The Battle of Falkirk and the rise of the longbow (1298)

Battle of Falkirk

The battle of Falkirk

With the phenomenal success of Stirling Bridge under his belt, Sir William Wallace, Guardian of the Realm of Scotland, continued his campaign of guerrilla warfare upon the Northern English counties. But he and Moray were also active in trying to restore trade between Scotland and Europe which had been nearly halted by English efforts. In a remarkable letter (pictured right), Wallace, acting as Guardian and Andrew De Moray tried to persuade German cities (Hamburg and Lubeck) to restore trade with the Scots declaring that “through battle, the Scots have been freed from the tyranny of the English”.

In November 1297, after the battle of Stirling Bridge, Sir Andrew de Moray, Wallace’s friend and right hand military advisor died of the terrible wounds he had received at Stirling Bridge. Wallace was now the sole Guardian of Scotland, holding it for Toom Tabard (John Balliol), meaning “empty coat”. Whether or not Wallace actually supported Balliol, he was now alone in his fight to secure Scotland’s freedom.

Throughout the rest of 1297, Wallace ravaged the Border land of England for corn and cattle. Such a turn of events wrenched Edward I back from his negotiations in France with King Philip. He transferred his headquarters to York. Now he would hammer the Scots. Feudal dues were called upon. Crossbowmen from Gascony and Welsh archers were recruited. So were foot soldiers from Ireland to serve in the English campaign.

De Warrenne, the Earl of Surrey and Sussex having failed at Stirling to stop Wallace, forced Edward to march north himself. He assembled at York the largest invasion force to enter Scotland since the days of Agricola. It consisted of perhaps as many as 2,500 heavily armoured knights and at least 12,500 infantry. Eight earls joined Edward: the Marshal, the Constable, Ralph de Monthemer, Arundel, Guy of Warwick and the young Earls of Lancaster and Pembroke, each bringing their own large contingents of minor knights and infantry, swelling his host to a monstrous size.

King Edward, in the month of June 1298, reviewed at Roxburgh his army, which consisted of 12,500 infantry, English, Welsh, and Irish, alongside a body of splendidly mounted and disciplined cavalry; the veterans of his French wars: 3,000 of these rode horses completely armoured from head to crupper, and some sources say there may have been as many as 4,000 light cavalry. In addition to these were 500 Life Guards from Gascony, nobly mounted and magnificently accoutred. (Some figures according to Cassell’s British Battles, 1897).

Edward Returns; Marches against Wallace

In the beginning of 1298 the hope and support from France ended bitterly for the Scots, with peace between Philip and Edward, and the Plantagenet came home from Gascony to deal with the Scots. As mentioned he moved the seat of his government to York (a better base of operations for an invasion of Scotland), and on 3 July, he crossed the Tweed by Coldstream with 12,500 or more foot and over 2,500 horse, veterans of his campaigns in France and Wales. Eight earls, two of them his kinsmen and one Scot of Angus, rode behind him with their knights and tenants. Bishop Bek of Durham, armed for a cause that was surely God’s, commanded thirty-two bannered knights, all his leige-vassals. The dust of the great baggage-train, wheels, feet and hooves, hung above the forest, lances leafed with pennons, as the summer sun struck bright sparks from helm and shield. Above them all the tall figure of Edward on a black horse, his yellow hair now white, his aging back held straight in it’s cuirass of steel. As this mighty force moved northward by Roxburgh and Lauderdale, skirting Edinburgh toward the Stirling plain, swallowing lonely castles and digesting their burnt stones, it was less powerful than it might have seemed to the watching Scots on the hills. It was hungry. The fleet that should have provisioned it had been delayed by weather. It was undisciplined. Welsh archers quarrelled viciously with Gasons, and sickness raddled its splendid chivalry. At Kirkliston, near Linlithgow, Edward decided to fall back on Edinburgh, where he might calm and feed his mutinous men.

Wallace’s Peasant Army

Wallace, indefatigable and undismayed, had meanwhile collected from amid the peasantry, of whom he was guardian, and to whom he was an idol, a resolute force of 8,000-10,000 total men, including the reserves (mostly cavalry and infantry) brought by Red Comyn. With these he moved to Falkirk, in West Lothian, where, with great skill, he chose a strong position, having in its front a morass impassable for cavalry, and his flanks covered by breastworks of palisades driven into the earth and bound together by ropes. As Edwards massive formations crossed the Border Wallace withdrew into the hinterland, removing or burning all sources of food. He knew that Edward’s army was far too big to be maintained totally by its own commissariat. When he reached Edinburgh, Edward was forced to wait fourteen days whilst the Bishop of Durham’s troops destroyed Direlton and two neighbouring castles. Then the English army trudged on again: hungry, tired and with diminishing prospects of a decisive battle. Desertions increased, and fighting again broke out between English men-at-arms and Gascons versus Welsh archers. Then, on 21 July 1298, Wallace led his army forward to meet the English. In the early dawn of the following morning scouting parties from the two opposing forces met each other near Falkirk, heralding the opening of battle.

Provisions became scarce in Edward’s camp at Kirkliston and the fleet from Berwick was anxiously looked for. The surrounding country, having been many times wasted by fire and sword (by Wallace), had English soldiers complaining bitterly of their scanty provender, and a change of quarters was contemplated. Only a small supply was received as the great body of the fleet was still being detained by adverse winds. A dangerous mutiny broke out in the English ranks. Under his banner Edward had vast numbers of Welsh bowmen, led by their chiefs, whom he had recently subjected to his stern sway. The famine was allowed, to be pressed hardest on the Welsh before the English. A supply of wine sent to them brought on a crisis and during the ride north. Edwards new Welsh archers, got into a killing fight with the English soldiers, which nearly broke up the whole invasion force in a sudden paroxysm of national antipathy. The Welsh turned upon the English in their tents at night. Edward’s trumpets sounded promptly to horse, and charging the Welsh he slew more than eighty of them, and eventually restored order. Exasperated and sullen, the Welsh chieftains now openly threatened to join Wallace.

“Let them do so” said Edward scornfully; “let them go over to my enemies. I hope soon to see the day when I shall Chastise them both”. Wallace had heard of the troubles in Edwards Army and had planned a night attack upon the English camp, but two ignoble peers, jealous of his power, went to the English King’s side and warned him. These traitors, unnamed, told Edward where Wallace was encamped in the forest near Falkirk and told of Wallace’s position and intended tactics.

“Thanks be to God, who hath hitherto extricated me from every peril!,
exclaimed Edward. “I shall go forth to meet them”.

Whilst camping one night, Edward’s horse was startled by something, and the charger trod heavily upon his royal master breaking three of his ribs.

Wallace Prepares the Schiltron

Sir William Wallace feared the greater numbers of English horsemen for good reason. To counter them, he positioned his spear-carrying foot-soldiers behind boggy land, with woodland and rough terrain guarding their flanks. The 12 foot spears of the Scots were like long pikes and they stood in crowded phalanx formations — called schiltrons (pronounced skil-trons) — presenting the enemy with a forest of iron points.

This clever invention, was Wallace’s own creation. Wallace, it is supposed, had no prior knowledge of the great Greek and Macedonian Phalanx’s used by armies such as Alexander the Great’s, centuries before. Incidentally, this same form of defence against cavalry was successfully used, four years later (1302), by the Flemish against the French cavalry. This classical literature and the wealth of information it contained remained a secret from most Europeans until Spanish Lord’s captured the great palaces in the Moorish Kingdoms of Granada, and earlier in Spain itself. Much classical knowledge was reclaimed from the Spanish Reconquista, or the “reconquering” of Spain, by Christian Europeans.

Discovering a wealth of books and information all written in Arabic from original Greek texts, a Spanish lord sought help to decipher them. He found that his Jewish man-servant had a knowledge of Arabic language, having lived so near the Moors. The servant translated the texts thus unlocking vast stores of information about Greek, Macedonian, Persian, and Roman history which had been lost to Europe. Therefore, most feel and I would agree, Wallace had no prior knowledge of the phalanx’s used by the ancients as sometimes stated in older Scottish history texts.

Wallace is credited with the invention of the Schiltron units (long speared units of men, to fight horsemen), that were later employed with tremendous success by the Flemish warriors against the French cavalry at Courtrai, in 1302, and again with astounding success when used by Robert Bruce at Bannockburn in 1314.

In front of the spearmen, stakes were hammered into the ground with ropes joining them. Groups of short-bow Ettrick archers gathered between the schiltrons. The few Scots horsemen (purportedly under the command of the “Red” Comyn), waited in reserve, hoping to exploit any break in the enemy.

Wallace had badly misjudged the fighting condition of the English army, but he came to the field well prepared. He realised that his infantry must defeat Edward’s cavalry and this had not happened for centuries. With the experience of Stirling Bridge behind him this seemed possible, although it was a rare event in medieval warfare of that period. He had trained his ferocious and hearty soldiers to fight in four tight box or oval formations, as mentioned above, called schiltrons. However Wallace’s formations hadn’t yet mastered moving in unison, as ABruce would do later on. They stood in one defensive position and tried to hold out. In addition to the front row of spear points, the unit was further protected by two more rows (triple rows) of the twelve foot spears, pointing outwards, the front rows kneeling whilst those behind stood. All around the marching ground were stakes, murder holes and ropes tied to the stakes to trip up English horses.

By an unusual twist of historical fate, Edward also came to Falkirk with new tactics. He had learned from bitter experience in his Welsh Wars of the devastating firepower of the south Welsh longbowmen; and despite the cost and difficulty of dealing with the Celtic Welsh and their constant quarrelling with the English, he now included large numbers of them (for a price) in his army and began to use them as part of his coordinated battle plan. It would set the tone of English battle tactics for the next two centuries and serve the English remarkably well in France during the One Hundred Years War.

The Battle Opens

On St. Magdalen’s day, 22 July, the army came in sight of the Scot’s position. Edward proposed to refresh his soldiers, but, confident in their overwhelming numbers, they clamoured to be led against the Scots. Edward consented, “in the mane of Holy Trinity”, and the English advanced in three columns. The first was led by Earl Marshal, the second by the Bishop of Durham, and the third by Edward himself.

Wallace had drawn the Scots up in four schiltrons (columns), each of 1,500 to 2,000 men. These were composed entirely of peasantry; for jealous of his increasing popularity, few knights and still fewer barons joined him.

Under this, however, there served as leaders Sir John Stewart of Bonhill, Sir John the Grahame of Abercorn and Dundaff; Duncan MacDuff, 11th Earl of Fife and John “Red” Comyn, son of the Lord of Badenoch.

Whilst the Bishop of Durham had been celebrating a Mass upon the hill for the English, the same sacrament was performed in the Scottish ranks; then all awaited steadily the advance of the foe.

The Battle

Led by Earl Marshal, the first English column came rapidly on; but not having reconnoitred the ground, their leading files rolled into the morass, where horse and man, the English and Gascon alike, were exposed to the arrows of Scottish (short or regular bow) archers. After some damage, the English advance swerved a little to the left, found firmer ground, closed their files, and charged.

Wallace had never before faced such an army, or fought a large battle without a natural defence. Here was no river, no narrow bridge to halt an armoured charge, and he may have sensed this was the end, for he made no great exhortation, but spoke simply and bluntly to his spearmen.

“Now”, exclaimed Wallace, with pleasant confidence, to his soldiers, ” I haif brocht ye to the ring — hop (dance) gif ye can!”, and at that moment the heavily-mailed English cavalry of the first line fell with a tremendous shock on the charged spears of the schiltron units of the Scots. Before Edward could fully deploy his army the impatient young bloods of the English chivalry, anxious to prove themselves, charged the Scottish schiltrons. They failed to break the well-disciplined Scots; but they slew the shortbowmen caught in the open between the formations. Galloping into the marshland, the horses slowed down. The majority of the English horsemen then wheeled to the left and right and rode around the swamp, hitting the Scots in the rear. Initially it appeared the English were going to run themselves into the pikes and spears of the schiltrons – the Scots seemed headed towards victory. But soon, after many failed attempts and lost English Knights, they were recalled.

The shock of the battle scattered the Scots horsemen and the English now plunged amid their foot-soldiers. The bows of the Scots that had not been silenced, had little power to penetrate the partial-plate and mail armour of the English heavy cavalry. They were quickly dispatched by the now charging English horsemen. But the Scots spearmen held firm. Their rope and stake entanglements tripped the English horses: knights crashed to the ground and were quickly killed by the Scots. The English men-at-arms could not break the relentless rows of pikes. The *English Master of the Templars rushed too recklessly on the spear forest, flailing madly with his sword, hoping to break it with animal strength. He and his five retainers were impaled. [*C. Rothero] By this time, Edward and his foot-soldiers had caught up with the knights and called off their rash attacks.

Edward had seen the danger of ultimate disaster and gathered his secret new weapon — the Welsh longbowmen. Many young English knights were impaled or, rather, their horses were impaled by the speared schiltrons and hundreds were pulled from their horses and beaten with mace and war hammer to the death.

As the Welsh archers gathered in position, a most curious thing happened. At that very moment, to the bewilderment of Wallace, “Red” John Comyn, a rival of Robert the Bruce, drew off all his vassals (mostly light horse and infantry), and with the utmost deliberation quit the field. This left Wallace and his Scots in a terrible predicament. Now they had no way to impede the Welsh archers by chasing them off with cavalry. They were sitting ducks.

It appears Wallace had been betrayed in the midst of combat, whether or not this was the work of Edward I is unknown, but unlikely. More probable is that Comyn and many Scots nobles, already jealous of Wallace’s success and popularity with the Scottish commoners, simply felt the odds were to great and rode off. They had no particular love for Wallace and leaving him to the English would almost certainly rid them of that problem. Wallace, showing no dismay to his men, stood firm, though he now had only about 4,000-5,000 followers to face over 13,000 English heavily armed troops and cavalry.

It couldn’t have been worse timing for the Scots and Wallace, for now nothing stood between Edwards deadly arrows and the immovable Scottish schiltrons. It couldn’t have been better timing for Edward, to have Red Comyn’s men quit the field at this exact moment. This has led to centuries of speculation that Wallace had been intentionally betrayed and that Edward might have had a hand in it. But, there is no substantive proof of this, and since Red Comyn was murdered by the Bruce in 1306, the only man who might know exactly why he left the battlefield was dead and silenced forever. It seems likely that Wallace was betrayed, if not by Edward’s own planning, then at least by jealous Scottish nobles, who saw a losing battle and left with their men, leaving Wallace and his loyal peasant army to die alone against the might of England’s power and Edwards vengeance.

The Scottish archers had been removed (killed) from the field by the English cavalry and only Wallace and his infantry were left. He did all a brave man could do: inspire his men, fighting in the front ranks with his large two-handed sword.

Next, in the conclusion. The remainder of the Battle of Falkirk and the details of Wallace’s capture & execution.

Victory and Defeat

The schiltrons had been a successful new tactic employed by Wallace against the English heavy horse attack. Many more English horse knights fell that day than Edward had ever expected. This new tactic, first employed here at Falkirk, not Stirling, was to make a huge impact on future methods of fighting for both infantry and cavalry. Indeed, a similar process was used, with success, by the Flemish Pikemen against the cream of the French chivalry (horse-warriors) in 1302. However, with the apparent betrayal of Red Comyn, and the new English tactic of using the Welsh longbow en masse to shower deadly arrows at range at the enemy, finally took its toll on the Scots.

With no enemy horse or archers to harry him, Edward’s Welsh longbowmen were placed in front of the trapped and immovable Scottish schiltrons. They fired hail after hail of deadly arrows into the standing targets. Unlike future English archers, this time the Welsh archers fired point blank into the columns instead of lobbing the arrows over great distances, as would be done in future English battles. The stalwart Scots could only take so much. Men fell and gaps appeared in the once formidable spear wall. It was then that Edward resent his knights in among the broken formations. With warhammer, axe, mace and sword, the horse-warriors hacked at the Scottish schiltrons.

Again and again the cavalry of the English spurred in furious charges on the Scottish pikes (spears). Stoutly the Scots stood, shoulder to shoulder; and though infantry came up, the showers of cloth-yard shafts were shot point blank into the ranks of Wallace, along with a storm of stones from Irish slings. The slingers and archers plied their missiles securely from a distance, they could not penetrate what one old historian called “that wood of spears”. But it was taking its toll on the Scots. Repeatedly, the English and Welsh archers loosed showers of arrows on the Scottish spearmen concentrating on one schiltron at a time. Each formation was quickly reduced to a pile of dead or dying men. Then Edward unleashed his cavalry a final time. They rode over the field hacking down the survivors.

All around Wallace, his men fell. Sir John the Grahame of Dundaff, a friend of Wallace, and the young Earl of Fife, with nearly all of their vassals, were slain. Now the survivors, disheartened alike by the fall of three of their principle leaders, fell into disorder. Already deserted by their cavalry, most of it riding off with Red Comyn, and after the destruction of their archers, the Scots were left exposed to a pitiless storm of missiles from the Welsh Longbow s and Irish slings. Scottish infantry, with their long spears levelled over a breastwork of their dead and dying, made a desperate attempt, if only to keep their ground. But their numbers were thinning fast, and when the English cavalry once more dashed upon them, with lance, sword, axe and mace, it was all over.

The Scots had resisted with the fury of despair, hundreds died beneath the drumming hooves. At last the Guardian was forced to flee whilst his army and hopes died around him. “They fell like blossoms in an orchard when the fruit has ripened,” an English chronicler exulted.

Wallace Escapes the Field

Wallace escaped, riding northward to Callander and the mountains. The dead of his valiant army is unknown, although the North-English Lanercost chronicler recorded a preposterous figure of sixty thousand, many more times the total number of men engaged.

“Nor was there slain on the English side any noblemen except the Master of Templars, with five or six esquires who charged the schiltrons of the Scots to hotly and rashly.”

More English horses were killed than men, and Edward paid compensation for more than a hundred lost by his knights. “England exult!” cried the chronicler,

“Berwick, Dunbar and Falkirk too,
“Show all that traitor Scots can do.
“England exult! Thy Prince is peerless,
“Where thee he leadeth, follow fearless.”

Retreat of Wallace

Armed with the great two-handed ‘bastard sword’ (pictured at right), long and bravely did Wallace maintain the field; and not until the sun was setting did he begin his perilous retreat by crossing the Carron, near the old Roman ruins, where there was a ford when the tide was low. There, at a place called Brian’s Ford, near the old Carron Iron Works (in 1892), fell the last Englishmen of distinction, Sir Brian le Jay. Le Jay, pressing in pursuit, was unhorsed and slain by the hand of Wallace himself. Wallace’s own horse, covered with wounds and stuck full of spear-heads and arrows, was only able to bear him across the river, when it sank beneath him and died. He continued to fight his was way on foot towards Perth, accompanied by 300 chosen men.

The estimated number of the Scottish slain is between 6,500-8,000 men, of about 10-12,000 total men (including the men who rode off the field). [Note: Some of the figures of men involved come from Cassells “British land and Sea Battles, 1897”].

Guardianship Of Scotland Changes

The Guardianship of Scotland was now taken from Wallace, or resigned by him, and in his place the Scots accepted an uneasy triumvirate of Bishop William Lamberton of St. Andrews, young Robert Bruce of Carrick, and John Comyn the Red, now Lord of Badenoch since the death of his father in England. There is a darkness over Bruce’s activities during Wallace brief guardianship, and the romantic notion that he fought with the Scots (or against!) at Falkirk is scarcely credible. In fact there is some evidence to show that Bruce was not at the battle at all. His father held Carlisle for Edward, their lands in England had been taken up for debts owed to the King, and three weeks before the battle Bruce asked protection for some of his men travelling on Edward’s service. After Falkirk, however, the English drove Bruce from his lands and burnt them.

Wallace and a few of his supporters managed to escape and seek shelter in the woods of Callander and later Selkirk forest.

Despite his victory at Falkirk, Edward’s campaign achieved little, and soon he left Scotland for Carlisle. The spirit of Scottish independence was still very much alive, and Wallace was still at large. Edward’s obsession now turned the Lowlands and the Borders into a devastated killing ground. Among the Scots, William Wallace now returned to his raiding: there would be no active key role for him in the remainder of his life. There is speculation that he travelled to France, or even Norway, in support of his cause. But this cannot be substantiated.

What Does a King Do with a Hollow Victory?

The arrows of his bowmen had won Edward little. When he reached Stirling he found it a ruin, and the country wasted. He replied by burning St. Andrews, and then retired upon Edinburgh with aching ribs and a hungry and clamorous army. Only in his widely scattered garrisons was an Englishman safe. Between them was a hostile country, black fields and steadings. Edward went home, promising the governors he left that he would come again in the spring to punish the Scots and “put down their disobedience and malice.” But he didn’t come north again for three years, and in this bitter time Scotland had two governments, the English and the Guardians. The flimsy alliance of the latter was soon broken. One of Edward’s agents reported that when they met at Peebles, in August, 1299, Bruce and Comyn quarrelled fiercely over some property left by Wallace, and that in his anger the Red Comyn took Bruce by the throat. Lamberton and Wallace’s elder brother, Malcolm, persuaded them to put duty before dignity, but neither forgot the incident. Within a year they quarrelled again, and this time Bruce resigned in disgust. A parliament of lords, meeting in the royal burgh of Rutherglen, replaced him with Ingram de Umfraville, the turncoat Angus earl who had fought for Edward at Berwick and Falkirk. De Umfraville’s elastic conscience and dubious motives were perhaps too much for all to stomach, for there appears to have been one Guardian only, the Liddesdale knight Sir John de Soules.

Edward had won the battle but not the war. Though further resistance appeared pointless, Wallace never contemplated surrender and reverted to the life of bandit-cum-guerrilla, enough to keep the tiny flame of defiance alive. The English, still hungry, fell back across the Border ravaging as they went. Life degenerated into a bloody saga of raid and counter-raid, terror and atrocity, the Lowlands and most of the Borders laid waste. Abandoned by the fickle nobility, Wallace never succeeded in rebuilding a viable powerbase — but this is not nearly the end of the story. Wallace would become legend again, in his death an heir to his movement for independence would rise to the fore, in Robert Bruce.

Post Falkirk

Prebble states: “In the spring of 1300, two years after Edward’s victory over Wallace at Falkirk, he, now 65 years old, married a young French princess, and planned his fourth invasion of Scotland. This time, he intended to strike at a rebel centre of Galloway. Passing through Ecclefechen and Lochmander, he captured the small castle of Caerlaverlock. At Twymholm near Kirkcudbright, Red Comyn was worsted in a skirmish and the English camped around the castle of Caerlaverlock, at the mouth of the Nith, covering the gentle hills with brightly coloured tents and huts. Edward’s troops captured Sir Robert Keith, the hereditary Marshall of Scotland — who was, in time, to take such an important role in Bannockburn — and drove off the Scottish army commanded by the Earl of Buchan. Apart from these modest gains the campaign was a failure for the English, and by the end of August they were back in Carlisle.”

He came again the next year (1301) with two armies, angered by a letter from Rome informing him that Scotland was a papal fief.

“By God’s blood!” he swore, “I will not be at rest, but with all my strength I will defend my right.”

One army marched north from Carlisle, searched out Robert Bruce’s position in the south-west, but met with little success as, once again, the Scottish army simply melted away before the larger English force. Edward himself led the other force up the Tweed valley, through the Selkirk forest, (a forest in which Wallace had been rumoured to hide), to Clydesdale and then Linlithgow.

But this campaign was no more effective and he wintered at Linlithgow with his young queen, not so much defeated by battle – as by lack of one. An English chronicler remarked, “As none of the Scots would resist, nothing glorious or even worthy of praise was achieved.” Here, he set about organising the Scottish Marches on the Welsh model. Castles were constructed (which Bruce would later tear down), and garrisons were installed in the lands south of the Fourth, and sheriffs and wardens were appointed to administer the area. Now deserted by Pope Boniface and Philip of France, who seemed to find sympathy for Scotland a tedious complication of the quarrel between them, the Scots were dispirited and without direction. Clearly Wallace’s influence was missed. Robert the Bruce, after some resistance, submitted and swore fealty to Edward, perhaps persuaded by his dying father, and certainly by the Guardian’s continued allegiance to Toom Tabard (John Balliol). If he hoped that Edward would support the Bruce claim to the throne, as it appears on the surface he might, and destroy both Balliol and Comyn factions, he received no written promise of it. Edward was again forced to leave Scotland to deal with a controversy in France (the church).

He was not able to return until 1303. Once again free from the convoluted intricacies and plots of church and state, he returned to Scotland when his viceroy and a body of spearmen were routed at Roslin by the Red Comyn and Simon Fraser of Tweeddale. He marched north in fury crossing the Forth river on three prefabricated floating bridges. From the captured Scottish stronghold of Stirling he marched directly north and took Perth. By September his troops were resting on the banks of the Moray Firth. He continued his advance, crushing all resistance that didn’t retreat and burning barns and crops as he went. Brechin castle held out against the Royal siege engines for five weeks, but in the end this brave resistance too fell. The frightened Scottish Lords now began to sue for peace, leaving Wallace to stand alone with solitary raids.

His resolve was so fierce that as he approached Dumferline, the Red Comyn, Sir John de Soules, and the bishops of Glasgow and St. Andrews came before him in fear, accepting their lives and freedom in return for an oath of allegiance. Sir Simon Fraser did not appear and would later pay as Wallace did — with his life.

With Edward’s clear control over all their actions, the Scots lords met in parliament at St. Andrews in March, 1304, under the direction of Edward, and until a permanent constitution could be established Robert Bruce of Carrick and Bishop Wishart were appointed dual Guardians of the Realm of Scotland, with the English baron John de Mowbray. Eighteen months later, guided by Wishart, Edward framed his ‘Ordinances for the establishment of the Land of Scotland’, proposing a government of twenty Englishmen and ten elected representatives of Scottish estates. It may have been a statesmanlike plan, under sword-point, but it was premature in its vision of a united Scottish and English government, but it was based upon the presumptuous premise that Scotland was “justly” an English province, a feudal barony and not a people intent, or deserving liberty.

Wallace Returns from his Mysterious Absence

In May, 1305, Sir William Oliphant and about fifty gallant Scots valiantly held out in Stirling Castle. Edward accepted this challenge with avid delight. Great crowds of Scots and English watched the monumental siege of Stirling castle, and in Stirling town a window had been cut into the wall of a house so that the young English Queen and her ladies could be entertained without discomfort. In August of that year, the walls at last fell to huge siege engines known as “War-Wolf” and “All-the-World”, and Oliphant and his men were led before the King to kneel in supplication, naked but for their smocks.

In that same month, Wallace returned, if indeed he ever left Scotland, though there is some minor evidence to support that he went to France, (some say he went also to Norway), to secure the support of Philip and the Pope. It is mystifying and strange that Wallace gathered no army in these seven years since Falkirk, and this may suggest that Falkirk had had a traumatic effect on his self confidence, as evidenced by the chroniclers remark that Wallace had “gone into a deep depression”, after Falkirk and giving up the Guardianship. Some go as far as to suggest that Andrew de Moray rather than he had been the principle organiser and commander of the original resistance – or that de Moray had at the very least, been a vital and integral part of the Wallace-de Moray leadership of Scotland. But Wallace also appears to have been jealously thwarted by certain nobles and lords in Scotland with whom, according to documents found upon him at his capture, he was in confederation – one such man was Sir John Menteith. Whatever Wallace’s true role in the first part of the Scottish resistance, he was and had remained an example to men like Oliphant and Simon Fraser, refusing the advice of those who would have him submit.

“I and my companions who are willing to cleave to me,” he said, “will stand for the liberty of Scotland”.
And yet he unwillingly had to make his greatest inspirational contribution to that cause: his martrydom as the first Scottish patriot.

Capture and Barbarous Execution

On 5 August, 1305, he was betrayed by one of his own compatriots near Glasgow, Scots knight Sir John Menteith, who was said to have turned over a bannock (a flat oat-cake) on a tavern table, a sign to the English that the brigand was among them. Wallace was taken prisoner, and then tried in a ‘mock show trial’ in England. Other accounts say he was taken in his sleep.

Wallace was paraded, like a circus animal, through the streets of London, behind its mayor and sheriffs, and on 23 August, 1305, he stood “trial” in Westminster Hall as a traitor, charged with breaking his oath of fealty. The fact that Wallace had never taken such an oath to Edward or the English, was of no consequence, and the charge was derisory. He was an example to be set to all of Scotland – to disobey the word of Edward, was to mean death to any Scot who dared such insolence. His crime was his challenge to Edward, the unity of the Scottish people, and the victory of Stirling Bridge. He was charged with the illegal assumption of Guardianship, despite his appointment and public acceptance of it, and he was charged with the murder of the Sheriff of Lanark, Hazelrig, the invasion of England, the burning of English monasteries and the bogus crime of the murder of nuns.

His death was to be an obscene spectacle and allowed him little dignity. He was dragged on a hurdle from Westminster, four miles to the Tower, and from thence to a copse of elms at Smithfield. He was hanged, cut down whilst still alive, drawn – his abdomen opened by dull blades, his entrails pulled violently out and burnt before his own eyes, and cruelly emasculated before his pained and dying eyes. After all this, finally, mercifully he was beheaded. His head was impaled upon a pike and placed above the London Bridge. His remaining body was further mutilated by being quartered and was exposed by the open sewer of Newcastle, another at Berwick, a third at Perth, and the fourth quarter of Scotland’s greatest patriot was put on display at Aberdeen. Justice demanded no less, said the Lanercost chronicler.

“Butcher of thousands, threefold death be thine,
So shall the English from thee gain relief.
Scotland, be wise, and choose a nobler chief.”

Seven months later, that nobler chief chose himself, in the person Robert the Bruce. Bruce would, in time, go on to make Wallace’s dreams of an independent Scotland; a Scottish people free of English tyranny, oppression and dominance, a reality — if only for a time. But it would not be an easy struggle for Robert Bruce, and his story, in this author’s opinion, is as inspiring and patriotic as any Scottish figure to ever live.

Wallace’s Legacy

Wallace was followed by and relied upon ‘the common folk’ of Scotland, a fact which was both his greatest strength, and in the end his biggest weakness. Wallace had earned the respect and the love of the people of Scotland, if not their nobles. He was a patriot and a man of the people – something no Scot has since become so clearly identified with. In his fierce resistance to the all-powerful Edward I, ‘Hammer of the Scots’, he won the fierce malignant hate of that English king. The Scottish feudal aristocracy could not understand Wallace, and believed he could and should conciliate to Edward. Wallace represented the masses – the people and the freedom in their hearts and in their hopes, something not even the loyal and devoted Scottish nobles could understand. What they saw as politics and and negotiation, Wallace saw as their weakness – and he attacked the English with fury and with extreme prejudice – to drive them out and to win his country’s freedom from their oppression and tyranny.

In the immortal words of John Prebble:

“Hence, Edward and the English people came to regard Wallace not only as their most formidable foe, but as a serious and annoying obstacle to the establishment of English domination in Scotland. Edward’s cruel and unchivalrous treatment of Wallace, his judicial murder of his most gallant enemy, made Wallace even more identifiable as the single most patriot of a free Scotland.  If Edward had intended Wallace’s barbarous execution as a deterrent to further Scottish resistance – his own vicious and cruel actions, both in war against the Scots, and in his treatment of Wallace, had the opposite result amongst the people of Scotland.  It unified their resolve and fortified them, and under the proper leader, Robert Bruce, to fight for their independence with their very lives having seen what lay in store for them as English feudal subjects.

There was a lapse of seven years from 1298 (after Falkirk) to Wallace’s capture in 1305. But even in this time, where Wallace took less of an active role in Scottish resistance, his influence was still an inspiration to the Scottish people. After Falkirk he never commanded a Scottish army in the field, but his influence was incalculable, and to him more than to any other man was due the growth of that spirit of determined hostility to English domination which became at last almost second nature to the common folk of Scotland, and which had far-reaching results in the history of the two nations. And though his name does not occur very often in the history of events in the world outside Scotland, his legend, his name and his message of freedom and resistance to a foreign oppressor has and will remain a beacon of light, in the darkness of attempted tyranny and a testament to the will of a people – the Scots – to be free at all costs.

700 Years later, the people of Scotland, partly inspired by the depiction of Sir William Wallace in “Braveheart”, voted for a renewed Scottish parliament and dedicated a new statue to Wallace. At the gathering on September 11, 1997, 700 years after his victory at Stirling Bridge, he was commemorated with seminars and lectures. The poster, above left, is from that very celebration. Wallace’s memory lives on.

In 1306, Robert Bruce had himself secretly crowned King of Scotland and went into hiding. In a few short years, after much trial and near failure, the Scots rose again in arms under Robert I of Scotland, the spirit and resistance to English tyranny taking deeper root.

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