Wallace led the Scottish rebellion against Edward I and inflicted a famous defeat on the English army at Stirling Bridge. He is remembered as a patriot and national hero.
William Wallace was born in the 1270s in Elderslie in Renfrewshire into a gentry family. Very little is known about his early years and there are significant periods of his life for which there are no reliable sources.
In 1296, Edward I of England had taken advantage of a succession crisis in Scotland and imposed himself as ruler with an English administration. Within months, Scottish unrest was widespread.
In May 1297, Wallace attacked the town of Lanark, killing the English sheriff and unrest quickly became full-blown rebellion. Men flocked to join Wallace and he began to drive the English out of Fife and Perthshire. In September 1297, Wallace defeated a much larger English force at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. This and subsequent military successes severely weakened the English hold on Scotland. Wallace then launched raids into England. In late 1297 or early 1298 he was knighted and appointed 'guardian of the kingdom' in the name of John Balliol, the deposed king of Scotland.
The shock of the defeat at Stirling rallied the English around Edward, who marched north with an army. Wallace's strategy was to avoid confrontation and gradually withdraw. He destroyed the countryside as he went, forcing Edward to march deeper and deeper into Scotland. In July 1298, the Scottish and English armies met near Falkirk, and the Scots were defeated. Wallace escaped and little is known of his movements, but at some stage he resigned the guardianship and was succeeded by Robert Bruce and John Comyn.
Wallace then went abroad, notably to France, to seek support for the Scottish cause. He returned to Scotland in 1303. In his absence Robert Bruce had accepted a truce with Edward I and, in 1304, John Comyn came to terms with the English as well. Wallace was excluded from these terms and the English king offered a large sum of money to anyone who killed or captured him. Wallace was seized in or near Glasgow in August 1305, and transported to London. He was charged and tried with treason, which he denied, saying he had never sworn allegiance to the English king. His execution was held on 23 August, where he was hung, drawn and quartered. His head was placed on London Bridge, and his limbs displayed in Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling and Perth.