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If one was to watch Mel Gibsons movie Bravehart, you would find a very enjoyable story of Sir William Wallace Protector of the Scots. However, in order to make it such a good movie Mr. Gibson was forced to stray from historical fact. With just a bit of research, I have found that the Story of Sir William, while in some ways very different from the Movie, is in many more ways just as fascinating. Edward I was portrayed as an old sickly man in the Movie, historically this could not be farther from the truth.
After all one does not get the nickname Longshanks from being a frail little man.
The country of Scotland had been enjoying a relatively prosperous period of time up until the death of her King Alexander III (1249-1286). King Alexanders family had been anything but blessed with good luck. His wife Margaret died in 1275 at the age of 35, his eldest son Alexander (the heir to his throne) died in 1284, his second eldest David had passed away in 1281, his youngest son had died just two years earlier than that.
After seeing that King Alexanders male heirs have been wiped out let us look to the female children, the Kings daughter had married Eric II King of Norway in 1281, this of course was an attempt to create a bond with Norway, Unfortunately he was informed that his daughter had died and quickly realized he had no heir to the throne. King Alexander III had to get married and quickly!
The King does marry a Counts daughter in 1284 however this is a little too late for the throne of Scotland.
Shortly after his second marriage, the King is drinking one ill-fated evening with his nobles. He gets the notion to go and pay his new bride a visit, unfortunately this is a dark and stormy evening. His nobles try to persuade the King not to go out in this bad weather, however his pride and maybe a bit too much French wine get the better of him. The King of Scotland is found the next day at the bottom of a cliff with a broken neck (William Wallace the Truth http://www.highlanderweb.co.uk/wallace/index.html). This chain of events had not only taken Scotlands King from her it had left the country without an heir to the throne. The Scots did find one possible heir to the throne however this was two year old Margaret The Maid of Norway Alexanders granddaughter. In a last minute attempt to restore the throne this two year old girl was sent from Norway to Scotland. Sadly her frailness and the fact that travel was so harsh in this time caused her to die before ever setting foot on Scottish soil (William Wallace the Truth http://www.highlanderweb.co.uk/wallace/index.html)
The King of England Edward I was one of the most powerful monarchs to ever sit upon the throne of England. Nicknamed Longshanks by many due to his physical highth Edward was an authoritarian statesman, a lawyer, and a soldier. He very much wanted, like many of the monarchs before him, to put all lands of England under his control. His first big success was ordering his Marcher Lords on the Welsh boarder push west. This campaign brought Wales to its knees and into Edwards Kingdom. With his flag flying in Wales, he looked north. He saw not only the kingdom of the Scots in trouble he saw an opportunity. The floundering Scottish Nobles then made a rather blundering mistake. The nobles had been fighting among themselves as to who should take the crown of Scotland. This is when the Scottish magistrates requested Edwards arbitration. Of course, the King of England was more than happy to help the Scots in this their hour of need. In a swift move, Edward did choose a new king for the Scots but not before he had all the Nobles recognize his suzerainty. With the new king of Scotland merely a puppet for Edward the Nobles realized their mistake and rose up against Edward. This was the final straw for Edward; he sent his army north across the tweed in 1296 and conquered Scotland. (Edward I Britannica Online)
Very little is known about William Wallace before 1297. What is known is that he was the second son of a minor Scottish Nobel named Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie near Paisley in Renfrewshire. His family had migrated from Wales in the second half of the twelfth century. As was the custom of the day Williams older brother was to inherit all of his fathers holdings; therefore William was sent off to the Church for an education and life in service of the Church. So contrary to Mr. Gibsons movie of our time and English propaganda of Williams time he was not the poor uneducated farmers son. Indeed, for Sir Williams day he was quite well educated (Fisher 65).
Even as early as his school days William had a reputation for defending himself and punishing the aggressions of intruders, whenever the opportunity arose. In December 1291, while still in school William was publicly insulted by a youth named Selby, the son of the governor of Dundee. Selby noticed the rather outstanding sight of William, who was not only a towering figure, he was wearing bright green clothing. Selby pulled Wallace aside and said
Thou Scot, adide; what devil clothed thee in so gay a garment?
An Irish mantle were the right apparel for thy kind; a Scottish
knife under thy belt to carry; rough shoes upon thy boorish feet.
(William Wallace the Truth http://www.highlanderweb.co.uk/wallace/index.html)
Upon hearing such a comment William drew his dagger and stuck it threw Selbys heart on the spot. Although Selbys friends surrounded William, undoughtibly with revenge on their minds, William was able to escape, even killing two or three of vengeful Englishmen who tried to stop him. Because of this action William Wallace was proclaimed a traitor, outlawed, and forced to flee to the Scottish highlands (Sir William Wallace http:\www.mcallister.com/clan/wallace.html).
This new status as an Outlaw did not weaken William, in fact it started to form him into the Scottish hero that many stories would be made of. He started to attract to his side many men weary of the English repression of their homeland. These men having heard of Williams bold attack on an Englishman and subsequent outlawing saw him as just the man to lead a revolt against the hated English and evil King Edward. At first this motley band of Scottish men lived chiefly by plunder attacking, whenever the opportunity arose they would attack the English convoys and foraging parties then retreat into the woods. During this time of random unorganized attacks, William had a habit of disguising himself and wandering into the garrisoned towns to see for himself the strength and condition of the enemy. Sir Williams revolt against the English really got its start when the English Sheriff of Lanark, Sir William of Heslope, killed Wallaces sweetheart the heiress of Lamington. Wallace upon hearing of his loves death broke into the Sheriffs apartment and put him to death. Upon hearing of Williams act the people of the town gathered round Sir William and drove the English out (Sir William Wallace http:\www.mcallister.com/clan/wallace.html). This sparked the Scottish revolt that William would lead to its first great victory at the Battle of Sterling Bridge.
Word of Williams success in battle was racing through Scotland and England. He was indeed becoming a true leader for the Scots who thought themselves on the way to independence from the hated Edward I. The stories eventually reach King Edward who was in France at the time. His remedy to this Scottish Problem was to dispatch a number of troop north to crush this rebellion. Wallaces army had a problematic start due to dissension in his camps and Lords who were unhappy to be following someone the considered to be inferior to them. Finally the Scottish and English forces met at Sterling Bridge. Although the Scots were mainly an infantry Army and the English a stronger cavalry type the Scots refused to surrender. Wallace proving himself a great Military commander, waiting for the English to start to advance across the bridge. Upon seeing King Edwards forces crossing the bridge the Scots poured onto the bridge forcing many horses into the water. Many English were dead without even unsheathing their swords. Upon seeing their comrades and leader cut to pieces on the bridge the remaining English forces retreated. This victory on September 11, 1297 was soon followed by the total removal of all English from Scottish soil (Sir William Wallace http:\www.mcallister.com/clan/ wallace.html).
After victory at Sterling Bridge Wallace is knighted and named The Guardian of Scotland after which he set out on a vengeful campaign in the form of an Invasion of Northcumberland. Sir William inflected great damage on this campaign and gained a very cruel reputation (Fisher 69). When Edward finally got word of both the humiliations at Sterling and Sir Williams deeds in Northcumberland he was convinced that Sir William Wallace must be destroyed. Edward himself led his armies back into Scotland, this time with a few Scottish Nobles and Williams battle plans in his pocket. When the Scottish and English Armies met this time the outcome was disastrous for the Scots. Not only were they heavily outnumbered by the English but the Lord of Badenoch, leader of a large part of the Scottish Army marched off the field with all his men. The outcome was total defeat for the Scottish Army. Sir William survived by fleeing off and laying waste to much of the surrounding land so the English forces would have to leave to seek provisions (Sir William Wallace http:\www. mcallister.com/clan/ wallace.html).
Sir William after this time would be forced back into a life of terrorism against all English people. He would continue this terror campaign until he is betrayed by one of his own men and captured in Glasgow in August of 1305. Wallace is taken to London to stand Trial on August 23. The trial was of course determined by Edward, Sir William Wallace was found guilty of high treason against England and other charges such as arson, murder, and destruction of property. (Fisher 71)
William freely admitted to all of the charges except for that of treason. To the treason charge William said that he had never sworn an oath of allegiance to Edward so how could he have committed this crime of treason (Sir William Wallace http:\www. mcallister.com/clan/ wallace.html). The punishment for these crimes was death. Williams sentence was to be carried out at once. He was led through the streets of London so the English could yell and throw things at him. Then Wallace was led to gallows erected in Elms in Smithfield where he was hung, drawn, and quartered. His head was placed atop London Bridge for all to see and parts of his body spread throughout the country to show the Kings subjects what happens to rebels.
In the end Edward is victorious over Sir Williams uprising however in just a few short years Robert the Bruce will win back Scottish independence for over 400 years. Edwards ongoing military campaigns will leave his kingdom in debt and the heir to the throne Edward Il is far less a King than his father (Delderfield 37). To this day Sir William Wallace is seen as a great Scottish hero. The Scottish people while of course no longer a separate country still think of themselves having quite a separate identity. With the consolidation of European monies into the Euro and other events of late it would seem that Europe as a whole is heading towards consolidation. For a people as historically independent as the Scots it is little wonder the they hold on to such a hero as William Wallace for nothing else than to remind them of who they are and where they came from.
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