20 There is also a report from an English spy at a meeting of Scottish leaders, where they said Wallace was in France.

By 1304 Wallace was back in Scotland, and involved in skirmishes at Happrew and Earnside.

Capture and execution

Wallace's trial in Westminster Hall. Painting by Daniel Maclise

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. Letters of safe conduct from Haakon V of Norway, Philip IV of France, and John Balliol, along with other documents, were found on Wallace and delivered to Edward by John de Segrave.21

Wallace was transported to London, lodged in the house of William de Leyrer, then taken to Westminster Hall, where he was tried for treason and for atrocities against civilians in war, "sparing neither age nor sex, monk nor nun."2223 He was crowned with a garland of oak to suggest he was the king of outlaws. He responded to the treason charge, "I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject." With this, Wallace asserted that the absent John Balliol was officially his king.citation needed

Plaque marking the place of Wallace's execution.

Following the trial, on 23 August 1305, Wallace was taken from the hall to the Tower of London, then stripped naked and dragged through the city at the heels of a horse to the Elms at Smithfield.24 He was hanged, drawn and quartered — strangled by hanging, but released while he was still alive, emasculated, eviscerated and his bowels burnt before him, beheaded, then cut into four parts. His preserved head (dipped in tar) was placed on a pike atop London Bridge. It was later joined by the heads of the brothers, John and Simon Fraser. His limbs were displayed, separately, in Newcastle upon Tyne, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Stirling, and Perth. A plaque stands in a wall of St. Bartholomew's Hospital near the site of Wallace's execution at Smithfield.

In 1869 the Wallace Monument was erected, very close to the site of his victory at Stirling Bridge. The Wallace Sword, which supposedly belonged to Wallace, although some parts were made at least 160 years later, was held for many years in Dumbarton Castle and is now in the Wallace Monument.

Historiography of Wallace

The Wallace Monument, near Stirling Bridge

Although there are problems with writing a satisfactory biography of many medieval people, the problems with Wallace are greater than usual. Not much is known about him beyond his military campaign of 1297–1298, and the last few weeks of his life in 1305. Even in recent years, his birthplace and his father's name have been argued.

To compound this, the legacy of subsequent 'biographical' accounts, sometimes written as propaganda, other times simply as entertainment, has clouded much scholarship until relatively recent times. Some accounts have uncritically copied elements from the epic poem, The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie, written around 1470 by Blind Harry the minstrel. Harry wrote from oral tradition describing events 170 years earlier, and is not in any sense an authoritative descriptor of Wallace's exploits. Much of the poem is clearly at variance with known historical facts and records of the period and is either fabricated using traditional chivalric motifs or 'borrowed' from the exploits of others and attributed to Wallace.

Wallace in fiction

In the early 19th century, Walter Scott wrote of Wallace in Exploits and Death of William Wallace, the "Hero of Scotland",25 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 the Boy's Own Paper fiction who wrote for that magazine, portrays the life of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, The Black Douglas, and others, while dovetailing the events of his novel with historical fiction. Nigel Tranter wrote a historical novel titled The Wallace, published in 1975, which is said to be more accurate than its literary predecessors. The novel "The Temple and the Stone", written by Katherine Kurtz and Deborah Turner Harris (1998), includes an account of Wallace's victory at Stirling, his defeat at Falkirk, and his trial and execution in London, along with a fictional connection between Wallace and Templar Knights.

A well-known account of Wallace's life is presented in the 1995 film Braveheart, directed by and starring Mel Gibson as Wallace, written by Randall Wallace, and filmed in both Scotland and Ireland. The film, however, is a highly fictionalized account of Wallace's life and has been described by some as one of the most historically inaccurate modern films.26

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Stevenson, Joseph. ''Documents illustrative of Sir William Wallace: his life and times''. Books.google.com. Retrieved 1 September 2013. 
  2. ^ "William Wallace (c. 1270–1305)". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 4 April 2010. 
  3. ^ Lübecker Nachrichten, 21. September 2010: The document is still kept in the cities archives
  4. ^ Duncan, "William, son of Alan Wallace", pp. 47–50; Grant, "Bravehearts and Coronets", p. 91.
  5. ^ The Scottish Wars of Independence: The Lübeck Letter at the National Archives of Scotland website
  6. ^ Watson, "Sir William Wallace", p. 27; Duncan, "William, son of Alan Wallace", pp. 51–53; Grant, "Bravehearts and Coronets", pp. 90–93.
  7. ^ a b c d e Traquair, Peter Freedom's Sword
  8. ^ Watson, "Sir William Wallace", p. 27; Grant, "Bravehearts and Coronets", pp. 90–91.
  9. ^ Barrow, Kingdom of the Scots, pp. 324–325.
  10. ^ Duncan, "William, son of Alan Wallace", p. 53; Grant, "Bravehearts and Coronets", pp. 91–92.
  11. ^ (Medieval Gaelic: Alaxandair mac Alaxandair; Modern Gaelic: Alasdair mac Alasdair)
  12. ^ Fisher, Andrew (2002), William Wallace (2nd ed.), Edinburgh: Birlinn, ISBN 1-84158-593-9
  13. ^ Lübecker Nachrichten, 21. September 2010: The document is still kept in the city's archives.
  14. ^ Walter bower, The Scottichronicon
  15. ^ Fisher, Andrew (2002), William Wallace (2nd ed.), Edinburgh: Birlinn, ISBN 1-84158-593-9, page 278
  16. ^ Chronicle of Lanercost, ed. H. Maxwell, vol.1, p.164.
  17. ^ "Scottish Historical Figures: Sir William Wallace". Scotsmart.com. Retrieved 4 April 2010. 
  18. ^ Prebble, John The Lion in the North
  19. ^ "Special delivery as William Wallace letter heads for Scotland". Glasgow: Herald & Times Group. 14 December 2011. Retrieved 22 December 2011. 
  20. ^ "Delight as 700-year-old letter linked to legendary patriot William Wallace returns to Scotland". The Daily Record. 12 January 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2012. 
  21. ^ Barrow, G. W., Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland, EUP (2005), 452 n.48: Palgrave, Francis, ed., Documents and Records illustrating the history of Scotland, and the transactions between the Crowns of Scotland and England, vol. 1, (1837), p.cxcv, citing Bishop Stapleton's Kalendar of Treasury documents preserved in London, 1323: Palgrave, Francis, ed., Antient Kalendars and Inventories of the Treasury of His Majesty's Exchequer: Bishop Stapleton's calendar, vol.2 (1836) p. 134, item 46.
  22. ^ Solis, Gary (2010). The law of armed conflict: international humanitarian law in war. Cambridge University Press. p. 6. ISBN 978-0-521-87088-7. 
  23. ^ Goldstone, Richard; Smith, Adam (2009). International Judicial Institutions (Global Institutions). Routledge. p. 31. ISBN 978-0-415-77645-5. 
  24. ^ Stevenson, Joseph, ed., Documents Illustrative of Sir William Wallace, Maitland Club (1841), p.189, 192
  25. ^ "The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Great Events by Famous Historians". Gutenberg.org. 18 December 2008. Retrieved 1 September 2013. 
  26. ^ White, Caroline. "The 10 most historically inaccurate movies". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 15 November 2013. 

References

  • Barrow, G. W. S. (1989), Kingship and Unity: Scotland 1000–1306, The New History of Scotland 2 (2nd ed.), Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 0-7486-0104-X , 4th edition (2005) ISBN 0748620222
  • Barrow, G. W. S. (1976), Robert Bruce and the Community of the Realm of Scotland (2nd ed.), Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 0-85224-307-3 
  • Barrow, G. W. S. (2003), The Kingdom of the Scots: Government, Church and Society from the eleventh to the fourteenth century (2nd ed.), Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 0-7486-1803-1 
  • Brown, Chris (2005), William Wallace. The True Story of Braveheart, Stroud: Tempus Publishing Ltd, ISBN 0-7524-3432-2 
  • Brown, Michael (2004), The Wars of Scotland 1214–1371, The New Edinburgh History of Scotland 4, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 0-7486-1238-6 
  • Clater-Roszak, Christine. "Sir William Wallace ignited a flame." Military History 14 (1997): 12–15.
  • Cowan, Edward J. (2003), 'For Freedom Alone': The Declaration of Arbroath, 1320, West Linton: Tuckwell Press, ISBN 1-84158-632-3 
  • Cowan, Edward J.; Finlay, Richard J., eds. (2002), Scottish History: The Power of the Past, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, ISBN 0-7486-1420-6 
  • Cowan, Edward J., ed. (2007), The Wallace Book, Edinburgh: John Donald, ISBN 978-0-85976-652-4 
  • Cowan, Edward J. (2007), "William Wallace: 'The Choice of the Estates'", in Cowan, Edward J., The Wallace Book, Edinburgh: John Donald, pp. 9–25, ISBN 978-0-85976-652-4 
  • Duncan, A. A. M. (2007), "William, Son of Alan Wallace: The Documents", in Cowan, Edward J., The Wallace Book, Edinburgh: John Donald, pp. 42–63, ISBN 978-0-85976-652-4 
  • Fisher, Andrew (2002), William Wallace (2nd ed.), Edinburgh: Birlinn, ISBN 1-84158-593-9 
  • Fraser, James E. (2002), "'A Swan from a Raven': William Wallace, Brucean Propaganda and Gesta Annalia II", The Scottish Historical Review (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press), LXXXI (1): 1–22, ISSN 0036-9241 
  • Grant, Alexander (2007), "Bravehearts and Coronets: Images of William Wallace and the Scottish Nobility", in Cowan, Edward J., The Wallace Book, Edinburgh: John Donald, pp. 86–106, ISBN 978-0-85976-652-4 
  • King, Elspeth (2007), "The Material Culture of William Wallace", in Cowan, Edward J., The Wallace Book, Edinburgh: John Donald, pp. 117–135, ISBN 978-0-85976-652-4 
  • The Chronicle of Lanercost 1272–1346, ed. H. Maxwell, 1913;
  • Prestwich, Michael (2007), "The Battle of Stirling Bridge: An English Perspective", in Cowan, Edward J., The Wallace Book, Edinburgh: John Donald, pp. 64–76, ISBN 978-0-85976-652-4 
  • Morton, Graeme. William Wallace. London: Sutton, 2004. ISBN 0-7509-3523-5.
  • Folklore, Myths and Legends of Britain. London: Reader’s Digest Association, 1973, 519–20.
  • Reese, Peter. William Wallace: A Biography. Edinburgh: Canongate, 1998. ISBN 0-86241-607-8.
  • Riddy, Felicity (2007), "Unmapping the Territory: Blind Hary's Wallace", in Cowan, Edward J., The Wallace Book, Edinburgh: John Donald, pp. 107–116, ISBN 978-0-85976-652-4 
  • 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.
  • Stevenson, Joseph, ed., Documents Illustrative of Sir William Wallace, Maitland Club (1841)
  • Traquair, Peter (1998), Freedom's Sword, University of Virginia: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, ISBN 1570982473 
  • Watson, Fiona (2007), "Sir William Wallace: What We Do — and Don't — Know", in Cowan, Edward J., The Wallace Book, Edinburgh: John Donald, pp. 26–41, ISBN 978-0-85976-652-4 

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