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
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.
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.