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Issue 26 - In search of Braveheart (Sir William Wallace)

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 26
April 2006

 

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In search of Braveheart (Sir William Wallace)

In the second part of our series looking at where you can find out more about great historical figures, Mark Nicholls sets off on the trail of Sir William Wallace

For many Scots, William Wallace is forever regarded as the true national hero.

Portrayed in the Hollywood-blockbuster Braveheart, a role that took his name to a wider audience and even triggered resurgence in Scottish national pride, he epitomises the spirit of a nation.

A sworn enemy of the English, he lost his life a fraction more than 700 years ago, and was brutally executed under the orders of King Edward I.

His body was dismembered, the intention being that there would be nothing of Wallace to bury, no tomb, shrine or final resting place for his followers to re-gather and re-group around.

Despite this, there remain numerous sites across Scotland that vividly recall the heroics of Sir William Wallace including the memorial that now towers 220 feet tall at Abbey Craig, his base for the decisive Battle of Stirling Bridge.

Wallace was the son of a Scottish knight and landowner, most likely born in the early 1270s at the family’s fortified site at Elderslie, Renfrewshire which is now marked by a memorial and the site of the famous Wallace Yew, which has recently suffered some storm damage.

Little is known about his earlier life apart from his marriage to Marion Braidfute in Lanark, at the time a major market town and site of strategic military importance.

The historic burgh was also the location of the first meeting of the Scots Parliament in 978 AD.

It was there that Wallace dramatically leapt onto the pages of Scottish history in 1297, a year after the country had been invaded by the English.

In May of that year Wallace killed the English Sheriff of Lanark, William Heselrig, his simmering anger finally unleashed in retaliation for the murder of his wife.

The revolt gained a momentum, climaxing in the Battle of Stirling Bridge on September 11 where the vanguard of the British force was routed leaving 5000 enemy soldiers dead on the battlefield. The remainder fled.

Wallace was made ‘Guardian of Scotland’ at the Kirk of the Forest, the remains of which stand in Selkirk, and also knighted.

Yet a year later, the fortunes were reversed at Falkirk, a defeat which saw Wallace resign the guardianship to adopt guerilla tactics against the English and seek help from overseas.

He returned to Scotland in 1303 to continue the fight against the English but on August 3, 1305 was betrayed and captured at Robroyston near Glasgow. Awell where Wallace is reputed to have had his last drink as a free man is nearby.

He was taken to Dumbarton Castle and then to London where he was executed on August 23, his body cut to pieces and sent to all parts of England and Scotland as a warning to rebels.

Yet rather than destroying Wallace’s reputation, he became a martyr and the symbol of Scotland’s struggle for freedom.

Today, there are many locations to pick up the spirit of Sir William Wallace.

In Lanark, the William Wallace Heritage Trust hopes to established a trail of sites associated with Wallace in the town and also symbolically return a coffin that contains ‘the spirit of Wallace’ to a mausoleum aside the ruins of St Kentigern’s Church, where he was married.

Last year, following the 700th anniversary of his death, enthusiasts from the William Wallace Society ceremonially brought the coffin back from London, to be interred in Lanark.

The mausoleum already houses a memorial to Lockhart of Lee, a lieutenant of Robert the Bruce, who would undoubtedly have known Wallace and the man who carried Bruce’s heart in a casket to the Holy Land to comply with his dying wish.

There are also plans for a visitor centre, and a plaque currently marks the site of the house where Wallace lived with his wife.

It reads: “Here stood the house of William Wallace who in Lanark in 1297 first drew sword to free his native land.”

William Wallace Heritage Trust chairman Frank Gunning acknowledges that more work still has to be done in Lanark to honour Wallace’s links with the town but much of it is well under way.

He said: “Lanark is crucial to the Wallace story. He was little more than an anonymous irritation to the English until he murdered the Sheriff. From that point he was enemy number one, because of what happened in Lanark.”

Lanark is set in the Clyde Valley and while there it is worth visiting the New Lanark World Heritage Site, a restored 18th century cotton mill village.

But it is in Stirling, close to his greatest victory, that Wallace is truly celebrated.

While Wallace started the bid for freedom by winning the Battle of Stirling Bridge, it was Robert the Bruce who won the decisive victory nine years after his death at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314

That is recalled at the Bannockburn Heritage Centre two miles south of Stirling but it is also on the outskirts at Abbey Craig rock, from where Wallace and his army descended to defeat the English that the National Wallace Monument stands.

The imposing Gothic tower was conceived in the 1850s on a tide of nationalism and completed in 1869, handed over to the Custodians on September 11, 1869 on the 572nd anniversary the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

The Wallace Monument has 246 steps to the top and houses reconstructions of Wallace’s battle for freedom, the story of his life and his famous sword.

There are also displays on other Scottish heroes here, and from the top of the monument there are magnificent views of Stirling and the Ochils... stunning terrain that would have been very familiar to Scotland’s Braveheart.

LINKS

The National Wallace Monument

www.nationalwallacemonument.com or call tel: +44(0) 1786 472 140.

The monument is at Abbey Craig, Hillfoot Road, Causewayhead, Stirling, open all year round and is signposted from the city centre and A91. The Monument is a stop on the City Sightseeing Stirling Tour, which operates regularly throughout the peak summer season.

Admission £6, OAP and child £4.

Bannockburn Heritage Centre

www.instirling.com/sight/bannock.htm or tel: +44 (0)1786 812 664.

Open all year round at Glasgow Road, Stirling, off the M80/M9 at junction 9, it is two miles south of Stirling on the A872. The centre commemorates Robert the Bruce’s victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, which brought the independence William Wallace had fought for and led to Bruce becoming undisputed King of Scotland. Admission £3.50, concessions £2.60. Stirling: www.stirling.gov.uk

New Lanark World Heritage Site

www.newlanark.org or tel: +44 (0)1555 661 345.

The New Lanark World Heritage Site, a restored 18th century cotton mill village in southern Scotland close to the Falls of Clyde with a range of historical attractions and visitor centre.

William Wallace Heritage Trust
www.wallaceinlanark.com

William Wallace Society
www.williamwallacesociety.com

Wallace’s Well
www.sirwilliamwallace.org/monuments /wallaces_well/index.htm

Scotland Area Tourist Board
www.visitscottishheartlands.com