Ward's Book of Days.

Pages of interesting anniversaries.

What happened on this day in history.


On this day in history in 1305, died William Wallace.

Wallace was a Scottish landowner who became the leader of the Scottish resistance forces in the struggle against English rule.

William Wallace was born about 1270, the son of a small landowner in or about Elderslie, near Paisley, a quiet backwater in the Lowlands. While Wallace was growing up, political machinations were taking place in the kingdom of Scotland. King Alexander III had followed a policy of peace with neighbouring England until, in 1286, he was killed when he rode his horse off a cliff. At the time of his death, his children were all dead and so the throne passed to his 3 year old granddaughter, Margaret, Maid of Norway, who sadly died of sea sickness in 1290, leaving the title to the throne in dispute, with 13 claimants.

The Scottish lords, fearing a dynastic civil war, all agreed that the question of succession should be put to arbitration, with the judge being Edward I of England. Edward whittled down the 13 contenders to 2, Robert Bruce and John Baliol, and then having looked at each of them, decided that John Baliol would be the one most likely to be subservient to Edward’s requirements and therefore Baliol got the job. He declared homage to Edward as his overlord and was enthroned as King John of Scots. However in 1296, after an altercation between the two kings, King Edward deposed and imprisoned the Scottish king, and declared himself ruler of Scotland.

We know that the Scots in general were not happy with these events. They disliked the idea of being taxed by an English overlord, of being pressed into service for Edward’s wars against France and, most of all they were not impressed with Edward’s habit of invading and burning the land whenever he was dissatisfied with what the Scots were doing. We know that Wallace was one of those were resentful of Edward’s control, and we know that he was one of those who took part in an insurrection against Edward but, sadly, there is little historical evidence of what Wallace actually did.

According to a late Fifteenth Century romance, ascribed to Henry the Minstrel, or Blind Harry, Wallace slew and dismembered William Heselrig, the English Sheriff at Lanark, in revenge for the death of a maiden Wallace was courting. He took part in battles at Loudoun Hill, and Ayr and fought alongside Douglas ‘the Hardy’ routing the English sheriff, taking control of all the territory north of the Firth of Forth. He went on to capture Stirling Castle and invaded England ravaging its northern counties. He ruled as ‘guardian of the kingdom’ finally relinquishing control to Robert the Bruce, later King Robert I.

In 1298, Edward I left his campaign in France and returned to England, and in July that year, he invaded Scotland. Wallace defended bravely but his spearmen were mown down by Edward's archers and cavalry at Falkirk. Edward never quite subdued Scotland but his armies relentlessly pursued Wallace and continued to harass Robert the Bruce and what remained of the Scottish army. This is according to Blind Harry.

In 1305, Wallace was captured near Glasgow and taken to London where he was condemned as a traitor to King Edward, despite the fact that he had never sworn allegiance to Edward. On 23rd August 1305, he was hanged, disembowelled, beheaded, and quartered at The Elms, Smithfield. [Wall plaque marks the spot. St. Bartholomew's Hospital, West Smithfield, London EC1A 7BE] His head was placed on a pike on London Bridge and his limbs sent to various Scottish cities for display. Later in 1306, Bruce raised a rebellion that eventually guaranteed Scottish independence. Later still in 1995, Mr Mel Gibson produced the movie Braveheart, based on Blind Harry’s saga, sprinkled with romantic elements of his own imagination.

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