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Sir William Wallace
Chapter II Wallace's Family and Early Years


'Off Scotland born, my rycht name is Wallace.' HARRY, ix. 247.

'At Wallace' name what Scottish blood But boils up in a spring-tide flood?' BURNS.

'In happy tym for Scotland thow was born.' HARRY, VIII, 1646.

WILLIAM WALLACE was the second son of Sir Malcolm Wallace of Elderslie, and of his wife Margaret, daughter of Sir Reginald Crawford of Crosby, hereditary Sheriff of Ayr.

Blind Harry, a perfervid Scot himself, and keenly jealous for the perfection of his hero, exhibits lively anxiety to impress the fact that Wallace was a thorough Scotsman—'of whole lineage and true line of Scotland.' Sir Malcolm, he says, at his marriage,

'Elderslie then had in heritage,
Auchinbothie, and other sundry place.
The great-grandson he was of good Wallace,
The which Wallace full worthily then wrought
When Walter her of Wales from Warin sought.'

And for further information he refers to the history of 'the right line of the first Steward.' He does not pursue the female line.

The connection of the Wallaces with the Stewards of Scotland is abundantly evidenced. Walter Fitz Alan, the first Steward, came from Oswestry in Shropshire, where his father, Alan, son of Flaald, a Norman, had obtained considerable lands from William the Conqueror, and had married a daughter of Warm, the Sheriff of the county. He was appointed Steward of the royal household by David i., who also assigned him extensive lands in Ayr and Renfrew. He would be followed to Scotland by families of local descent, who would settle under him in Kyle. A Richard Walense, who witnessed charters of Walter, is found at Riccarton (Ricardtun). Two more Richards follow, contemporary with the next three Stewards, the third Richard witnessing charters of the fourth Steward, and extending the territorial possessions of the family. At the head of the Elderslie branch appears a Henry Walense, supposed to be a brother of the first Richard, holding the lands of Elderslie under the first Steward. An Adam Walense, possibly a son of Henry, is found in connection with the third and fourth Stewards, and this Adam has been supposed to be the father of Sir Malcolm. The lands of Auchinbothie, in Lochwinnoch, were acquired by a Wallace of Elderslie.

It does not seem possible, on the available evidence, to place the known members of the Riccarton and Elderslie lines—if indeed they were parallel lines—in their definite positions of relationship, except with the caution of probability. Harry makes Sir Richard Wallace of Riccarton the uncle of his hero, William Wallace of Elderslie; but the use of the word uncle may be definite or lax. All that can be confidently affirmed—and it is enough for the present purpose—is this, that all these Wallaces of Riccarton, Elderslie, Auchinbothie, and 'other sundry place,' belonged to the same family, and that, at the birth of the hero, that family had been settled in Scotland for more than a full century.

The family of Crawford is traced back to Thorlongus, an Anglo-Danish chief, who was driven out of Northumberland by the Conqueror, and obtained lands in the Merse from Edgar about the commencement of the twelfth century. Early in the thirteenth century, at any rate, a Sir Reginald Crawford married the heiress of Loudon, and was created first hereditary Sheriff of Ayr; and his grandson in the main line was the father of Margaret Crawford, the wife of Sir Malcolm Wallace. It may be confidently accepted that, on the side of the spindle as well as on the side of the spear, William Wallace's ancestors were domiciled Scots for more than a hundred years before he was born.

The ultimate origin of the Wallace family thus dwindles to extreme unimportance. It has been contended that the very name shows that the family was Welsh or Keltic; that the name 'was used of the Wallaces, or Welsh, of Elderslie, or elsewhere, not so much as a surname as a description,' and hence it is often given as 'le Waleys.' It may be so, but not at all necessarily. Again, it is certain that Wallaces came over among the Normans, and ancestors of the Wallaces of Kyle may have come over in the train of ancestors of the Stewards. But after the lapse of a century it is really not of the slightest practical consequence whether the family was originally Welsh or Norman—or otherwise. We do not, as did the English nobles of 1238, cavil at Simon de Montfort as a Frenchman; nor did the Irish of our own day cavil at Parnell as an Englishman. Much less, then, is it reasonable to cavil at Wallace as a foreigner; for he had behind him a hundred years of ancestry on Scottish soil, and his forebears were lowly enough to be associated in spirit with the people of the land far more than with the exotic barons, who preserved Anglo-Norman habits and feelings by free intercourse with England and the English court. Wallace was undoubtedly 'of whole lineage and true line of Scotland'; and through his social position he was thoroughly in touch with the national feeling.

At Elderslie, in all probability, Wallace was born. The times were perfectly quiet, and but for accidental circumstances, it seems unlikely that his mother would have been away from her home on the occasion. Harry makes the mayor of St. Johnston speak of Wallace as 'born in to the West.'

The precise date of his birth cannot be determined with certainty. The chroniclers describe him as a young man (juvenis) at the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. The description is elastic, but probably it would not have been used at all unless it had been intended to mark the fact that his youthfulness was particularly striking. Harry is definite—doubly definite; but he is vexatiously contradictory. He is, indeed, emphatic on the point of Wallace's youth; but he gives two violently conflicting statements without supplying the means of confident decision in favour of either.

In the first place, early in his poem, Harry makes Wallace eighteen when he killed young Selby at Dundee. The date he intends is evidently about December or January 1296-97. This would make Wallace about nineteen at Stirling Bridge—an age incredible to many, though, in our opinion, not very difficult to accept. The Selby episode, however, may readily be thrown back to 1291-92, in which case Wallace would have been of the more mature age of twenty-three or twenty-four at Stirling Bridge, while still his youth would be distinctive enough for special remark. This age is accepted by the Marquess of Bute, who would place Wallace's birth in 1274; and it is an age that would still favour the Marquess's impression that Wallace's extreme youth 'was one of the reasons for the shyness with which he was undoubtedly looked upon by many of the more leading among his own countrymen.'

In the next place, however, towards the end of his poem, Harry expressly states that Wallace was said to be forty-five when he was betrayed to the English; and here he seems to rely specifically on Blair and Gray, on whose chronicle of Wallace's deeds he professes to base his poem. In xi. 1425-8, he says:

Now, if Wallace was forty-five in 1305, he would have been born in 1260, and would have been thirty-seven at Stirling Bridge; but then he would hardly have been described as juvenis; nor does forty-five fit in with Harry's previous chronology, which ought also to agree with Blair's record. Carrick makes a desperate effort at reconciliation, by suggesting that the transcriber of Harry wrote 'forty' instead of 'thirty'; but 16+29=45 in incontrovertible arithmetic. There remains, however, this insuperable difficulty—twenty-nine years back from 1305 brings us to 1276, some ten years before the death of Alexander III.; and during this decade, as well as for at least five years later, there was profound peace, and there could have been no 'deid' of Wallace's for Blair and Gray to know.

Lax as Harry is, one hesitates to saddle him with such an egregious contradiction. If it were worth while to bring him to reasonable consistency, one might reject the forty-five couplet as an arithmetical exercise of the transcriber, with his nose on the preceding line and his mind vacant of all other considerations. Then Harry might be taken to say that Blair and Gray were intimate with Wallace from his sixteenth year till he was out twenty- nine. If he was in his thirtieth year in 1305, he would have been born in 1275. If he killed Selby in 1291-92, he would have been in his seventeenth year, which is close to Harry's statement, and at Stirling Bridge he would have been in his twenty-third year.

If we put Harry out of court as an irresponsible romancer, then we are thrown back upon the elastic epithet juvenis of the chroniclers, and the date of Wallace's birth becomes movable according to the fancy of the reader. At twenty-two or twenty-three Wallace must undoubtedly have been a man of exceptional (or at any rate impressive) physique, commanding energy of mind, and magnetic enthusiasm. More than that, he must have been at least as experienced a soldier as any Scot in the army on the slope of Abbey Craig. There must be an accentuated meaning in the epithet juvenis. In fact there need be little hesitation in reconciling Harry with the chroniclers and with himself. Wallace may be taken to have been born in 1274 or 1275.

Wallace had certainly one brother, Malcolm, who was older than himself; possibly another brother, John; and perhaps two sisters. It is recorded in an extant letter, written on August 20, 1299, that at the meeting of Scots barons at Peebles on the previous day, Sir Malcolm Wallace and Sir David de Graham drew their knives on each other over a demand of the latter for the lands of Sir William Wallace, who was going out of the kingdom without leave. The accuracy of the writer almost conclusively bars the supposition that he could have blundered on the name Malcolm instead of John, as has been suggested. If this be so, it supports Wyntoun's statement that the 'elder brother enjoyed the heritage,' and negatives Harry's assertion that young Sir Malcolm was killed, with his father, at Loudon Hill in 1296-or rather in 1291. Bower mistakenly calls him Sir Andrew.

A Sir John Wallace was undoubtedly executed in London in 1307. The sanctimonious Langtoft gloats over the details of the execution, and says his head was 'raised with shouts near the head of his brother, William the Wicked,' on London Bridge. It has been doubted, on no very clear grounds, whether Sir John did not belong to the family of Riccarton. Harry mentions that Wallace, during his Guardianship, 'his brother's son put to his heritage'; but this is on the presupposition that Malcolm was slain at Loudon Hill; and Sir John could hardly have been young Sir Malcolm's son. Even Langtoft may for once be right.

For the sisters there is only the authority of Harry. He mentions Edward Little as Wallace's 'sister's son,' and Tom Halliday as 'sib sister's son to good Wallace.' If Harry be correct, these sisters must have been much older than Wallace.

The position of the Wallaces among the county gentry was by no means pretentious. 'I imagine them,' says the Marquess of Bute, 'in a position of easy fortune, with a certain number of free tenants paying rent in kind and divers services in peace, and, if need had been, in the event of war. And then with a surrounding of peasants, working at Elderslie itself and for their tenants feudally attached, paying no rent, and receiving no wages.'

As a boy, Wallace was almost certainly schooled in the elements of formal education, secular and religious, by the monks of the Abbey of Paisley, then 'the centre of religion and learning in the quasi-principality of the High Stewards, to which he belonged.' 'Taking it as a whole,' says the Marquess of Bute,

'I conceive that there can be no doubt that his mental culture was at least as great as would be that of a person in a corresponding position at the present day. . . . Sir William Wallace at least knew how to read and write three languages—namely, his own, and Latin and French; and it appears also that he knew Gaelic. He knew the ancient and modern history, and the common simpler mathematics and science of his own day.'

In his boyhood, his deep religious feeling must also have been powerfully fostered. The Abbey of Paisley vas the parish church of his family. 'The community of Paisley,' says the Marquess of Bute, with great probability,

'was then in all the fervour of its first love, and it was there that William Wallace imbibed his consistent and unfading veneration for the Church and respect for her ministers. . . . It was as the sublime compositions of the ancient Hebrew poets alternately thundered and wailed through the Abbey Church of Paisley, that William Wallace contracted that livelong love for the Psalms which lasted until he died, with a priest holding the Psalter open, at his request, before his darkening eyes.'

There is probably but little stretch of fancy here, considering the natural disposition of the man.

The foundation of Wallace's acquirements must have been well and truly laid in his early youth. How much of his education was imparted to him at Paisley, it is quite impossible to say, with any approach to definiteness. Whatever he learned there, however, must have been powerfully reinforced by his association with an uncle, a brother of his father's, the comfortable priest of Dunipace, who is described by Harry as 'a man of great riches,' a 'mighty parson,' and 'a full kind man.' The precise period of Wallace's stay at Dunipace cannot be fixed; but he must have been well out of childhood, if it be true that the priest inculcated in his pupil's mind moral maxims compactly framed in Latin, and frequently drawn from the classical Latin authors. In particular, the good priest is credited with the noble purpose and achievement of instilling into Wallace's soul a passionate love of liberty, which is the key-note of his elevated character and his glorious career. The very formula employed to imprint the memorable injunction has been preserved to us through the centuries:

Artificial as the Latin couplet may be deemed, it has become invested for ever with an interest peculiarly touching to all lovers of human freedom, and especially to the compatriots of Wallace.

At a still later period, according to Harry, Wallace was sent for further instruction to Dundee. The occasion of this was, in fact, the break-up of the Elderslie home. Harry intends the date as 1296, when 'Scotland was lost' after Dunbar; but he does not recognise that Scotland was lost in 1291, which seems likely to have been the true date of the episode. On June ii, 5295, the Scots Guardians surrendered the kingdom and the castles to Edward as over-lord; and on June 12, Edward, 'with the advice of the prelates and magnates of Scotland there present,' settled a general ordinance requiring 'homage and fealty to be made by all, both clerical and lay, who would have been bound to make it to a living King of Scotland.' Sir Malcolm Wallace, however, did not appear before Edward's deputies at Ayr, nor did he send an excuse; there is no evidence, indeed, to show that he ever made submission —worthy father of his heroic son! According to Harry, he retired to the Lennox, taking young Malcolm with him; while Sir Reginald Crawford, who bent to the storm as hereditary Sheriff of Ayr, took charge of Lady Wallace, his sister, and the boy William, and sent them for refuge to an uncle, a priest at Kilspindie in the Carse of Gowrie. Whether the priest was Sir Reginald's or Wallace's uncle is not clear; but since Harry describes him as 'an aged man,' he may be taken rather as Sir Reginald's uncle. Assuming Harry's connection of events, the flight to Kilspindie must have taken place in 1296 or 1291—preferably 1291, when Wallace was in his seventeenth year.

Sir Malcolm seems to have soon ventured back from the Lennox, if Harry is right in stating that shortly afterwards he was killed at Loudon Hill in a conflict with an English party under an officer nanied Fenwick. According to Harry, young Malcolm was slain with his father; which, as we have seen, is almost certainly a mistake. His desperate valour, as described by Harry, anticipates the Chevy Chace minstrel's picture of Widrington, who, 'when his legs were hewn in two, yet he kneeled and fought on his knee.' But it is curious to observe that the first edition of Harry's poem (1570), by the transposition of two lines (as compared with the existing MS.), assigns the description to Sir Malcolm the father; and no doubt this is right.

'His hough sinews they cuttèd in that press;
On knees he fought, and many English slew;
To him more fighters than enow there drew;
On either side with spears they bore him down;
And there they stabbed that good knight of renown.'

Meantime Wallace was living at Kilspindie, and proceeding with his studies at Dundee in some school connected with the Church. There he met John Blair, who subsequently became a Benedictine monk, but left the cloister to attend his friend as chaplain, to bear a hand in many a tough fight, or to conduct diplomatic negotiations, and who eventually wrote the biography that formed the basis of Harry's poem, probably in the retirement of Dunfermline Abbey. There, too, according to Harry, he met Duncan of Lorn, who figures in one of his early enterprises; Sir Niel Campbell of Lochawe; and probably others of his later trusty comrades.

The question arises why young Wallace was staying at Kilspindie and studying with the monks in Dundee when his father and his brother were so sore bested. He must have been a big fellow, well capable of wielding arms to purpose. It may be that his father judged that his own and his eldest son's lives were a sufficiently heavy stake, and that it was desirable that one of his Sons at least should be near his wife, even in a place of comparative shelter. If it had been intended that William should rejoin his father and brother by and by, the early disaster at Loudon Hill would have rendered his presence in the West worse than futile. There may, indeed, have been another idea. There may have been an intention to dedicate him, a younger son, to the service of the Church. Harry indicates, at a late period of his career, some purpose of religious retirement 'to serve God and the Kirk 'a tendency that may readily connect itself with an early bent of mind.

The idea of making Wallace a priest, if it ever existed, was promptly dispelled by the force of circumstances. One day, Harry says, he was grossly insulted in Dundee by a young Englishman named Selby, a son of the 'Captain,' who was strolling about with several companions. Wallace restrained himself till Selby attempted to wrest his knife from him, whereupon he seized the aggressor by the collar and struck him dead on the spot. Defending himself knife in hand, he made for a house his uncle had used to frequent, and was quickly disguised by the lady of the house, who rigged him out in a dress of her own, and set him down with a 'rock' (distaff) to spin. He thus eluded his pursuers; and at night he escaped out of the town by some irregular way. The English authorities at once put the law in active motion in Dundee, and made it impossible for him to remain longer in such dangerous neighbourhood.

This episode, the very first of Harry's stories, has been overclouded with doubts. In deference to the scruples of those that cannot imagine Wallace as only at the end of his teens at Stirling Bridge, we have ventured to throw back the occurrence some five years. Who was Captain of Dundee in 1296-97 we do not know. Was Selby, then, the 'Captain' in 1291-92? The Captain of Dundee Castle from July 6, 1291, to November 18, 1292, was Sir Brian Fitz Alan. But Sir Brian was at the same time castellan of Forfar, and (from August 4) of Roxburgh and Jedburgh; and on June 13 he had also been appointed one of the Guardians, and he was (at any rate, by August 23) one of the three Justices. His hands must therefore have been very full of official business, and he could not be always in Dundee. It has accordingly been suggested that Selby might have been his deputy, or lieutenant, in Dundee-the acting 'Captain.' But he may, on the other hand, have been the Captain, not of the castle, but of the town. Or would it be extravagant to suspect that 'Selby' may be a popular degeneration and perversion of 'Fitz Alan'? The story, if accepted at all, probably dates in December 1291, or January 1291-92. Wallace would thus have sojourned at Kilspindie about half a year.

The experiences of this half-year may well have made a profound impression upon a youth of Wallace's sensitive temperament and martial spirit. Harry represents him, with dramatic truth at least, as brooding painfully over the death of his father (and brother), and as being stirred to uncontrollable resentment of the treatment of Scots within his personal observation. On Harry's statement, the desolation of his house, the exile of his mother, and the oppression of his countrymen, had already nerved his heart and hand to terrible reprisals— such reprisals as, apart from the controlling circumstances, would be justly reprobated as monstrous. Harry himself is consistently 'dispitfull and savage' against the Southron; yet one cannot but hesitate to ascribe to his bloodthirsty imagination the private deeds of revenge he attributes to young Wallace. In those hard days, the removal of an enemy did not touch the conscience as it does in modern civilised society, accustomed. to peace and security, and informed with a developed sense of humanity; and the justification derived from intolerable oppression is, at any rate, a vastly more efficient salve in the actual case than it is in mere historical contemplation. At all events, Harry relates that young Wallace, on finding an Englishman alone, never hesitated to cut his throat or to stab him dead. 'Some disappeared, but none wist by what way.' The weak, maddened by tyranny, will do as they may; there is ample testimony to the exacerbation of Scottish feeling at this period; and, while we may deplore, we need not be so childishly unhistorical as to affect not to understand. The iron of English oppression had already entered deep into the soul of Wallace.

About eighteen, then, young Wallace bore the brand of an outlaw for the shedding of English blood in peculiarly daring circumstances. The family council at Kilspindie decided that he and his mother had better travel westward again. They assumed the disguise of pilgrims to St. Margaret's shrine at Dunfermline. At Dunipace, they resisted the urgent invitation of the priest to stay till better times; and thence they made straight to Elderslie. Sir Reginald Crawford would have had the outlawry annulled, but Wallace was obdurate and irreconcilable. There were many Englishmen in the neighbourhood; and Sir Reginald, to get his spirited nephew out of the way of harm and of temptation, sent him to Sir Richard Wallace at Riccarton. There they kept him quiet and safe for a time—possibly till the English occupation of 1296.

At a Christmas time a few years later, when Wallace (according to Harry) was closely engaged in the far west —Harry intends 1297, but he cannot be right—there came to him the heavy tidings of the death of his mother. She is said to have been compelled to leave Elderslie once more, and to have returned on pilgrimage to Dunfermline, to seek at the holy shrine of St. Margaret the rest denied her in her own home. Unable personally to render her the last offices of affection, Wallace despatched John Blair and the sturdy Jop to represent him on the mournful occasion. The bitterness of his heart is expressed by Harry in two pregnant lines:

'Better him thought that it had happened so;
No Southron should her put to other woe.'

Still more distressful was the fate of Wallace's wife, Marion Bradfute, the heiress of Lamington. Wyntoun calls her his 'leman '—a designation not necessarily contradictory, but at least ambiguous. Harry's account agrees with Wyntoun's very closely, yet he would seem to have had some other narrative before him, and possibly Wyntoun and Harry may have drawn mainly upon a common predecessor. However this may be, Harry, with inflexible allegiance to his hero, expressly affirms: 'Mine author says she was his rightwise wife.' The point really needs no consideration.

Harry lavishes a wealth of tender emotion over the loves of Wallace and Marion Bradfute, and his sympathetic feeling elevates him to genuine poetic expression, often touched with extreme delicacy. Marion lived at Lanark, 'a maiden mild' of eighteen. Her father, Sir Hugh de Bradfute, and her eldest brother, had been slain by Hazelrig, the Sheriff of Lanark; her mother, too, was dead; and such peace as she enjoyed was dependent on her having 'purchased King Edward's protection,' although that did not secure her from the offensive attentions of his local minions.

'Amiable and benign she was, and wise,
Courteous and sweet, fulfilled of gentrice,
Her tongue well ruled, her face right fresh and fair.
Withal she was a maid of virtue rare:
Humbly her led, and purchased a good name,
And kept herself with every wight from blame.
True rightwise folk great favour did her lend.'

When Wallace first saw her, Hazeirig had just broached a proposal of marriage between her and his son. Harry dwells strongly on the division of Wallace's mind between the claims of war and the urgency of love; and he tells how the faithful Kerly's pointed advice broke down his hesitations. The inevitable conflict with Hazeirig arose. The Sheriff's emissaries fastened a quarrel on Wallace. Taken at disadvantage, he was compelled to retreat to his house. His wife, having admitted him and his men, and let them out by another way, held the pursuers in parley till his escape was assured. Whether then, or immediately after (on Hazeirig's return to town), she paid for her courageous fidelity with her life. Wallace, with a handful of men, came upon Hazeirig at dead of night, and slew him in his bedroom with his own hand. The Lanark rising and the death of the Sheriff certainly took place in May 1297.

Harry further asserts that a daughter was born to Wallace and his wife, that she married a squire named Shaw, and that 'right goodly men came of this lady young.' The edition of 1594 at this point inserts a few lines not found in the existing MS. stating that this daughter of Wallace's married a squire of 'Balliol's blood,' and that

'their heirs by line succeeded right
To Lamington and other lands of worth.'

This points to an alleged second marriage with Sir William Baillie of Hoprig. To this allegation it is by no means a conclusive answer that Sir William Baillie, second of Hoprig, as son-in-law of Sir William Seton, obtained a charter of 'Lambiston' barony as late as 1368.

According to Harry's narrative, Wallace found some of his most active and trustworthy allies, especially in his earlier career, among his own relatives. This is at least extremely probable. Sir Richard Wallace of Riccarton gives him shelter and provision, and sends him his three sons, of whom Adam, the eldest, distinguishes himself conspicuously. The priests of Dunipace and Kuspindie we have already met. Wallace of Auchincruive, 'his cousin,' provides supplies for the outlaw of Laglane Wood and his single 'child.' Edward Little is Wallace's 'sister's son.' Tom Halliday, too, is Wallace's 'nephew' —his 'sib sister's son'; and Halliday's eldest daughter is the wife of Wallace's great lieutenant, Sir John the Graham; while his second daughter is the wife of Johnstone, 'a man of good degree,' installed as castellan of Lochmaben, the first castle that Wallace attempted to hold permanently. Young Auchinleck of Gilbank becomes Wallace's 'eyme' or 'uncle,' by marriage. Kirkpatrick is 'of kin,' and to 'Wallace' mother near.' And Kneland (or Cleland) and William Crawford are both designated his 'cousins'; Kneland, indeed, his 'near cousin.' The family tree must have thrown out shoots in many directions, and more likely than not Harry may be substantially right.

Wallace, as we have seen, and as the indictment on his trial stated, was a Scotsman born and bred. His ancestors on both sides, whether Keltic, Norman, or Saxon, had been domiciled in Scotland for more than a century, and had entered into the feeling and thought of the mass of the Scots population. Wallace himself, possibly with a view to the Church, had received as good an education as the times afforded. Whether or not the good priest of Dunipace inculcated in his opening mind the inestimable value of liberty, he was aroused, while yet 'in his tender age,' to bitter reprisals on the oppressors of his family and of his countrymen. A younger son, without rank or fortune or the experience of age, he girded on his sword 'both sharp and long,' and appealed to the justice of Heaven. Scorning intercession for relief of his outlawry, he betook himself to the fastnesses of his country, resolute to right his wrongs in the only way open to him, and filled with undying hatred to the tyrants of his native land.


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