"I have been given nothing. The Lord makes men what they are!."
-Sir William Wallace
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Sir William Wallace
Early death and internal disputes in those days were common place. Alexander III (1249-1286) was at logger-heads with Edward the Longshanks, and was forging a relationship with the King of Norway Erik II in order to keep the peace. Alexander's wife Margaret had three children, so it seemd the heir to his throne would be his eldest son also named Alexander. Unfortunately for this royal family lady luck had finally turned her head.
Margaret died in 1275 at the age of 35, her eldest son Alexander (the heir) died in 1284. His brother David had passed away three years earlier and only two years after the death of young Alexander he was swiftly followed by Alexander III's daughter who had been married to Eric II King of Norway in 1281, obviously in an attempt to create a bond and subsequently peace. When Alexander heard of his daughter's death in Norway, he realised that he had no heir and announced that he had to get married - and quickly.
He married Yolande, daughter of the Count of Dreux in 1284. However in 1286 after a rather routine council meeting in Edinburgh Castle, and probably fired up with a few goblets of French wine, he decided to go and pay his young wife a visit. On his way there he was blown off his horse by a stormy wind and fell down a cliff to his death. The long and successful reign of Alexander III was over. Immediately his death was announced, Yolande, his second wife followed with an announcement of her own saying that she was pregnant. After a few months patiently waiting to see if she was telling the truth, it became clear that she wasn't pregnant and therefore would never produce an heir to Alexander III.
Alexander's daughter, Margaret, who had been married to the King of Norway had a daughter, surprisingly enough her name was also Margaret. Known as 'The Maid of Norway' Alexander's only surviving blood relative was this small child. She was 3 years old when the crown of Scotland fell on her head.
The situation in Scotland was desperate to say the least. Their queen was a three year old girl called Margaret, and she was hundreds of miles away in Norway residing with her father the King of Norway who was only 16 years old himself.
This is the time in Scotland's history when the Guardians of Scotland took control. Both the family of Bruce and the Balliol's claimed their right to the throne, saying that they were descended from the line of David I (1124 - 1153, son of Alexander I). Civil war in Scotland was just around the corner, and the two most powerful families, namely Bruce and Balliol began to seize castles and territory of strategic value.
And this is where Longshanks comes in to play stronger than ever before. It was clear that only one man had the authority and power to restore the Scottish throne. If either the Bruce's or the Balliol's could gain the support of Longshanks then the other would have to bow down and accept the ruling. The only questions were, what would be Longshank's price? and what would his decision be?
With Longshank's usual cunning and educated ways he set about putting in place England's terms, Margaret 'The Maid of Norway' and the ' Damsel of Scotland' was to succeed the throne as was her birth right. However she was to marry Longshanks' son, Edward. Scotland would remain independent and completely separate from England according to its rightful boundaries, free and without subjection. This was all very well, but Longshanks' Clerks inserted into the agreement reservations which undermined Scottish Independence.
Longshanks prepared his ships and sent them on their way to collect the 3 year old Queen of Scotland from Norway. He prepared his son Edward, who was only 6 years old himself, for marriage. The ships laden with sweetmeats, rich fruits and 28 pounds of gingerbread designed to keep the young infant happy on her long voyage to England. One month later the ships returned and had failed in their task to bring the young girl across the sea. Erik II King of Norway had decided it best to actually send his daughter to Scotland via the Islands of Orkney and Shetland (which he still ruled at that time), but during the long voyage her frail and delicate constitution couldn't withstand the stormy seas and she died before upon reaching Orkney - never having even set foot on Scottish soil.
The long and successful house of Dunkeld, the ancient Scottish dynasty which had reigned since Duncan I in 1043 after the line had been passed to him form the first house of Scotland, the house of Alpin, was now over.
With the death of Margaret 'Damsel of Scotland' on 26th September 1290, the ideas and principals which Longshanks had just laid out came to an end - a new King for Scotland had to be found. A letter was written by Bishop Fraser to Longshanks informing him of the young Queens death, and requesting that he come to Scotland and put in place one of the rival houses - either Bruce or Balliol. The letter informed him that John Balliol wanted to meet, and if chosen would follow Longshanks' council and pay him homage: meaning that he would rule Scotland under English superiority. But the letter also hinted to Longshanks to handle John Balliol with great care and if he did place John Balliol on the throne of Scotland and support his claim he would have to deal firmly not only with him but also with the disgruntled Bruce's, who might see fit as to wage war. It was a difficult time and Longshanks had to make sure that his new plans would still give him the opportunity to unite Scotland and England and make England the ruling home.
Between 1290 and 1292 Longshanks played a long and careful hand. This two year period of Interregnum was great credit to the now passed 'House of Dunkeld' since neither family were prepared to take to the sword and agreed that the matter could be handled within legal proceedings at court. Both families, Bruce and Balliol, claimed there decent from the line of David I's daughters. The Balliol claim was from David's eldest daughter, also called Margaret - and the Bruce claim was from the second daughter of David I, Isabel.
However, as price of mediation between these two houses, Longshanks placed himself in the position as 'Overlord of the land of Scotland' according to the highest legal principles. Longshanks, the future 'Hammer of the Scots' insisted that all those who claimed the right to the throne would adhere to certain rules. They must accept the judgment of the court and they must accept him as their feudal superior.
This would give Longshanks the superiority that he thought he always deserved, and lay the foundations for 'his' United Kingdom!
During this time of organization and dispute Longshanks put in place English constables in Key Scottish royal castles in case there was any trouble from either family. The occupation of Scotland by Longshanks was well under way, and while the houses continued their meetings and arguments over who would be King of Scotland, Longshanks had gained a secure foothold on Scottish lands - or had he?
Of course the two names of Balliol and Bruce were at the forefront of the courts hearing, but what is commonly disregarded is the fact that the total amount of claims to the throne numbered 15. For example the Hastings family, descended from David I's third daughter, Ada, believed that the kingdom should be divided into three. Others based their claims on the throne from the descent of David I's sister, King Donald Ban, or other variations of the royal family's bastard offspring: one each from Alexander II and henry of Huntingdon, five from the libidinous William the Lion and even the 'Maid of Norway's' father, Erik II, threw his hat into the ring in a bizarre gesture of reverse inheritance. The more complicated the story the better it was for Longshanks, he now had 15 potential Kings to choose from, and a lot of time to let his courts make the decision.
After a great show of learning, which involved council with major continental universities, the court made up its mind on 6th November 1292. Just to gain that little extra piece of superiority Longshanks waited for 11 days before allowing the decision to be announced. In the Great Hall of Berwick Castle: his liege man, the 43 year old John Balliol was to be the new monarch of Scotland. Hardly surprising since two years before he had received the letter from the Bishop Fraser recommending exactly that decision.
On St. Andrew's Day 1292, King John was enthroned on the Stone of Scone (The Stone of Destiny), the last monarch to receive this privilege in his native land. The following month he did homage to Edward I the Longshanks at Newcastle as part of the English court's Christmas festivities.
It is now that the game begins. King John Balliol of Scotland did not reign in the great peace that he thought was his. What with the ambitions of Longshanks, backed by the disloyalty of the thwarted Competitors, King John never had the peace in which to establish himself. Longshanks exploited the troubled situation to its fullest, he demanded that the complaints of his Scottish subjects be heard in English courts. When John understandably objected he was threatened, by his 'Overlord' Longshanks with whom he had previously paid homage, with contempt of court and the loss of three of his major castles and towns.
Longshanks also stirred Erik II to reclaim the Western Isles as the Scots had not kept up the payment of 100 merks due to the Norwegian king as was agreed in the treaties which Longshanks had forced the Scots to agree on if they wanted him to mediate the decision of their new king. Add to that the less than patriotic behaviour of the other thwarted families, King John was caught in a place which he didn't want - he ruled a country which didn't want him, and he was not supported by Longshanks the way which he thought he would have been by paying him homage. Longshanks had exactly what he wanted: A divided Scotland in which both sides wanted his help. He was indeed 'Overlord of the land of Scotland' and he didn't have to pick up a sword.
The final straw came when Longshanks insisted that John help him with military service against the French King Philip IV, Balliol had had enough. He did the opposite and forged a treaty with King Philip IV in October 1295 and assembled his host near Selkirk the following March. If Longshanks wanted any more from King John, then he was going to have to fight for it. This, of course, was just what Longshanks had been waiting for and wanted. He had imposed his judgment and superior position on Scotland's king, and then bullied him into a corner which Longshanks new he would eventually strike back from: he had been picking a fight with Scotland for years, and now he was going to get it. But as always the cards were stacked in Longshanks' favour. Whilst bullying Balliol, he had been gaining favour with the other families by allowing them to speak out.
The ill-armed and ill-supported army of King John Balliol was no match for Longshanks' battle-hardened professional soldiers. At the end of March Longshanks had sacked Berwick and massacred its inhabitants.
Many of the great castles surrendered to his call and with one month, on 27th April the Earl of Surrey and his Scottish allies routed King John's forces at the battle of Dunbar. Edinburgh Castle fell, and John surrendered on July 11th.
At a humiliating ceremony at Brechin, King John had the insignia of royalty, his scepter, crown, sword and ring stripped from him. Longshanks marched forward as far north as Elgin on a mission of conquest, seizing the opportunity which he had been patiently engineering for some time. The conquest of Scotland was now at hand once and for all. John Balliol was taken south to the Tower of London and was eventually released in 1299 to spend the rest of his life in exile on his French estates where he died blind and forgotten in 1313 - the very same year that the new king, Robert the Bruce, beat the English at Bannockburn.
To future generations John Balliol is known as "Toom Tabard" or 'Tyne Tabard' (meaning empty coat), a cruel nickname which suggests that his personality was as unimpressive as his rule. The judgment is a harsh one, caught between the twin wheels of an ambitious, distinguished soldier and ruthless bully of a King - Longshanks, and the disloyalty of many powerful subjects, his cause was well-high hopeless from the very start.
King Edward I (Longshanks) of England now had Scotland in his grasp. Just a few years previously he had conquered Wales in mush the same way, taking only 6 years to turn Wales into an annex of England completely under English rule. Doing the same to Scotland must now have seemed a formality.
Longshanks himself left Scotland leaving matters to his trusted leaders, the situation with France had deteriorated and he had matters of a more important nature to deal with rather than the being present in Scotland for the final clean up. His contempt for Scots and their "miserable country" comes across clearly in a passing remark made to his soldiers when he is reported to have said "Bon besoigne fait qy de merde se delivrer" - "He who rids himself of shit does a good job".
Scotland had been pacified at a minimum loss to England, with winter now upon them most of the English host returned south and was demobolised, leaving garrisons of hand-picked men in all the castles of Scotland. Longshanks doubtless congratulated himself on a good job well done. His self satisfaction must have been sort lived.
North of the border, back in Scotland, Scotsman William Wallace - Hammer of the English - raised his head holding true to his family motto: "Pro libertate" - "FOR FREEDOM".
Documented historical evidence of the line of Wallace is confusingly split. Some say he is descended from Richard the Welshman, dating back to the times of William the Conqueror - others have him traced back to the traditional Scots line of the Cragies. For reasons of simplicity and to keep with the theme of these pages, which focus manly on William Wallace and the reasons and situations that made him 'Scotland's greatest hero', we'll keep to the facts that are well known and true as much as is possible.
William Wallace, second of three sons of Sir Malcolm Wallace was born on January 1272, (although many will debate the year to fall somewhere between 1270 and 1276 - 1272 seems to be the most precise in my research), in Scotland in the town of Elerslie (known now as Elderslie - see "Wallace Family").
His father, Sir Malcolm Wallace, although endowed with the title of a knight held little rank in the world of politics and the nobility of Scotland. He owned a certain amount of land under his title and lived a relatively peaceful life.
The Scotland that William Wallace was raised in during the late 1200's was a wealthy country far removed from the beggarly picture of a nation which English propagandists were to paint. It is plain to see from the Great Cathedrals which still stand from Glasgow in the south to as far north as Dornoch. The magnificent abbeys and monasteries in Arbroath, Scone, Dunfermline and Cambuskenneth as well as the great palaces and house in Paisley, Kilwinning, Crossraguel, New Abbey, Dundrennan, Holyrood, Kelso, Jedburgh, Dryburgh and Melrose.
It is clear that these marvelous buildings could only have been erected in a country possessed of considerable wealth and resources. Studded with hundreds of Castles, regal, baronial and knightly, the fortified homes of the landed classes: it was an age in which emerged a prosperous bourgeoisie.
The powerful King Alexander II was on the throne and had not only the ability but the standing to fend off possible invaders. Around the time of Wallace's birth the then king of England, King Henry III died and was succeeded by the man who would one day become William's deadliest adversary - Edward I (Longshanks). On August 18th 1274 Edward was crowned at Westminster. He was 35 years old, tall, well proportioned and considerably above average height, he certainly deserved his nickname of Longshanks.
William Wallace also grew up to become a powerful and sturdy young man, with a height of 6 foot 7 inches and a physique to match, he too was a giant of a man. It is often debated that it would have been impossible for such a man to exist in a time when the average height of a man was little over 5 feet. However, to judge by the clothing and armour of the time it is clear to see that not only was Longshanks a towering figure, even by today's standards, but so was William Wallace.
It is also clear to see that in a time when to be considered 'middle aged', one would only have to be somewhere in the region of 20-25 years of age. In order for a man to become a leader and be successful in battle he either had to have been born into the rank, or like Wallace, earn the rank by feats of battle. In an era where strength, stamina, endurance, courage and, above all, skill in handling the sword and dagger were of paramount importance in the emergence of leaders - when warlike renown depended so essentially on a personal deeds of daring it would be impossible for him to be anything less than what he was.
Had Wallace not been a man of considerable strength by what other means could the second son of an obscure knight, a mere youth just out of his teens, without the support or patronage of a single noble, have maintained himself, attracted followers, stuck fear into the enemy during face-to-face combat, secured the hatred of Edward Plantagenet I of England, and become the hero of a nation if he did not possess quite exceptional physical strength and prowess?
However, it is not only his physical attributes which made William Wallace such a hero, his mental faculties were considerable. Where, and when, exactly William Wallace gained his education is a long and in-depth story which involves the telling of a rather long tale. In order to keep things simple we'll reflect on the disruptions which were in place before the crowning of John Balliol. Sir Malcolm Wallace was called to bear arms in a revolt know as 'the revolt of the Turnberry Band'.
The idea was to issue a levie which would gather a force together in support of the House of Bruce. William now at the age of fourteen would surely have been page or esquire to his father, and possibly his elder brother, also called Malcolm. This would have been his first taste of military action, but the revolt - if it can be called that - fizzled out before it really started, peace and tranquillity reigned but that meeting on September 1286 had an important part to play in future events. For around 3 years there was an uneasy peace within Scotland - the calm before the storm if you like - and it is during this time of secret meetings and coming and going that William would have spent some time at Dunipace in east Stirlingshire where he lodged with an uncle, a younger brother of his father, who was the cleric there, at a chapelry of Cambuskenneth Abbey.
William was showing his intellect that he could easily make a career in the Church, which was the traditional role for landless younger sons. Now at the age of 16 his education was taking a more mature direction. His uncle instilled in him moral maxims compactly framed in Latin, and referred frequently to the great classic authors. William's passion and love of liberty which would become his basis for his glorious career can also be credited to his uncle-priest who inculcated the very values and essence of freedom and liberty with in his mind. This was a precept which remained firmly implanted in William's mind till the end of his days.
United again with his family, and now 17 years old, something else was to happen which would take William into the care of the church. During the time of his education (14 - 16 years old), John Balliol had been exiled and in order to restore the Guardians of Scotland back into govern Scotland they first had to pay homage to Longshanks. The taking of this oath had to be outright, and the deadline for taking the oath was set for July of that year.
Responsibility for administering the oath for Ayrshire fell upon the hands of Sir Ranald Craufurd, William's grandfather - his mothers father. Anyone not paying homage to Longshanks was in for severe penalties, and when Sir Ranald noticed that Sir Malcolm Wallace's name was not on the list, and realising that retribution from the English garrisons, which now governed Ayr and Irvine (where they were), was about to descend upon Malcolm he took his daughter and her younger sons under his care.
Sir Malcolm and his oldest son fled north leaving his wife Margaret and two youngest sons William and John behind. After a short while with Margaret's father Sir Ranald, he sent them all to Kilspindie in the Carse of Gowrie where they were kept by another uncle of William's - probably a brother of his mothers.
As was the custom in those days, the younger brothers followed the education of the church while the eldest would inherit lands and title's. The uncle which he was now with was also a priest of the district and it was here, now at the age of 17 or 18 that William continued his education in Dundee. It was here that William met John Blair, who soon after became a Benedictine monk, following that he eventually left his monastery to attend his friend William and become his chaplain and comrade in arms.
In this church school William also met and became friends with Duncan of Lorn and Sir Neil Campbell of Lochawe, both young men like William who were to take a major part in William's first exploits. Why such a well built and physically strong youth would follow the career of a priest is easily answered. As I have already said it was the custom for both the Wallace family (his fathers side) and the Craufurd family (his mothers side) to send the youngest sons to the church for their education, and in unsettled times as there were, it was prudent to have a firm grasp on languages and politics and the learning's of the church, as the church was a major power.
Also with his older brother Malcolm and his father Sir Malcolm on the run in the north it was clear that William, being the largest and strongest family member would be in a good place to take care of his mother and his younger brother John. Oddly enough, Dundee was also one of the few places at this time where there was little revolt against the English takeover - he could sleep safely out of the way of the troubles.
In the film 'Braveheart', both writer Randall Wallace and Director Mel Gibson will have you learn that William's mother was already dead. They also do not mention his younger brother John, and in the first half hour or so they kill off his father and older brother when William was just a small boy. This is of course not true. However, in saying that, it is clear to see from the brief outlook I have given you here that should they have gone into this in any detail at all then the film would have easily been twice as long and we could have all been fast asleep by the time all the good bits started!
They may have felt, in their judgment, that these points were fairly insignificant compared to William Wallace's feats and daring. Personally I feel that it wouldn't have taken too much time to explain the situation surrounding his education and his family in a more accurate light. These comments in mind, it would make the situation of him traveling south after his families death to live with his uncle and his graveside meeting with Murron totally fictitious. But it did make for a good movie.
The situation in Scotland was building into civil war, infighting between rival families and rival towns was heating up, as well as the fight against English occupation. Brawling turned to riots - riots turned to ambush and sporadic battles. Sir Malcolm Wallace was back in the south with his son Malcolm when one of these ambush type battles in 1291 at Loudoun Hill in Irvine saw the death of William's father. This was the start of William's personal resentment of the English which would later develop into utter hatred.
He was now around 19 years of age, his mother was devastated and his older brother Sir Malcolm Wallace junior was now the head of the family. This is now the time for William to cast of the binds of the church and turn to his sword for the first time. He had grown up watching the people around him (his kinfolk) being split by infighting backed by the hand of the English. The cruel treatment of his oppressed country, the exile of his mother into hiding, the death of his father by an Englishman called Fenwick at a minor scuffle in Irvine: it was all too much for this 19 year old boy in a giants body to take.
Throughout his life so far he would have been protected as a scholar of the church and the talk on the lips of his friends, who would also have had fathers and brothers already with sword in hand ready for the fight, would surely have been revenge. As a Scot he would have been more than ready to stand with his family and claim their rights in their own lands. Bear in mind that his first teachings had already installed in him the principals of liberty and the rights of the individual.
The moment when he would strike the first blow in relation for his family's sufferings was not far off.
Dundee castle was well under the control of the English and was now owned by Brian Fitz-Alan of Bedale, he had placed the castle under the control of a constable named Selby, this man was a hardened veteran with a great thirst for blood, and in particular the blood of the Scots. Selby had a son who was just slightly older than William. On a cold December day in 1291, young Selby caught sight of William, who not only stood out from the crowd as being someone worth picking a fight with because of his size, but also because of the bright green clothes that he wore.
Young Selby, accompanied with a number of English friends pulled William aside and
began to make remarks about his attire. "Thou Scot, abide; 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." In saying these he
was basically demanding the handsome dirk at William's belt. William's response was
swift and dramatic; grabbing the Englishman by the collar, he drew his blade and
thrust it through his assailant's heart.
Selby's friends made a move on William, but the crowd which was quickly gathering
around the dead Selby made it too difficult for these young men to draw their swords.
This gave William just the few moments that it took to strike out with his dirk, kill
or wound most of the gang and make his escape.
He ran to the house of his uncle where he was greeted by the house keeper, he told
her of what had just happened and she covered him in a red cloak and sat him in the
corner of the room at the spinning-wheel. Moments later when the English guards
came hunting for the young William they passed his uncle's house when they realised
that the only occupants were two elderly ladies weaving and spinning. The ruse
worked. It was announced that afternoon that there was a warrant out for the
murderer of Selby's son, if the town didn't bring forth the murderer then the whole
town would be burnt to the ground and everyone within it.
William made his way home to his mother who having already heard the news was
beside herself with worry. Everyone knew that it was William that they were after as
no one else could fit the description of the man they wanted.
William and his mother immediately left for Dunfermline, but William insisted that
they return to Elerslie where they were from and her family was. After a cunning
escape and quietly trudging their way to Elerslie they were met by Margaret's father
Sir Ranald. Sir Ranald informed them that the news of Selby's son's death was
quickly spreading, and a price had been placed on William's head and he was labeled
an outlaw. Not wanting to make life difficult for himself he told them that he could
look after his daughter but could do nothing for the outlaw William, his best advice
was for them to split up and for William to join his uncle Sir Richard Wallace who
lived in Riccarton. After some time William reached Riccarton by February 1292 and
stayed there until April.
This uncle is most likely the uncle referred to in the film 'Braveheart'. Uncle 'Argyle'
as he is known in the film, was portrayed as half blind, educated in languages, skillful
with the sword and a general all round clever guy with a strong will. It is more likely
that "uncle Argyle" is a character made up of all of the uncles that William lived
with. Two uncles taught him the skills in the church and languages and the uncle he
was with now after the Selby incident, Sir Richard Wallace, can be described as having
been blinded, disabled and enfeebled through loss of blood in some previous skirmish
he had with the English.
Everything seemed quiet and William had found a friend in his uncle's page. It is
reported that one day when he was fishing on the Irvine a garrison of English soldiers
rode passed. The last five soldiers, who were impressed with William's catch decided
that they should have it for themselves. When William exclaimed that the catch was
intended for the super of an elderly knight, the English soldiers said that they had
their permission to continue fishing in order to catch more. Everything was all very
peaceful and when William asked if he could at least keep half of the catch as this
would be 'fair', the ring-leader of the five Englishmen became angry at being talked
to so familiarly by an upstart Scot; he drew his sword and lunged for William.
William defended the blow with his fishing-pole and struck the soldier knocking him
to his feet and sent his sword flying. William rushed for the sword in order to arm
himself, he detached the head of the soldier with a hard blow to the neck and turned
to the other soldiers who had already dismounted and were making their way to aid
their fallen comrade. William's blood was boiling; he hacked one to the collar-bone,
another he struck on the arm with such force that both sword and arm fell to the
ground. While the other two made off, William quickly finished off the man he had
just maimed by running him through with the English sword.
On return to his uncle's house, he explained what had happened and told his uncle
that he would leave his home in order to spare him the wrath of the English who
would surely be soon on their way. He gathered together his possessions and William
and his new page, who would also have been targeted with a price on his head, took to
the woods in the north just like his father and brother had done a few years before.
Meantime, John Balliol was about to be crowned and the divide in Scotland was
thickening. William was now an outlaw for, what would have been seen as, multiple
cold blooded murders. He was an outlaw, a criminal and a man with a price on his
head. His family were scattered to various parts of southern Scotland, his father was
dead and William had no choice but to fight or die, the penalties for what he had done
was death. He was only 20 years old.
To draw a comparison again with the film 'Braveheart' and James Mackay's research,
from which most of this information is gathered, we can safely point out that the
movie displays a man that rose from a common farmers son to become one of the
Guardians of Scotland within a very short period of time.
The battle of Stirling Bridge, the sacking of York, the battle of Falkirk and William's
execution all took place over a period of 8 years. We know that he was captured and
executed in 1305, this would make William 33 years of age.
The victory at Stirling bridge was in 1297, from there he invaded England and sacked
many towns and fortified castles. 1298 saw his defeat and betrayal at Falkirk but he
wasn't captured until 1305. This leaves us with two blank spaces to be filled. The later
being the 7 year period between his betrayal and his execution (which we will refer to
in the final pages), and also the period between the incident at Irvine when he was 20
and his rise to become the leading force at Stirling bridge when he would have been 25
years old. What happened, and what was William Wallace doing during this period of
5 years before Stirling?
As you can see I have called this section "Robin Hood?". My reason for this is
because I would like to draw some comparisons between Scotland's national hero, and
a vague figure from English folklore who is portrayed as the English outlaw/hero.
After William had fled from his uncle's to the woods he spent the 5 year period I have
talked about seeking revenge for what had happened to his family. You have to
remember that in these time in the 13th century it was more than common place to
take the law into your own hands, and the seeking of revenge for even trivial matters
like the theft of a cow was punishable by whatever method the victim saw fit.
If you know the story of Robin Hood you'll be able to understand clearly why I am
drawing this "resemblance".P> As far as the English were concerned William was a
dead man as soon as he showed face. He had nothing to lose at this point, if he
surrendered he would surely have been put to the sword or the rope. From my
impression of things he classed himself as 'dead already', something which to future
generations the world over is what makes guerrilla warfare the most difficult to
defend against, and easily the most lethal of weapons. It is quite possible that William
Wallace could have had an attitude of 'if he was to go at least he could take as many
as he could with him'.
From his dwellings in the woods he would constantly attack and ambush anything with
an English insignia on it, and with quite a brutal and unforgiving anger. He didn't do
all of this single handed of course. He had previously made his way to gain the help
and support of is kinsman Wallace of Auchencruive, and found refuge in the Leglen
Wood on the banks of the River Ayr, this was one of his favourite hiding places, and
in later years the woods was to be frequently visited by the bard Robert Burns who
would go their every Sunday afternoon to pay his respects to his fellow Scot and
someone with who he held great admiration for.
The image of William and his kinfolk rampaging around the woods of lower Scotland
attacking everything English, who by this time were more than hated by every local in
practically every town, makes him appear as some kind of avenging angel crossed
with a serial killer with an attitude. He did indeed attack at will and without
provocation from many different places within lower Scotland, and this is what gained
him the reputation as a great warrior within his own people and a feared and
rumoured enemy with the English garrisons. No one ever knew where he would strike
next or when. Word of the giant size of this man soon spread and his skill with not
only the sword and dirk but the bow and arrow followed quickly behind.
During a 3 year period of ambush and gathering local support to his, and their, fight,
William would have easily gathered the knowledge and understanding of who his
enemies were and how they drew up battle plans and tactics against his 'guerrilla'
tactics, something which had never been done before. Until William Wallace no one
had ever taken on an enemy in such a way - he had a new found talent for attacking
and beating forces and garrisons of a much larger number than his.
Fighting and hiding from within the great forests of Selkirk one can't help imagine
that a man of such size would not be easy to hide. It is not a fanciful idea to say that
he could easily have disguised himself and made way through the crowded markets
crouched, hunched and stinking of unpleasant items in order to gain supplies and
rally support. He had done it successfully in the past as a youth!
One account tells us that he could not resist the challenge of an English churl who
had a reputation for weight lifting. For fourpence he would let anyone hit him across
the back with a rough pole which he carried. William offered the man 3 times his
usual for the privilege, and subsequently hit the guy with such force as to break his
back. The other soldiers present tried to overpower Wallace but he brained one with
the cudgel and broke the neck of another, then drew his sword, felled a third and
slashed through the armpit armour of a fourth. Including the churl. Wallace killed
five Englishmen in this brief but bloody encounter before leaping on a nearby horse
and making his escape back to his hiding place of Leglen Wood.
Another account helped William's public image no end. In an attempt to come to the
aid of a youth being accosted by English troops he bit off a bit to much and found
himself backed up and overpowered. He was pressed down, tied up and taken to the
Wardens prison. At this time he was only an outlaw and not wanted so much by
Longshanks as simply wanted dead by the local garrisons. He was thrown into jail and
left to die. The jailer was instructed to feed him only with bread and rotten herring,
after quite some time, weekend and starved he was mistaken for being dead when he
fell into a coma. News was spread that William Wallace was dead and his body was
thrown onto a dung heap to be left to rot.
In hearing that he was dead an old friend, namely his first nurse, made her way to the
jail house and asked that she take the body away in order to give him a decent burial.
Of course with William now dead and out of the way it seemed harmless enough to
keep the locals happy by letting them bury him.
She took William back to her house and began to clean and prepare him for a burial
which he deserved. However, in cleaning him she noticed that he still had a signs of
life and she began to spoon feed him, and even her daughter, who had a twelve week
old baby, suckled young William and together they both brought him back from the
brink. It is not uncommon to find certain coma cases to still show signs of primitive,
About this time Sir Thomas Rymour of Ercildoune heard of the death of William and
instantly sent a servant to find out what had happened. When the servant returned
with the news that he was alive and had defied death to the point where it seemed he
had actually returned from the grave, Sir Thomas Rymour, known to us know as
simply 'Thomas the Rhymer", declared:
For sooth, ere he decease,
Thomas the Rhymer, had already foretold the death of Alexander III and was widely
regarded in his own lifetime as a soothsayer and prophet. Now that William was in
good company having his name placed within the same mystical and supernatural
circles as the great Alexander III, not only did the English as far south as London
prick up their ears, but also William himself must have felt that he was something
special and with a - now foretold - destiny, was there anything he couldn't do? He had
stared death in the face and won. With his destiny in front of him it was not long
before his kinsmen and fellow Scots rallied around him in support.
It was also in these times that his taste for the young girls became a costly problem.
Sneaking around romancing the young girls proved to be a game that cost him many
a man in battles of escape and also landed him in compromising positions which
almost lead to being captured - again.
It wasn't until he met with Marion Braidfute, the eighteen year old daughter and
heiress of Hugh Braidfute of Lamington that his heart was pierced by the arrows of
love. William and Marion never married as William believed that romance and war
did not mix, however, he did see Marion as much as possible secretly at her home. It
is at this point that Marion is to have given birth to William's daughter. Many
historians will deny that there is any evidence that William had any offspring, and if
he had in fact married her then the history books would have definitely recorded the
event. Marion was murdered shortly after the birth and this would only have spurred
William into further action.
Also during this time he was joined by his old friends Tom Halliday and Edward Little
who were more than pleased to see that William was not, according to the rumours,
dead. The other old friend who joined the band was John Blair, If you refer to the
previous section regarding William's education, you'll remember that John Blair was
the Benedictine monk who left his monastery to join his friend William. He spent the
rest of his time with Wallace recording every move that they made.
So allow me to quickly recap. We have a roving band of men making surprise attacks
at English garrisons and troops. William, the leader, Marion his well-to-do mistress
and, by this time, around 15 fellow Scots, one of whom was named Little (Edward
Little), and a to add to the similarity a Benedictine monk. Sound familiar?
It is not fanciful of me to draw this comparison. In the story of Robin Hood you have
a giant of a man called Little John. It would be easy for such a man to be a mix up
between the large frame of William, his friend Edward Little and possibly even
William's younger brother John. Is it possible that his younger brother was with
William, and if he were it wouldn't take much to assume that he would have been
referred to as 'Little John' given the size of his older brother.
If you think that I am over simplifying matters by saying that 3 people could have
been fused into 1 person, and in turn that the story of Robin Hood could actually be
the English making their own version of William Wallace in order to claim their own
hero in an attempt to 'keep up with the Joneses' - then let me remind you that Mel
Gibson took 3 of William's uncles and forged them together to create a character
called "uncle Argyle" in order to keep his version more compact.
The propaganda machine of English history?
Shall many thousands in the field make end.
From Scotland he shall forth the Southron send,
And Scotland thrice he shall bring to peace.
So good of hand again shall ne'er be kenned.