William Wallace

1274 - 1305

Whether a freedom fighter or an outlaw, Wallace was a defender of Scottish independence, who has become a national hero. Born at Elderslie (Renfrewshire), the son of a minor noble, Wallace came to attention after he killed the son of the English Constable of Dundee in a brawl in 1291. Despite the best efforts of his family, Wallace was unable to keep out of trouble and the following year he was forced to take to the hills after killing a group of English soldiers on the banks of the River Irvine who had tried to steal the fish he had caught. He formed an army to harass English soldiers, which grew in strength such that he was able to defeat the English King Edward I at the Battle of Stirling Bridge (1297). He briefly became a Guardian of Scotland during the interregnum that followed, until he was defeated by Edward the following year at the Battle of Falkirk. Thereafter it is thought that Wallace travelled to Continental Europe to try to get support for an embattled Scotland, returning in 1304. He was involved in some small encounters with the English but was eventually captured near Robroyston in 1305. He was handed over to the English King, who regarded Wallace as an outlaw, murderer and traitor, and wasted no time in trying and executing him. Shortly after his execution, which was a particularly ghastly affair, Robert the Bruce was able to re-establish Scotland's independence. Wallace is commemorated in many places around Scotland, including the immense National Wallace Monument near Stirling.

There has been much debate and considerable revisionism relating to Wallace's life and contribution, and some accounts have uncritically plagiarised Blind Harry's epic poem The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie which was written around 1470, many years after Wallace's death. A popular, if completely romanticised, account of his life is presented in the film Braveheart (1995), with Wallace played by the Australian actor Mel Gibson.

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