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William Wallace - Braveheart
Statue of Wallace on the Wallace Monument. Stirling

Sir William Wallace is without doubt one of Scottish history's greatest heros. A man not blessed with wealth or noble birth, he rose to become the guardian of Scotland and his triumph over larger and better trained English forces is legendary. Even after seven hundred years his herosim and his betrayal is still a compelling story.

The year of his birth is still vague but he is known to have been born somewhere between 1260 and 1278 in a place called Ellerslie. From birth, Wallace was endowed with strength, stamina and endurance as well as considerable mental faculties. Although literate, his education would have concentrated on horsemanship and skill with the dirk and claymore. In fact, the claymore was to become Wallace's favourite weapon and in battle he is known as welding a 5 foot long double edged blade which would have been taller than most men.

It is interesting to note the background history taking place in Scotland during the time Wallace rose to fame.

In 1286 the then King of Scotland, Alexander III, was killed while returning to his manor house at Kinghorn having lost his way en route from Edinburgh. Tragically he ended up on the cliffs of Pettycur. Following his death, Scotland was governed by Guardians until 1291 when Edward ('the longshanks') summoned the Scottish nobles to meet him at Norham-on-tweed. He announced that he would henceforth be regarded as Lord Paramount of Scotland and ordered that every Scottish castle be surrendered to him and that all Scottish officials be replaced by English ones. In June 1291, the Guardians and leading nobility of Scotland gathered to swear fealty to Edward - Scotland was essentially now in English hands. On Nov 20th 1292 John Balliol swore featality to Edward and was later installed on the Stone of Scone (in Scone Palace as depicted below) as the King of Scotland.

Scone Palace
Scone Palace

In 1292, Wallace was in his mid teens. Although it is not known exactly how old at this point and against the backdrop of English domination, he was outlawed for the murder of an English constable named Selby and so began his life as a guerrilla.

In 1296 Edward sacked the town of Berwick, then the richest commercial centre in Scotland, in retaliation for the murder of some English merchants weeks earlier. It was brutal by the days standards. Thousands of men, women and children were murdered over the space of three days. After the atrocity, Edward anounced that Berwick would henceforth be known as an English town. Rather than subdue the Scots, this act united them behind their monarch, John Balliol, and a letter was sent to Edward renouncing their allegiance. As a result, Edward took the offensive and met a Scots army on the foothills of the Lammermoor hills near Dunbar - the Scots were totally routed. Edward then went on to capture Roxburgh, Jedburgh and finally Edinburgh Castle and John Balliol was forced to surrender his kingdom. Thinking he had pacified the Scots, Edward then returned to London leaving garrisons of hand picked men in all the Scottish castles.

Meanwhile, Wallace continued to have a number of minor brushes with the English and as a result of this coupled with the poltical background of the day, drew many young Scots to his side. By now his exploits had begun to spread far and wide. Around this time, Wallace received the news that an English Knight, who had slain his father, had returned to the south west of Scotland and was in charge of a convoy of gold and silver. Wallace set a trap for him and his men and was successful in dispatching a hundred of the English soldiers (and notably retained the booty as well) however roughly eighty escaped and headed south. It can be assumed (although not factually proven) that news of this reached Edward's ears.

Over the next few months, many more such exploits took place, transforming William Wallace from an opportunist outlaw into a respected guerrila leader of great courage and resourcefulness.

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