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Home > History > The Scottish Wars of Independence 1286-1328 > William Wallace and the Scottish resistance


William Wallace and the Scottish resistance


Scottish resistance

William Wallace and the Scottish resistance - part one

William Wallace and the Scottish resistance - part one

Victory at the Battle of Dunbar in 1296 effectively gave Edward I complete control over Scotland. The scale of the Scots' defeat ended thoughts of sustained resistance against the English king. By July, King John had surrendered to Edward I in the most humiliating circumstances. John begged for forgiveness from the English monarch and was publicly stripped of his royal robes, earning him the nickname 'Toom Tabard' (meaning 'empty coat').

John was now no more than a puppet king and Edward I would eventually strip him of his throne altogether. Edward I went further and removed the Stone of Destiny from Scotland, the stone on which Scotland's kings were crowned. His grip on Scotland became increasingly tight.

Late August 1296 saw 1600 of Scotland's leading nobles swear loyalty to Edward I. By doing so, they gave to him the legitimacy as overlord that he craved. Each of the nobles attached their seal to the bottom of the 'Ragman's Roll', a document proclaiming their submission to Edward I. One seal that was not on the document was that of William Wallace. There has been historical debate over the absence of the seal. Some historians argue that this is an early sign of Wallace's resistance to the English monarch, while others believe that he was simply not important enough to be included on the roll.

William and Moray

Despite Edward I's control over Scotland's major nobles, pockets of resistance continued. In the north east of Scotland, Andrew Moray led a campaign against English rule. Across the south west of the kingdom, William Wallace was engaged in skirmishes with English forces.

Andrew Moray

Although he is often a forgotten figure in comparison to William Wallace, there is far more known about Andrew Moray. Moray came from a noble family with land across the north of Scotland. He had fought with his father against Edward I's forces at the Battle of Dunbar and spent a period in captivity in England following the Scottish defeat.

Moray escaped and quickly gathered a strong force of followers in the north of Scotland. He led his followers in recapturing strategically important castles such as Inverness and Banff, and by the middle of 1297 had driven the English south of the river Tay. As he moved south of Dundee, he learned of the activities of William Wallace, as well as the submission of most of the Scottish nobility to Edward I. In Wallace he found a man with a similar commitment to King John and to a Scotland free of Edward I.

William Wallace

William Wallace's past is far more mysterious than that of Moray's. There is little documented evidence regarding Wallace, so not much is known of his life before the events of 1297. Much of what is assumed about Wallace is sourced from the writings of Blind Harry, which were created long after the rebellion and are not thought to be trustworthy. English chronicles first mention Wallace in 1297, where it is said he gained support among Scots after murdering the English Sheriff of Lanark.

As an outlaw, Wallace led a rebellion across the south-west of Scotland. He was supported by important figures such as Bishop Wishart of Glasgow, the noble Sir William Douglas and a young Robert the Bruce. Wallace's actions were dealt a blow when the nobles who supported him surrendered to Edward I's forces at Irvine. Wallace himself refused to surrender and continued his fight against English occupation. His activities unsettled Edward I's representatives in south-west Scotland and in linking up with Andrew Moray assumed joint command of a strong rebel force.


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