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29 October 2014
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Scottish Wars of Independence

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History
WALLACE'S SWORD

The Wallace Sword has pride of place on display in the National Wallace Monument in Stirling.

The sword is huge. It's 1.63m long and weighs almost three kilos. It's designed to be used two-handed, but even so, Wallace would have had to be around six feet seven inches to use it. In 13th century Scotland, the average man was just five feet tall so either Wallace was a giant or the sword wasn't really his.

The earliest record of a Wallace Sword dates from 1505 - when Wallace had been dead for 200 years. The records of King James IV show that he paid for a new hilt and other fittings to be fitted to the sword. It was moved from Dumbarton Castle to the Wallace Monument in 1888. More recently, it was taken to New York as the centrepiece of the 2005 Tartan Day celebrations.


Experts
Elspeth King, Smith Art Gallery and Museum, Stirling

Wallace's sword has been of great symbolical importance to people down the centuries. It is on public display in the National Wallace Monument, and every Scot should look at it, study it and think of what it means in the history of Scotland.

In the nineteenth century, the people fighting for the reform of the political system used a drawing of the Wallace Sword at the top of their daily newspaper, “The Liberator”. They saw themselves as fighting for political freedom in the same way as Wallace had fought for freedom from English oppression.

Wallace was taken to Dumbarton Castle after his capture, before being sent to London to be killed. His sword was left at Dumbarton for centuries. When the Stirling people asked for it to be sent to the Wallace Monument, the army refused, because they said the sword was not real. When the sword was finally sent to Stirling, the people of Dumbarton protested against this.

Dr David Caldwell, National Museum of Scotland

The so-called Wallace Sword is actually a type of Scottish sword that dates to the late 16th century. This sword was seen at Dumbarton Castle by the famous poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy when they toured Scotland in 1803. One of the soldiers in the garrison told them it was Wallace's. This is the first time the sword is known to have been associated with the Scottish hero - was the soldier deliberately telling a tale for these English visitors?

Maybe it doesn't matter if the sword isn't the one used in battle by Wallace. It's now the main focus of the cult that has developed around his memory. In the popular imagination it's highly appropriate - large, plain and businesslike for a man of action, a man of the people.


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