23 August 1305 – William Wallace
‘…they’ll never take our freedom’ was Mel Gibson’s rallying cry in the epic ‘Braveheart’, which chronicles the rise and fall of today’s main man. We are, of course, talking about Sir William Wallace, who led the Scots against the tyranny of English rule.
Let’s face it, they may not have taken the Scot’s freedom, but the English certainly whipped all his other bits away after he was hanged, drawn and quartered for leading the uprising during the War of Scottish Independence.
This all took place in Medieval times during the reign of Edward I, son of Henry III. A seasoned fighter, Edward had a couple of Crusades under his belt, along with a war with Wales. He’d won the Welsh campaign and the lands had been incorporated in England midway through his reign so he was free to turn his attention to the Highlands.
At first, Scotland actively asked him to intervene after it fell into disarray when Margaret Maid of Norway – the natural-born successor to the throne north of the border – died. Fearing in-fighting and civil war, they asked Edward to steer them towards another king.
But Edward, sniffing the opportunity to extend his domain ever further, intimidated the Scots into agreeing that he was the overlord and they eventually, albeit begrudgingly, agreed on the proviso that it was a temporary measure. Yeah, right…
A neutered King John Balliol was installed on the throne and the situation crumbled from there on in. Edward made it clear who was running the show and Scots didn’t like it one bit, especially after the English expected the Scots to provide armed forces in a war against France.
Instead, they teamed up with France and the first War of Independence broke out.
Cue William Wallace, a Scottish knight who had reason to be disgruntled after his fiancée was said to have been killed by an English sherrif.
Anyone for menace?
Steeled by initial success at Stirling Bridge in 1297, Wallace felt ready to take on the English army. Big mistake: the Scots were in way over their heads and were resoundingly defeated.
Wallace went into hiding for the next few years before someone shopped him and he was carted off to London for his reckoning. Needless to say, the 30-ish-year-old was found guilty of treason, despite the fact that he didn’t regard Edward as his king and he was sentenced to death by being hanged, before having his bits cut off and his organs roasted in front of him before having his head chopped off and what was left quartered at Smithfield. Indeed there is a semi-faithful account written at the time.
According to records entitled ‘Flores Historiarum’ – a book initiated by monks at St Albans and continued during this period by monks at Westminster – ‘he was led through the streets of London, dragged at the tail of a horse, and dragged to a very high gallows, made on purpose for him, where he was hanged with a halter, then taken down half dead, after which his body was vivisected in a most cruel and torturous manner, and after he had expired, his body was divided into four quarters, and his head fixed on a stake and set on London Bridge. But his four quarters thus divided, were sent to the four quarters of Scotland’.
Yet, it was not all doom and gloom. Wallace ultimately paved the way for Robert the Bruce’s highly successful guerrilla war against the English led by Edward’s not-so-successful son…Edward II, which saw Scotland gain Independence for a short while, at least.