The 23rd August should be an official day of commemoration and reflection across Scotland. For it was on this day in 1305 that a Scotsman called William Wallace was put on trial for treason in Westminster Hall in London and denied a defence.
He was found guilty and sentenced to death. He was stripped naked and dragged behind a horse to Smithfield’s Market where he met a very gory end. He was hanged until almost dead, then his guts were pulled out, his head chopped off and his body cut into pieces. His head was displayed on a pike on London Bridge and his limbs were sent to Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Perth to warn others who were tempted to rebel. The Scots were crushed and their rebellion against Edward was at an end. Or so King Edward thought.
Within a decade Scotland rose again against English rule and under the leadership of Robert the Bruce defeated the larger English army at Bannockburn over a two-day battle on 23rd-24th June 1314. English troops were driven from Scottish land and after years of continued hostilities and battles by 1328 her status as an independent nation was established once again. That independent status lasted for almost four hundred years until the dishonourable Nobles signed it away in the secret and shoddy 1707 Act of Union deal which had no public support.
Over 700 years later we should remember national heroes like William Wallace not because we hanker to return to a state of war with England and express nostalgia for the rule of Kings, Queens and Landed Nobles but because it is Scotland’s rich history and has been hidden and suppressed by British unionists for hundreds of years. The fact Scotland has been part of a supposed voluntary union with England for over 300 years is widely promoted in the education curriculum and mainstream media but the reality of Scotland’s independence for almost 400 years prior to that Act of Union is rarely if ever acknowledged.
Plaque in Memory of William Wallace
There is a plaque dedicated to the memory of William Wallace on the wall of St Bartholomew’s Hospital in West Smithfield, London. It reads:
“To The Immortal Memory of Sir William Wallace Scottish Patriot Born at Elderslie Renfrewshire circa 1270 A.D.
Who from the year 1296 fought dauntlessly in defence of his country’s Liberty and Independence in the face of fearful odds and great hardship being eventually betrayed and captured brought to London
and put to death near this spot on the 23rd August 1305.
His example heroism and devotion inspired those who came after him to win victory from defeat
And his memory remains for all time
A Source of pride honour and inspiration to his Countrymen.
Dico tibi verum libertas optima rerum
nunquam servili sub nexu vivito fili
(I tell you the truth, son, freedom is the best condition,
never live like a slave)
Bas Agus Buaidh (Death and Victory)”
As with every important story and character from history many myths arise and are promulgated. The truth is many Scots, including me, knew very little of William Wallace or the period he lived in until the Hollywood treatment called ‘Braveheart’ and directed by Mel Gibson hit the screens in 1995. Gibson himself played the part of Wallace and the film was panned by many historians for factual discrepancies. We had, for example, the Battle of Stirling Bridge without a bridge, lowland Scots in kilts, Wallace’s face painted blue and white and much else. However, despite the liberal use of artistic licence the film brought to life for millions a man and period of history which had been hitherto unknown.
‘Braveheart’ was Hollywood but Wallace was Real
The real Wallace was born between 1270 and 1276, originally thought to have been in Elderslie, near Paisley, in Renfrewshire, though there is a more recent view that he may have been born in Ayrshire.
What is not disputed is the fact Wallace was well educated and could speak both Latin and French, well-illustrated in a memorable scene in the Braveheart movie. He had been educated by two uncles who were both priests and passed on their knowledge and learning.
After carrying off the “Stone of Destiny” and the Battle of Dunbar in 1296, Edward I of England virtually controlled Scotland, and a guerrilla war was initiated by the Scots. The main leader initially was Andrew Moray. According the 15th Century bard “Blind Harry”, Wallace first drew attention to himself for his murder of Sir William Heselrig, the English Sheriff of Lanark, in May 1297, dismembering the corpse in supposed revenge for the death of Marion Braidfute of Lamington who he is supposed to have courted and married. This was also dramatised in the film Braveheart but the truth is, no evidence exists to substantiate the story.
However, Wallace did emerge as an accomplished warrior and guerrilla fighter and is credited with major roles in the defeat of the English in battles at Loudoun Hill (near Darvel, Ayrshire) and Ayr itself.
The Battle of Stirling Bridge was a significant victory for the Scots and secured Wallace more notoriety. He was increasingly loved by his fellow Scots but despised by the English and their loyal Scottish Nobles. Wallace joined Andrew Moray and defeated the larger and much better equipped English Army at Stirling Bridge on 11th September 1297. Clever battle tactics played a major role. Wallace was Moray’s Captain and he bravely and cunningly enticed the potent English cavalry across Stirling bridge onto ground which was sodden with water and bog-like. The horses were effectively immobilised, and the cavalry were isolated as the bridge collapsed behind them. They were slain and the remaining English troops largely fled or were killed.
From a Knight to a Fugitive – Wallace was Hunted Down and Betrayed
Following the victory at Stirling Bridge Wallace was knighted by Robert the Bruce and proclaimed, “Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland and Leader of its Armies”. Alas the enraged King Edward I of England was determined to quell the Scots and crush Wallace. A year later in the Battle of Falkirk he got revenge and Wallace and his battle-weary army were defeated. Wallace escaped capture but was hunted down for years and eventually betrayed by a Scottish Knight loyal to the King of England, Sir David Menteith, who supplied the information for Wallace to be captured in Glasgow on August 5th, 1305.
Wallace claimed he could not be a traitor as he had never been a subject of England or Edward I but his defiance only angered his executioners more and at the age of 35 years he was condemned to a death paved with pain and cruelty. His sacrifice and the sacrifice of all those who fought alongside him, before him and after him should never be forgotten as his cause was the freedom of Scotland.
After our independence is secured next year there will be many new days of remembrance and celebration proclaimed but one of the first should be August 23rd, William Wallace Day. The words of Scottish singer/songwriter Jim MacLean will be sung by many:
“Oh William Wallace fought bravely, no Englishman could him defeat
But English gold bought Scottish quislings, and he was betrayed by Menteith
With a crown made of thorns he was tortured for setting his own country free
How am I a traitor, cried Wallace, When England is foreign to me.
They murdered the Wallace for treason His body has long since decayed
But no English crown can destroy him For Wallace is with us today”