contenders now emerged for the Scottish throne: John Baliol
and Robert Bruce (Robert the Bruce's grandfather). The Scottish
nobles asked England's king, Edward - who until now had proven
a friendly neighbour - to choose the successor. Unfortunately,
Edward had his own agenda. He deliberately delayed his decision,
hoping a lengthy power vacuum would stir up internal Scottish
rivalries. He was proved right, and managed to persuade most
Scottish nobles that to avoid civil war, they should hand over
all Scotland strategic castles to English garrisons for safe
keeping until the decision was made. By the time he finally
ruled in Baliol's in November 1292, Scotland was effectively
under English military occupation. Baliol became John I of Scotland,
buy any illusions of becoming sovereign king were soon shattered,
and he was made to pledge allegiance to King Edward. No longer
an independent nation, Scotland was now little more than a divided
province under a weak, English-appointed king.
four years later, Edward went to France, Baliol plucked up the
courage to sign a secret treaty with the French and invaded
northern England. Unfortunately, his hopes of winning back independence
misfired. The outraged King Edward left France immediately,
and headed north to crush the Scots. The result was the worst
atrocity in English history. On March 30 1296, 20 000 men, women
and children - virtually the whole population of the borders
town of Berwick - were massacred. Edward and his army then headed
north to and routed the Scottish army at Spottiesmuir near Dunbar,
leaving John to seek humiliating peace in an attempt to save
his throne and his life. But Edwards response was to strip Baliol
of ho his crown, finally exiling him to France where he later
humiliation did not stop there. Edward removed the Stone of
Destiny from Scone, placing it in Westminster Abbey. In August
1296 every Scot of any standing was forced to swear allegiance
to Edward, and sign the "Ragman Roll". Conspicuous
of any by his absence was the name Sir Malcolm Wallace, the
head of the little known family of small landowners in Aryshire
and Renfrewshire. In the words of the medieval Scottish chronicler
Fordon, it was then that Sir Malcolm Wallace's younger brother,
William Wallace "raised his head".
of Wallace's birth are shrouded in mystery. The second son of
a minor knight, William Wallace is believed to have made his
entrance around 1272. The Renfrewshire village of Elderslie
boasts a monument near the remains of a house where he's said
to have been born, but some historians insist he was born in
Ayrshire, where he spent his youth.
they owned land in Renfrewshire and Ayrshire, the Wallace family
was not wealthy, and lacked the connections to rise through
social or military ranks. William's only chance of "getting
on" was through training for the clergy, and he's thought
to have studied at Paisley Abbey.
At the age
of 19, the young student priest was shattered by a tragedy that
changed the course of Scottish history. His father Sir Malcolm
was killed - according to legend, by an English knight named
Fenwick at Louden Hill in Ayrshire. This was 1291, the early
years of Edward's covert occupation of Scotland, and the cruel
slaying of his father was enough to fuel William's hatred of
the English occupiers.
year, William had his first encounter with the English authorities.
While staying with his uncle in Kilspinsie, he visited nearby
Dundee. The occupying soldiers, who took pleasure in "noising
up the locals", saw a likely target in the young visitor.
But they'd picked on the wrong Scotsman. Their harassment provoked
a heated argument. Swords were drawn, and to escape, William
stabbed and killed an English soldier called Selby. Unfortunately
for William, Selby's Father happened to be the town's constable.
was a marked man. From that day on he was an outlaw, and all
hopes of progressing through the priesthood vanished. He returned
to his home in Riccarton, but the English forces were on his
scent, and Wallace went into hiding.
details remain of the next five years, when William lived a
Robin Hood-like existence in the vast forest of southern Scotland.
Wallace clan members believe many of the legends of Robin Hood
were stolen by English fable writers who had heard of William's
real life exploits. But the Scots had story tellers of their
own. The most famous, Blind Harry, relates how William killed
three English soldiers on the River Irvine after they tried
to steal his fishing catch. He tells of Wallace's imprisonment
in Ayr, which he escaped by tricking prison guards into believing
he was dead.
Scottish defeat at Dunbar in 1296 and the tightening of the
English occupation, his exploits became more daring and akin
to modern day guerrilla activity. Along with 50 colleagues,
he raided an English baggage train at Louden Hill and avenged
his fathers death by killing the English knight Fenwick. Heading
north, he captured a small English fortress in Gargunnock near
Stirling, and then narrowly escaped death after running into
a superior English force near Perth.
was the making of William Wallace the leader. As his reputation
grew, men from all over the country came to join him in the
forest. Many were drawn from the ranks of the dispossessed -
including some criminals - although others were members of his
family. But some came from farther afield, including Stephen
of Ireland who was to become one of Wallace's closest allies.
Wallace's attraction must have been immense. For starters, he
was one of the few Scots actively fighting the English. And
at six foot six - twelve inches taller than the average for
the time - he must have appeared superhuman. By all accounts,
he was also handsome and good company. In the desolate era of
occupied medieval Scotland, to serve with Wallace would have
been risky, but it had its attractions.
the English grip on Scotland was becoming increasingly tenuous,
as the common people grew to resent their new rulers. William
Wallace was a local hero - particularly in the fortified town
of Lanark, where he took mass. Here, he also courted a young
local heiress named Marion Braidfute. Whether they married is
unclear, but there is no doubt over Marion's tragic fate.
that Wallace was taking mass in the town, Heselrig, the English
sheriff of Lanark, sent men to capture the young outlaw. Wallace
fought them off, escaping through Marion's house. Outraged by
his men's failure, Heselrig had Marion put to death. Wallace's
reaction turned from a local hero into a national one. With
a hand-picked band of his closest allies, he returned to town
in disguise, and stormed his way into the sheriff's home. Heselrig
died on the spot, along with his son and countless English soldiers
as the fortress was set aflame.
had upped the stakes. The slaying of a figure like the sheriff
of Lanark - the epitome of English authority - was bound to
bring reprisals. But as news of his actions spread through the
burghs and villages of Scotland, the people took the young man
to their hearts. There was no turning back for Wallace. His
earlier exploits may have been shrugged off by the authorities
struggling for their own security, but now he was a marked man
at the highest level. At least he was no alone. 300 miles away
on the Black Isle in north east Scotland, the young nobleman
Andrew Murray had already raised his family standard over Ormande
Castle in defiance of the English occupation. Murray, with a
higher social standing than Wallace, had triggered widespread
revolt over all the north east. And after capturing Inverness
and Elgin, his forces were quickly moving through Speyside,
spreading panic among pockets of English soldiers.
the simmering revolt reached King Edward. At first he dismissed
the unrest as little more than a local difficulty. But as he
prepared to leave for France, the reports became more troublesome
and ordered his senior commander, the Earl of Surrey, and treasurer
Cressingham to assemble an army at Berwick. Their mission: to
crush the rebellious Scots once and for all.
In early July, a seemingly overwhelming English army of 50,000
men crossed the border. Meanwhile, Wallace continued to harry
the occupying forces in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire, then headed
north to defeat a group of pro-English Irish mercenaries at
Loch Dochart, Argyll. But this minor victory was overshadowed
by a major disaster. After capturing Ayr in late June, the English
encountered the main Scottish army encamped near Irvine. Divided
and lacking in confidence, the Scottish nobles managed to avoid
a fight by pledging "good behaviour".
as though the war was over. As the Scottish army abandoned the
field, all that remained was a mopping up operation for the
visitors. But then, Wallace and Murray entered the fray. Wallace
swept north, capturing Dunnottar castle before linking up with
Murray near Aberdeen in early August, and delivering most of
the territory north of the River Forth into Scottish hands Wallace
organised the siege of Dundee, the last remaining English northern
fortress before he and Murray both headed south.
the English garrison slept soundly in the knowledge that their
seemingly invincible army was heading north for Stirling. Built
high on the bank of the River Forth, Stirling Castle was the
most strategically important fortress in medieval Scotland.
Held by the English, it guarded the one bridge over a river
that divided lowland Scotland from the Highlands. As Wallace
and Murray's rebel army gathered north of the river, Surrey's
highly trained and heavily armoured forces arrived at the foot
of the castle. With control of the fortress, the bridge and
an immense army, the English commanders must have felt invincible.
Some even thought they'd win without a fight.
On the evening
of September 10, a peace deal looked likely when two Scottish
nobles, James the Steward and the Earl of Lennox, arrived at
the English camp to discuss terms. Although they almost certainly
lacked the backing of Wallace or Murray, their appearance helped
reinforce the English complacency.
on September 11, the English army began crossing the narrow
bridge, supremely confident that the Scots had either gone home
or would soon turn and flee. At this point, something like a
medieval farce began to unfold. The ageing Earl of Surrey had
overslept, and without their commander, the Englishmen who had
crossed the river returned to the southern bank to await orders.
When Surrey finally awoke, his first action was to hold a military
parade, and then conduct a war council to agree tactics.
to give the Scots one more chance, he sent two Dominican friars
to discuss terms directly with Wallace. They returned with his
"Tell your people that we have not come here to gain peace,
but are prepared for battle, to avenge and deliver our country."
by this display of defiance, some of the senior commanders lost
a little of their confidence and became nervous of crossing
such a narrow bridge. Sir Richard Lundie offered to lead a group
of 500 hundred knights across the river at a nearby ford in
order to outflank the Scots. "My Lords," he pleaded,
"if we go onto the bridge we are dead men." But to
no avail. Enough time had been wasted, argued Cressingham, the
cost-conscious treasurer. And once again, the army began crossing
the hopelessly narrow wooden bridge.
next must have taken astonishing nerve on the part of the Scots.
Hidden among the trees on the high ground just west of the Abbey
Craig, Wallace and Murray watched as the English members grew
on the northern bank of the river. An hour passed, until around
half the English force had crossed the bridge. Then they gave
the order to attack.
panicked as the Scots appeared to charge at them from nowhere
and everywhere. A section of light cavalry seized the bridge
and the heavily armoured English knights found it impossible
to manoeuvre on the marshy ground around the river. What followed
was a rout.
English army stood helpless on one side of the river, while
the others were trapped and massacred on the other side by the
Scots fighting with passion and vengeance in their eyes. The
bridge collapsed under the sheer weight of numbers, and the
English soldiers who were not slain drowned as they tried to
swim back across the Forth.
of the English army couldn't get out of Stirling quick enough.
Surrey was among the first to leave the field, as the rampant
Scots crossed the river by the nearby fords which the English
commander had chosen to ignore. As the English fled, Lennox
and the Steward appeared on the field with their own cavalry,
safely flying the Scottish flag now that the English had been
dead totalled more than 10,000 that day and many more would
die or be captured before the demoralised army escaped back
over the border. Scottish casualties were remarkably low - except
in one important respect. Andrew Murray had been seriously wounded.
He never recovered, and died a few weeks later.
Wallace emerged as the victor of Stirling Bridge. But we should
not forget his co-commander, as an equal partner in his nation's
spectacular and unexpected triumph. As well as a crushing blow
to the English, Wallace's victory at Stirling was humiliating
for Scotland's ruling elite. Where they had failed miserably,
the lowly son of an obscure knight had spectacularly succeeded.
25, Wallace was acclaimed the Guardian of Scotland in a short
ceremony, probably held at Perth. Despite his lack of experience
in government, he brought outstanding leadership qualities to
the job of ruling a war-torn, dived country.
Dundee and ensuring the English army was back over the border,
he invaded northern England, harrying northern castles and seizing
much-needed supplies for a war-crippled , starving Scotland.
As the winter set in, he returned home to prepare for the inevitable
English invasion next summer.
Scotland, Wallace received a knighthood - and began a social
revolution. He scrapped feudalism for a system modelled on Roman
and Greek military traditions, where rank was based on ability
rather than caste. Soldiers were rigorously drilled in Schiltrom
, Wallace's unique method of training light infantry to withstand
head-on cavalry assaults.
this endeared the new guardian to the Scottish nobility, but
his popularity meant there was little they could do about it.
The English army was another matter. By June, a huge force of
100,000 men had assembled at Berwick, this time under King Edward's
direct command. A head-on clash would have been suicidal, and
Wallace returned to the guerrilla tactics he had perfected during
his years as a shadowy outlaw.
As the English
marched north, the Scots adopted a rigorous scorched earth policy,
destroying everything of possible use to the invaders. The threat
of starvation began to loom large for Edward's army, and by
mid July, at Kirkliston near Edinburgh, the King seriously considered
turning back. But when a scout spotted the Scottish army encamped
near Stirling, Edward force-marched his men toward Linlithgow
while the Scots slept.
withdrawn at this stage, starvation may well have forced the
English to head back home. He must have known however, that
they would certainly return. And perhaps he thought the chance
to face down a starving English army on the battlefield was
too good to miss.
On the morning
of July 22 1298, the Scots lined up just south of Falkirk to
face Edward's mighty army. Wallace addressed his troops with
his immortal rallying cry:
have brought you into the ring, dance as best you can".
onslaught began. 3000 heavily armoured cavalry charged, but
the schiltroms held firm. The demoralised Welsh archers refused
to fight, but the Lancastrian archers unleashed the full force
of their deadly longbows on the tightly packed Scottish infantry.
a crucial moment. A decisive charge by Scotland might still
have scattered the archers, but the 500 Scots cavalry, under
the command of senior Scottish noblemen 'Red Comyn', left the
field. Encouraged by the sight of the Scottish cavalry withdrawing,
the Welsh archers came back into the fray, and joined the slaughter
of the defenceless Scottish army. The slaughter turned into
a rout and Wallace, devastated, withdrew with his few surviving
cavalry left the field without a fight has never been established.
Some suggest his men simply lost courage in the face of the
mighty English force. But treachery and jealousy are more likely
motives. The nobles who had been humiliated by Wallace's heroic
success now had a chance to turn the tables. Very few Scottish
nobles were amongst the dead who littered Falkirk that evening.
away on his Carrick estate, the young Robert Bruce did nothing.
According to one legend, dramatised in the movie Braveheart,
he took the field on the English side and only later intervened
to help Wallace escape.
this is unlikely, it is certain that he did not fight for Scotland.
His ambitions to claim the crown would not have sat easily with
a decisive victory by a lesser knight who occupied the Guardianship
in the name of the exiled King John.
after the battle of Falkirk, the Scottish nobles were back in
charge, although the wars with England continued. Wallace left
for France, visiting Paris and Rome in the hope of winning international
support for Scotland's independence.
he returned to a war-ravaged country, and appears to have led
Scots forces in a few minor battles. But Edward increasingly
held the upper hand as on by one, the Scottish nobility surrendered
into "the King's peace". Considering his brutal reputation,
the "hammer of the Scots" dealt leniently with nobles
like Bruce and Comyn.
1305, the outlawed Wallace travelled to Glasgow, hoping to meet
with Robert the Bruce. For more than a month, he patiently waited
in a secret hide-out at Robroyston, on the city's outskirts.
But Bruce did not appear - and Wallace was betrayed. Edward
had hired a team of Scottish knights to track down the rebel
who continued to defy his authority. Sir John Menteith was first
to the quarry. No-one knows how he learned of the hiding place,
but Wallace was captured in his sleep, put in chains, and taken
planned his revenge with care. Wallace appeared in front of
an English court charged with countless offences against the
Crown, including the murder of the Sheriff of Lanark eight years
before. There could only have been one verdict.
charge of treason brought against Wallace was difficult to fathom.
Granted he had fought Edward's authority for over 14 years -
but he'd never once pledged his allegiance. In fact, this was
precisely why Edward had been so determined to hunt Wallace
down. Unlike so many others, Wallace could not be bought, and
as long as the 35 year-old fighting legend remained alive, Edwards
grip on Scotland would be tenuous.
sentence was horrific. He was taken from the courtroom and dragged
naked through the filthy streets of London for locals to jeer
and jostle the Scottish giant who defied their king for so long.
Near modern day Smithfield, Wallace was executed by the most
brutal method devised by medieval justice.