In 1305, Sir William Wallace was captured in early August, just north of Glasgow. King Edward 1 had put a price on his head and ordered the Scots’ nobles to deliver him. But the Hammer of the Scots soon lost patience with their tardiness: no one wanted to bring in Scotland’s hero. Eventually, a prisoner from the captured Stirling garrison was reputed to have given details of his brother’s whereabouts in the Wallace camp which led to William’s capture. Initially, he was held at the imposing fortress of Dumbarton on the Clyde, under the auspice of its sheriff, Sir John Mentieth, before being taken south to Carlisle.
In London, he was bound hand and foot, and paraded before the crowd. For years, Wallace had terrorized the English and now, their fear knew only righteous outrage.
On the 23rd day of August, he was tried at Westminster for murder and treason. Wallace saw this for the farce that it was and proclaimed his innocence. He had never bent the knee to Edward but he knew what awaited him – the traitor’s death!
He was strapped to a wooden hurdle and dragged through the streets to The Elms at Smithfield.
One day last year, I was wandering around the Smithfield area and came across this plaque with its simple inscription. The hackles rose on the back of my neck. I hadn’t been consciously looking for the site but it had found me. It was chilling reminder of the horrific experience that Wallace endured.
Whoever had devised this punishment went for maximum pain and suffering. Firstly, Wallace was hung but not unto death. Gasping for air, he was taken down, then emasculated and eviscerated; his bowels burnt before his eyes. His head was cut off and his body hacked into four pieces. These segments were dispatched around England and Scotland: to Berwick, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Perth and Stirling, whilst his head sat upon a spike at London Bridge for all to mock. Thus was King Edward’s power and dominion.
Many of you will have seen the movie, Braveheart, but much of the actual history was obliterated to make the story more commercially viable. There were no shenanigans of any kind between Wallace and Prince Edward’s wife, Isabella of France. In 1305, she was only 10 years old and she did not marry the king’s son until 3 years after Wallace’s death.
What other misinformation from this production has found its way into the common view of history? The scene at the Battle of Falkirk was erroneous for Bruce, at that time, was on the other side of the country, razing Ayr into submission for the rebel Scot’s forces. Robert the Bruce knighted Wallace and fought with him in many skirmishes. He also defended William’s right against usurpers in 1299: to keep his lands when he left for France with a deputation to negotiate the release of King John Balliol who was in Papal custody.
It is true that Robert at times negotiated truces with Edward but this was an agreed medieval practice which, in essence, allowed opposing forces to regroup their forces and finances. In medieval times, the Scots, that most pragmatic and resilient of races, had to break many of their oaths to the more powerful kings of England, believing that they were not bound by an oath given under duress. No doubt, the death of Wallace was a defining moment in Robert’s life, as well as the deaths of three of his brothers and countless other Scottish patriots, all of whom received the same traitor’s death. The sacrifices made by these individuals inspired his efforts to regain Scotland’s independence.
Scotland’s brutal, bloody history has ignited the imagination of the world for seven hundred years. There is simply no place for alteration or enhancement.