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Historical Tales of the Wars of Scotland
Battle of Stirling Bridge


Rediscover the 13th Century Scotland of William Wallace

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

Along with Andrew Moray, Wallace defeated an English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, and was Guardian of Scotland, serving until his defeat at the Battle of Falkirk in July 1298. In 1305, Wallace was captured in Robroyston near Glasgow and handed over to King Edward I of England, who had him summarily 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 Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Noble of Elderslie, 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 epic film Braveheart.

William Wallace was a member of the nobility but little is definitely known of his family history. Records show early members of the family as holding estates at Riccarton, Tarbolton, and Auchincruive in Kyle, and Stenton in Haddingtonshire. They were vassals of James Stewart, 5th High Steward of Scotland as their lands fell within his territory. Some sources give the name of William Wallace's father as Malcolm Wallace, however the seal attached to a letter sent to the Hanse city of Lübeck in 1297 appears to give his father's name as Alan. His brothers Malcolm and John are known from other sources. An Alan Wallace appears in the Ragman Rolls as a crown tenant in Ayrshire, but there is no additional confirmation. The traditional view regards William's birthplace as Elderslie in Renfrewshire, and this is still the view of most historians, but there have been recent claims that he came from Ellerslie in Ayrshire. There is no contemporary evidence linking him with either location, although both areas had connections with the wider Wallace family.

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.

Wallace was transported to London, lodged in the house of William de Leyre, 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." 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.

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. 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.


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