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Sir William Wallace

Sir William Wallace


Sir William WallaceWilliam Wallace, the hero of Scotland, was probably born about the year 1270. His family was one of some distinction, and he was the younger of the two sons of Sir Malcolm Wallace, of Ellerslie and Auchinbotbie, in the neighborhood of Paisley. His mother, Margaret, who was Sir Malcolm's second wife, was the daughter of Sir Hugh Crawford, sheriff of Ayr. The history of Wallace, down to the year 1297, is entirely legendary, and only to be found in the rhymes of Blind Harry, or Harry the Minstrel, whose 'work confesses itself not to be limited to the strict rules of history. Blind Harry professes, however, to translate from a Latin account, written by Wallace's friend and chaplain, John Blair.


Wallace, according to this story, was carefully educated by his uncle, a wealthy churchman, at Dunipace, in Stirlingshire, and was afterwards sent to the Grammar-school of Dundee. Here his 6rst memorable act is said to have been performed. The son of Selby, the English Governor of Dundee Castle, having offended him by some insult, Wallace struck the young man dead with his dagger upon the spot. This must have happened in the year 1291, after Edward I of England bad obtained possession of all the places of strength throughout Scotland. After committing this bold deed, Wallace, in making his escape, is said to have laid several of Selby's attendants as low as their master. He was immediately proclaimed an outlaw. Wallace sought refuge in the southern Highlands. and then resolve to call his countrymen to throw off the English yoke. He commenced an incursive war against the English garrisons, and his daring enterprise and local knowledge rendered him successful in these encounters. No persons of rank ventured to join him, but he became the hero of his countrymen and the terror of their oppressors.


Wallace fell in love with the orphan daughter of Sir Hugh de Bradfute, the heiress of Lannington, having first seen her in a church in the neighborhood of Lanark. The Scotch writers affirm that this lady, whom he appears to have married, a year or two after forming her connection with Wallace, fell into the hands of his enemies, and was barbarously executed by the orders of Hazelrig, the English sheriff of Lanark, while her husband was doomed to witness the spectacle from a place where he lay in concealment. Such private injuries were well fitted to raise his public hatred to an inextinguishable flame.


In 1297 Wallace found himself strong enough to plan an attack upon the English justiciary Ormsby, who was holding court at Scone but the latter, apprised of the danger, sought safety by flight, and the other English officers followed his example. Many of the barons now openly countenanced the designs of Wallace, and Robert Bruce secretly favored the same cause. Warrene. Earl of Surrey, who had been intrusted by Edward with the government of Scotland, collected in the north of England an army of 40,000 men, and, advancing into Annandale, struck such an alarm that many of the Scotch nobles submitted and others joined the English army.


After the alarm caused by Warenne's army, Wallace with his partisans retired northward, and when the English commander reached Slirling, he found the Scottish chief encamped at Cambuskenneth, on the opposite bank of the Forth. Cressingham, the English treasurer, was led by his precipitation to cross the river with his troops. Wallace, having suffered such a number as he thought troops to pass over, made a fierce attack upon them while yet in disorder, and defeated them with great slaughter, Cressingham, a brave leader, being slain in the action. Warenne thereupon retreated, and withdrew his remaining troops into England. Availing himself of this panic, Wallace pursued the fugitives across the border, and, putting himself at the head of a numerous force, entered England on the 18th of October, 1297, and, remaining until the 11th of November, wasted the country from sea to sea with fire and sword, and proceeded as far south as the walls of Newcastle. These successes so much enhanced the reputation of Wallace that he was declared Regent of the kingdom under the captive Baliol.


The English king now marched with a host of 90,000 melt to the northern frontier. Wallace, sensible that his elevation had caused envy and discontent among the great nobility, resigned his authority as Regent, and only retained command over his own particular followers. The Scotch, under the Steward of the kingdom and Cumming or Comyn of Badenoch, awaited the approach of Edward at Falkirk, in the summer of 1298. A battle ensued, in which the superior force of the English and the wonderful skill of their archers obtained a complete and sanguinary victory. Wallace, however, kept his separate command unbroken, and retired in good order with it behind the banks of the Carroll. Here it is related that a conference took place between the chieftain and young Bruce, then serving in Edward's army, which terminated in his winning the latter secretly to the cause of his country. But the historian Hume observes that two English officers of credit affirm that Bruce was not at that time with Edward.


After the defeat at Falkirk, no force remained in Scotland capable of resisting the English arms, and Wallace appears to have once more taken to the fastnesses of the country. He still, however, retained an unsubmitting spirit, and asserted his independence with the few partisans he could muster. He is said to have hung upon the English army in another expedition northwards, in 1303; but he found few opportunities of acting to advantage. So high, however, was his name that Edward could not consider his conquest as secure whilst such a patriot was living. He employed various arts to discover the retreat of Wallace and obtain possession of his person, and at length succeeded, through the treachery, it is said, of Sir John Monteith. Yet all Monteith really did was to forward the captive to England, after he bad been brought as a prisoner to Dumbarton Castle, of which Sir John was governor. Edward indulged an ignoble spirit of animosity against his brave enemy. He caused him to be conveyed to London, where, though he had never sworn fealty to the English sovereign, he was condemned and executed. as a traitor, August 23, 1305. According to the barbarous custom of the times, his body was "drawn and quartered." His right arm was set up at Newcastle, his left at Berwick, his right leg at Perth, his left at Aberdeen, and his head on London Bridge.


Sir William Wallace, according to the traditions of his country, was possessed of an undaunted courage, a gigantic frame of body, and a constitution capable of enduring every hardship. He was gifted with eloquence, a wonderful sagacity, with other high mental powers and accomplishments. His career displays magnanimity and devoted attachment to Scot~ land. His memory is still revered in his native country and by the lovers of freedom in every land. A national monument to him has been erected on Abbey Craig, near Stirling.




Wallace's party grew daily stronger and stronger, and many of the Scottish nobles joined with him. Among these were Sir William Douglas and Sir John the Grahame, who became Wallace's bosom friend and greatest confidant. Many of these great noblemen, however, deserted the cause of the country on the approach of John de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, the English governor, at the head of a numerous and well-appointed army. They thought that Wallace would be unable to withstand the attack of so many disciplined soldiers, and hastened to submit themselves to the English, for fear of losing their estates. Wallace, however, remained undismayed, and at the head of a considerable army, he had taken up his camp upon the northern side of the river Forth, near the town of Stirling. The river was there crossed by a long wooden bridge, about a mile above the spot where: the present bridge is situated.


The English general approached the banks of the river on the southern side. He sent two clergymen to offer a pardon to Wallace and his followers on condition that they should lay down their arms. But such was not the purpose of the high minded champion of Scotland.


Go back to Warenne," said Wallace, "and tell him we value not the pardon of the king of England. We are not here for the purpose of treating of peace, but of abiding battle, and restoring freedom to our country. Let the English come on-we defy them to their very beards.


The English, upon hearing this haughty answer, called loudly to be led to the attack. Their leader, Sir Richard Lundin, a Scottish knight, who had gone over to the enemy at Irvine, hesitated, for he was a skillful soldier, and he saw that, to approach the Scottish army, his troops must pass over the long, narrow wooden bridge so that those who should get over first might be attacked by Wallace with all his forces, before those who remained behind could possibly come to their assistance. He therefore inclined to delay the battle. But Cressingham, the treasurer, who was ignorant and presumptuous, insisted that it was their duty to fight, and put an end to the war at once; and Lundin gave way to his opinion.


The English army began to cross the bridge, Cressingham leading the van, or foremost division of the army. Wallace suffered a considerable part of the English army to pass the bridge, without offering any opposition; but when about one half were over, and the bridge was crowded with those who were following, be charged those who bad crossed with his whole strength, slew a very great number, and drove the rest into the river Forth, where the greater part were drowned. The remainder of the English army, who were left on the southern bank of the river, fled in great confusion, having first set fire to the wooden bridge, that the Scots might not pursue them. Cressingham was killed in the very beginning of the battle; and the Scots detested him so much, that they Bayed the skin from his dead body, and kept pieces of it, in memory of the revenge they had taken upon the English treasurer.


The remains of Surrey's great army fled out of Scotland after this defeat; and the Scots, taking arms on all sides, attacked the castles in which the English soldiers continued to shelter themselves, and took most of them by force or stratagem. Many wonderful stories are told of Wallace's exploits on these occasions; some of which are no doubt true, while other are either invented, or very lUuch exaggerated. It seems certain, however, that he defeated the English in several combats, chased them almost entirely out of Scotland, regained the towns and castles of which they had possessed themselves, and recovered for a time the complete freedom of the country. He even marched into England, and laid Cumberland and Northumberland waste, where the Scottish soldiers, in revenge for the mischief which the English had done in their country, committed great cruelties. Wallace did not approve of their killing the people who were not in arms, and he endeavored to protect the clergymen and others, who were not able to defend themselves. I Remain with me," he said to the priests of Hexham, a large town in Northumberland, " for I cannot protect you from my soldiers when you are out of my presence." The troops who followed Wallace received no pay, because he had no money to give them; and that was one reason why he could not keep them under restraint, or prevent their doing much harm to the defenseless country people. He remained in England more than three weeks, and did a great deal of mischief to the country.


Indeed, it appears that though Wallace disapproved of slaying priests, women, and children, he partook of the ferocity of the times so much, as to put to death without quarter all whom he found in arms. In the north of Scotland, the English had placed a garrison in the strong castle of Dunnottar, which, built on a large and precipitous rock, over· hangs the raging sea. Though the place is almost inaccessible, Wallace and his followers found their way into the castle, while the garrison in great terror £led into the church or chapel, which was built on the very verge of the precipice. This did not save them, for Wallace caused the church to he set on fire. The terrified garrison, involved in the flames, ran some of them upon the points of the Scottish swords, while others threw themselves from the precipice into the sea, and swam along to the cliffs, where they hung like sea fowl, screaming ill vain for mercy and assistance.


The followers of Wallace were frightened at this dreadful scene, and falling on their knees before the priests who chanced to be in the army they asked forgiveness for having committed so much slaughter, within the limits of a church dedicated to the service of God. But Wallace had so deep a sense of the injuries which the English had done to his country, that he only laughed at the contrition of his soldiers. will absolve you all myself," he said. "Are you Scottish soldiers, and do you repent for a trifle like this, which is not half what the invaders deserved at our hands?" So deep-seated was Wallace's feeling of national resentment, that it seems to have overcome, in such instances, the scruples of a temper which was naturally humane.


Edward I was in Flanders when all these events took place. He came back from Flanders in a mighty rage, and determined not to leave that rebellious country until it was finally conquered; for which purpose he assembled a very fine army, and marched into Scotland.


In the meantime the Scots prepared to defend themselves, and chose Wallace to be governor, or protector of the kingdom, because they had no king at the time. He was now titled Sir William Wallace, Protector, or Governor, of the Scottish nation. But although Wallace, as we have seen, was the best soldier and bravest man in Scotland, and therefore the most fit to be placed in command at this critical period, when the king of England was coming against them with such great forces, yet the nobles of Scotland envied him this important situation, because he was not a man born ill high rank, or enjoying a large estate. So great was their jealousy of Sir William Wallace, that many of these great barons did not seem very willing to bring forward their forces, or fight against the English, because they would not have a man of inferior condition to be general. Yet, notwithstanding this unwillingness of the great nobility to support him, Wallace assembled a large army, for the middling, but especially the lower classes, were very much attached to him. He marched boldly against the king of England, and met him near the town of Falkirk. Most of the Scottish army were on foot, because only the nobility and great men of Scotland fought on horseback. The English king, on the contrary, had a very large body of the finest cavalry in the world, Normans and English, all clothed in complete armor. He had also the celebrated archers of England, each of whom' was said to carry twelve Scotsmen's lives under his girdle because every archer had twelve arrows stuck in his belt, and was expected to kill a man with every arrow.


The Scots had some good archers from the forest of Ettrick! who fought under Command of Sir John Stewart! of Benkill but they were not nearly equal in number to the English. The greater part of the Scottish army were on foot! armed with long spears; they were placed thick and close together! and laid all their spears so close! point over point! that it seemed as difficult to break through them as through the wall of a strong castle. When the two armies were drawn up facing each other! Wallace said to his soldiers! I have brought you to the ring! let me see how you can dance.


The English made the attack. King Edward, though he saw the close ranks, and undaunted appearance of the Scottish infantry, resolved nevertheless to try whether he could not ride them down with his fine cavalry. He therefore gave his horsemen orders to advance. They charged accordingly at full gallop.


The first line of cavalry was commanded by the Earl Marshal of England, whose progress was checked by a morass. The second line of English horse was commanded by Antony Beck! the Bishop of Durham! who wore armor! and fought like a lay baron. He wheeled round the morass but when be saw the deep and firm order of the Scots, his heart failed, and he proposed to Sir Ralph Basset, of Drayton! who Commanded under him! to halt till Edward himself brought up the reserve. I Go say your mass! bishop, answered Basset! contemptuously, and advanced at full gallop with the second line. However, the Scots stood their ground with their long spears; many of the foremost of the English horses were thrown down, and the riders were killed as they lay rolling! unable to rise, owing to the weight of their heavy armor. But the Scottish horse did not come to the assistance of their infantry, but on the contrary, fled away from the battle. The English cavalry attempted again and again to disperse the deep and solid ranks in which Wallace had stationed his foot soldiers. But they were repeatedly beaten off with loss, nor could they make their way through that wood of spears, as it is called by one of the English historians. King Edward then commanded his archers to advance; and these, approaching within arrow-shot of the Scottish ranks, poured on them such close and dreadful volleys of arrows, that it was impossible to sustain the discharge. It happened at the same time that Sir John Stewart was killed by a fall from his horse; and the archers of Ettrick forest, whom he was bringing forward to oppose those of King Edward, were slain in great numbers around him. Their bodies were afterwards distinguished among the slain, as being the tallest and handsomest men of the army.


The Scottish spearmen being thus thrown into some degree of confusion by the loss of those who were slain by the arrows of the English, the heavy cavalry of Edward again charged with more success than formerly, and broke through the ranks, which were already disordered. Sir John Grahame, Wallace's great friend and companion, was slain, with many other brave soldiers; and the Scots, having lost a very great number of men, were at length obliged to take to flight. This fatal battle was fought upon July 22, 1298· -SIR W. SCOTT.


Sir William Wallace

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