Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Sir William Wallace
Chapter VI Wallace in France

THERE is not a little consensus of opinion that Wallace proceeded to France after the battle of Falkirk, but this part of his career is vexatiously obscure.

Harry does not scruple to send Wallace to France, not once only, but twice. The first visit extends from April 21 to the end of August, in some year when Wallace was Guardian, and shortly before the battle of Blackearnside. Wallace departs without announcing publicly his intention; partly because he was aware that stout objections would be raised to his going, partly because the English would be sure to take measures to intercept him. Leaving the Steward as his substitute, he sailed in a fine new barge from Kirkcudbright, with fifty men. Next morning he met with an adventure. The Red Rover hove in sight; but the redoubtable pirate was forced to strike his flag to Wallace, who spared his life. He turned out to be a Frenchman, named Thomas de Longueville, who had hung out his 'red blazon' because of injustices he had suffered. He received pardon and knighthood, on Wallace's suggestion, from the French King; ever afterwards he stood firmly by Wallace; and eventually he became lord of Kinfauns, near Perth, where he founded, or continued by marriage with the heiress, the family of Charteris. Landing at Rochelle, Wallace proceeded to Paris, where he was cordially received by the French King. He soon tired of inaction, however, and, getting together some 900 Scots, went to fight the English at Guienne, his chief exploits being the capture of Schenoun (?Chinon) and Bordeaux. Meantime, the Scots at home, being hard pressed, despatched Guthrie to urge him to return. Guthrie sailed from Arbroath to Sluys, and, having at length reached Wallace, brought him back by Paris to Sluys, and landed him at Montrose. Wallace had been a little over four months absent.

The second visit Harry places immediately after Wallace's resignation of the Guardianship, shortly after Falkirk. Wallace, he says, sailed from Dundee in a merchant ship with eighteen companions. Again he met with an adventure. Off the mouth of the Humber he encountered a pirate, an Englishman this time, John of Lynn. Putting the crew down in the hold out of his way, he engaged the pirate 18 to 14o, boarded him, and killed him. From Sluys Wallace passed through Flanders to Paris, where the King offered him the lordship of Guienne, which he declined. Again he proceeds to Guienne; again he captures Schenoun; and again he besieges Bordeaux. While staying at Schenoun, he finds that there is treachery in France as well as in Scotland. Sent for by the King, he remains in the royal household for two years; and even here he at length finds traitors at work. He will stay no longer. The King gives him letters that had come from Scotland urging his return, loads him with presents, and reluctantly parts with him. Wallace sails from Sluys, and, passing up the Tay, lands at the mouth of the Earn.

The two visits are so similar in incident, that there is something to be said for regarding them as variants of a single visit. The specific date of the first visit must be wrong; nor is it easy to believe that Wallace would have left the kingdom secretly—unless by 'secretly' Harry means what Sir Robert Hastings means by 'without leave'—or have deputed the Steward to fill his place. In itself, there is nothing improbable in the story of the Red Rover, which Sir Walter Scott incorporated in The Fair Maid of Perth as 'given by an ancient and uniform tradition, which carries in it great indications of truth, and is warrant enough for its insertion in graver histories than' that historical romance. The second visit is perplexed by one of Harry's specific appeals to his 'auctor'; he rests his narrative of Blair's exploits in the sea-fight on the account inserted by Gray (who represents himself as an eye-witness) in the book that Harry professes to follow. In any case, Wallace could hardly have spent two years at the French court. In the existing lack of adequate criticism of Harry, one can only reproduce the substance of the stories.

If the author of the Muses' 7'hrenodie might be supposed to be independent of Harry's influence, some interest might attach to the following verses

'I marvell our records nothing at all
Do mention Wallace going into France.
How that can be forgote I greatlie scance;
For well I know all Gasconie and Guien
Do hold that Wallace was a mightie Gian
Even to this day; in Rochel likewise found
A towre from Wallace' name greatly renown'd.'

The French Trouvères are said to have exercised their poetic skill on the exploits of Wallace. But no aid appears to be now derivable from that quarter: M. Michel states that the search for such compositions has hitherto proved unavailing.

It is difficult to feel on more solid ground with the annalist—Rishanger or another—when he states that Wallace, with five knights, went to France after Falkirk, to ask aid of Philip; that at Amiens he was ordered by Philip to be imprisoned and kept under observation—an order that the Amiens people cheerfully obeyed, 'for much they loved the King of England'; that Philip offered to deliver him to Edward; and that Edward, with effusive thanks, begged Philip to keep him where he was. There is nothing satisfactory here. Philip might indeed, in pressing circumstances, have used Wallace as a political pawn; but we know that in fact he treated him very differently. And it is extremely improbable that Edward would have missed such an opportunity of taking his implacable and vexatious foe into his own surer hands. We know how keen he was to catch Lamberton; and Wallace would have been a vastly bigger prize.

More assistance is to be derived from Bishop Stapleton's Kalendar of Treasury documents, compiled about 1323. One interesting entry mentions 'certain letters of safe-conduct granted by Philip King of France, John King of Scotland, and Haco King of Norway, to William Wallace, enabling him to go to the realms of those kings, to sojourn there, and to return; together with certain letters concerning "ordinances and confederations" written to the said William by certain magnates of Scotland.' These letters, it is added, were found on Wallace when he was captured, and were delivered to Edward at Kingston by Sir John de Segrave. They are now, unhappily, lost. The dates are not preserved in the Kalendar entry. It is impossible, therefore, to do more than guess at the circumstances of Wallace's proposed visit; and, so far as the entry goes, we can only be certain that he seriously entertained the purpose of visiting France—and possibly Norway—not that he actually carried out such purpose.

The inference that Wallace positively did visit France may, however, be safely drawn from an existing letter of recommendation in his favour. This letter may be translated as follows :-

'Philip, by the grace of God, King of the French, to my beloved and trusty agents appointed to the court of Rome, greeting and love. We command you to request the Supreme Pontiff to hold our beloved William Wallace of Scotland, Knight, recommended to his favour in those matters of business that he has to despatch with him. Given at Pierrepont on Monday after the Feast of All Saints.'

This little document shows that Wallace had intended to proceed to Rome, no doubt to urge the Pope to stronger action in favour of Scotland, as against the encroachments of Edward. And it seems beyond reasonable doubt that he was already at the court of Philip when he obtained it. The absence of the year date is very tantalising.

Yet, may it not be fixed with fair certainty? On August 20, 1299, Sir Robert Hastings, the castellan of Roxburgh, reported to Edward an account of the stormy meeting of the Scots nobles at Peebles on the preceding day, when, among other excitements, Sir David de Graham demanded the lands and goods of Sir William Wallace, 'as he was going abroad without leave.' True, Wallace's 'going abroad' may be nothing more than a reported intention, the report not being necessarily trustworthy, though no doubt honestly believed. Yet Sir Malcolm Wallace was present, and would probably have known; but though he withstood Sir David, the grounds are not stated. On the whole, however, it seems extremely probable that Wallace's reported intention was a fact. If so, Philip's letter of recommendation would readily fall to 1299.

Burton regrets 'that there is nothing to inform us distinctly whether the scraps of evidence alluded to are or are not connected with eminent diplomatic services performed by the popular hero.' There can be no reasonable question that they are connected with a specific effort of Wallace's at least to attempt to perform diplomatic services. It may be taken as certain that Wallace did not go to France on private business, or for mere pleasure, or even in disgust with the nobles. Lamberton had just returned from a substantially unsuccessful mission to France; and it seems extremely likely that Wallace had determined to go and see what he could do in person.

It is historically certain, then, that Wallace visited Philip at least once; that he intended to visit the Pope, and perhaps the King of Norway, if he did not actually do so; and that he used every possible opportunity on such visits to further the interests of Scotland to the utmost of his power. It is apparently beyond doubt that his mission was not official; but, in any case, his fame would give him a hardly less influential standing. The Pope's spurt of valorous policy about the time \\rallace would have been in Rome may entitle us to reckon him among the 'enemies of peace' Edward then complained of so bitterly. Scanty and dim as the facts are, such inferences appear to be historically reasonable, if not inevitable.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus