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19 September 2014
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William Wallace (II)

Battle of Falkirk

The Battle of Falkirk, 1298
The English nobility had been on the edge of civil war with Edward I. They were disgruntled over his wars in France and Scotland, however, faced with the humiliating defeat by the Scots at Stirling Bridge, they united behind him in time for the Battle of Falkirk.

According to later tales, Wallace told his men: ‘I hae brocht ye to the ring, now see gif ye can dance’, however, as one historian has called it, ‘it was a dance of death’, as Wallace had seriously misjudged Edward’s battle tactics. His Welsh archers proved to be the decisive weapon: their arrows raining death on the Scots spearmen.

Wallace the Diplomat.
After Falkirk, the Scots nobles reasserted their role as guardians of the kingdom and continued the war with Edward. Wallace was assigned a new role as an envoy for the Scots to the courts of Europe.

William Wallace

Diplomacy was crucial to the Scots war effort and Wallace, by now a renowned figure across Europe, played a high profile role. In 1299 he left Scotland for the court of King Philip IV of France. He was briefly imprisoned for various political motives, but was soon released and given the French king’s safe conduct to the papal court. Wallace returned to Scotland in 1301, with the diplomatic effort seemingly in good stead.

However, the French abandoned Scotland when they needed Edward’s help to suppress a revolt in Flanders. With no prospect of victory, the Scottish leaders capitulated and recognised Edward as overlord in 1304. Only Wallace refused to submit, perhaps signing his own death warrant at this time.

Here was the crucial difference between Wallace and the key players from amongst the Scottish nobles - for Wallace there was no compromise, the English were his enemy and he could not accept their rule in any form. However, the nobles were more pliable and willing to switch sides, or placate the English, when it served their own ends. Wallace had become a nuisance to both his feudal superiors and the English.

The Martyrdom of William Wallace
Wallace was declared an outlaw, which meant his life was forfeit and that anyone could kill him without trial. He continued his resistance, but on August 3rd, 1305, he was captured at Robroyston, near Glasgow. His captor, Sir John Menteith, the ‘false’ Menteith, has gone down in Scottish legend as the betrayer of Wallace, but he acted as many others would have. Menteith was no English lackey, and in 1320 he put his seal to the Declaration of Arbroath.

Wallace was taken to Dumbarton castle, but quickly moved to London for a show trial in Westminster Hall. He was charged with two things - being an outlaw and being a traitor. No trial was required, but, by charging him as a traitor, Edward intended to destroy his reputation. At his trial he had no lawyers and no jury, he even wasn’t allowed to speak, but when he was accused of being a traitor, he denied it, saying he had never been Edward’s subject in the first place. Inevitably he was found guilty and was taken for immediate execution - in a manner designed to symbolise his crimes.

Blind Harry

Wrapped in an ox hide to prevent him being ripped apart, thereby shortening the torture, he was dragged by horses four miles through London to Smithfield.
There he was hanged, as a murderer and thief, but cut down while still alive. Then he was mutilated, disembowelled and, being accused of treason, he was probably emasculated. For the crimes of sacrilege to English monasteries, his heart, liver, lungs and entrails were cast upon a fire, and, finally, his head was chopped off. His carcase was then cut up into bits. His head was set on a pole on London Bridge, another part went to Newcastle, a district Wallace had destroyed in 1297-8, the rest went to Berwick, Perth and Stirling (or perhaps Aberdeen), as a warning to the Scots. Edward had destroyed the man, but had enhanced the myth.

Wallace became a martyr, the very symbol of Scotland’s struggle for freedom. He entered the realm of folktale and legend. From Blind Harry's 'Wallace' to Mel Gibson’s ‘Braveheart’, William Wallace continues to haunt the Scottish imagination with a vision of freedom.

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