Updated: Sep 6, 2019
This Day In History - 23 August 1305
Sir William Wallace (c.1270 - 1305)
William Wallace was born in the 1270's in Elderslie in Renfrewshire, Scotland. We know little about his early years & for a large proportion of his life there are no definitive sources.
In the year 1296, there was a succession crisis in Scotland, & the king of England, Edward I took advantage of this & imposed his rule on Scotland. Shortly afterwards there was Scottish unrest widespread. In May of 1297 in Lanark, the English sheriff was killed by Wallace & full-blown rebellion broke out. Wallace attracted large numbers of men to his cause & they started to drive the English out of Fife & Perthshire.
In September at the Battle of Stirling Bridge, Wallace defeated a much larger English army led by John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey. With further military successes, the English hold on Scotland was faltering. Wallace took things a step further when he launched raids into the England. He was knighted & appointed a 'Guardian of the kingdom' in the name of John Balilol, who was the deposed king of Scotland.
After the stunning defeat of the English at Stirling Edward gathered a large army & headed north towards Scotland. The last thing Wallace wanted was a full on confrontation with his enemy, so he withdrew into Scotland, destroying the countryside as he retreated in a scorched earth policy.
In July 1298, the Scottish & English armies met near Falkirk, & the Scots were defeated. The survivors, Wallace included, escaped as best they could, mostly into the nearby forest of Torwood. Shortly after the battle Wallace resigned as Guardian of Scotland. His successors in this role were Robert Bruce & John Comyn
Wallace fled to France, to seek support for the Scottish cause. In 1303 he returned to Scotland, but in his absence Robert Bruce had accepted a truce with Edward I &, in 1304, John Comyn relented to the English.
A sizeable reward was offered by the English king to anyone who killed or captured Wallace. He was captured somewhere near Glasgow in 1305 & transported to London.
A trial commenced & he was charged with treason, & for atrocities against civilians in war, "sparing neither age nor sex, monk nor nun." He was crowned with a garland of oak to suggest he was the king of outlaws. on being charged with treason Wallace said, "I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject."
The punishment of the times for treason against the king was to be hung drawn & quartered! Who actually devised these punishments!
His execution was held on 23 August, He was taken from the Tower of London to the Elms at Smithfield, this is, after being stripped naked & dragged through the city by a horse.
He was then hanged, drawn & quartered, strangled by hanging, until 'nearly' dead, released & while he was still alive, his private parts were cut off, his bowels burned before him, then beheaded, then cut into four parts. Shortly after his death, his head was dipped in tar to preserve it, & placed on a pike atop London Bridge. His limbs were displayed, separately, in four places (four quarters!) at Newcastle, Berwick, Stirling & Perth. A plaque stands in a wall of St Bartholomew's Hospital close to the site of Wallace's execution at Smithfield.
At London Bridge his head was soon joined by those of his brothers John & Simon FraserI
A place of interest to visitors would be the Wallace Monument close to his victory at Stirling Bridge (pictured here)
Here you can see the Wallace Sword which supposedly belonged to Wallace, although some parts were made at least a century & a half later.
Visit our Scottish Kings and Queens book section at
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