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William Wallace

(c. 1270—1305) patriot and guardian of Scotland


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(d. 1305).

Scottish patriot. Wallace came of a middling family, retainers of the Stewarts in the neighbourhood of Paisley. In 1297 there were many prominent Scots anxious to resist Edward's ‘take‐over’ of the previous year, including Wallace's lord, James, the hereditary steward of Scotland. In May Wallace killed the English sheriff of Lanark in an affray. He was joined by Sir William Douglas in an attack on the English justiciar at Scone. Others, including Robert Bruce, earl of Carrick, the future Robert I, were also prepared to join in. This rising might easily have achieved nothing, but in May another movement had started in Moray, with an attack on Inverness led by the young Andrew Murray. By August, Murray and Wallace had joined forces and threatened Stirling. Their astute tactics at the battle of Stirling Bridge, and the ineptitude of the English commander Earl Warenne, resulted in a dramatic victory.

By early 1298 Wallace had been knighted, and emerged as sole guardian. But at Falkirk the English knights and archers were devastating. The Scots were routed and Wallace escaped into hiding.

His next task was abroad. In 1299 he led a mission to the French court to get more active support from Philip IV, and seems to have stayed in Paris for most of the next year. By 1303 Wallace was back in Scotland, again fighting in the south. By 1304, Edward had triumphed and almost all the Scottish leaders submitted on negotiated terms.

Wallace was now a fugitive. In August 1305 he was captured, and there followed a show trial on 23 August, and immediate execution for ‘treason’, of which, as he had never sworn allegiance to Edward, he could not justly be accused. From that day, Wallace has been regarded as one of the greatest heroes in Scotland's national history.

Subjects: British History.


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