A Brief History
On August 5, 1305, William Wallace, the Scottish hero known as “Braveheart” in the 1995 movie, was captured by the English and then executed for treason in the gory way “traitors” were put to death at that time.
Wallace was a landowner. Born in Renfrewshire, Scotland around 1270, he had some noble blood. When the throne of Scotland was up for grabs in the late 1280s, the King of England, Edward I, stepped in to play kingmaker and selected John Balliol to play his puppet. King John, Edward’s “yes man,” was considered weak by his fellow Scots and soon ousted. In retaliation, Edward I invaded Scotland, and a War of Scottish Independence ensued.
Wallace, probably a trained soldier or mercenary, joined the cause and beat the English army at the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, earning him the title of Guardian of Scotland. Wallace lost that title a year later when he was defeated at Falkirk but kept up the resistance, nonetheless.
Captured near Glasgow in 1305, he was carted off to London, tried for treason and convicted. His execution was especially horrible so to serve notice to anyone that would defy the crown. Stripped naked and dragged through the city behind a horse, he was first hanged (strangled) just short of death, before being cut down. He was then drawn and quartered, each limb almost being pulled off by horses. Physically broken, his genitals were cut off and his abdomen sliced open, spilling his guts out. Finally his guts were burnt before him while he was still alive.
And lastly in an act of “mercy,” he was beheaded. His body was then cut up into 4 parts to be displayed in 4 different towns as a warning to would-be rebels. His head was dipped in tar and displayed on London Bridge.
Wallace is immortalized in verse and prose and, of course, in the well-known Mel Gibson film Braveheart (1995). A plaque stands near the spot where he was executed, and in 1869 a monument was erected to him at the location of Stirling Bridge. Historical Inaccuracy: The movie Braveheart is considered to be historically quite inaccurate. For example, at the Stirling Bridge battle depicted in the movie, there is no bridge!
The truth is not many details of the life of William Wallace are known. His exact village and region of birth are contested, as is his parentage and occupation prior to rebellion. One of the main works about him lists him as 7 feet tall, almost assuredly an exaggeration. What history does know is that he was a real person that really fought the English and was executed for his efforts.
Today, Scotland is contemplating increased independence from the United Kingdom, and William Wallace remains a national hero.
Question for students (and subscribers): What other Scottish heroes would you like to see profiled in History and Headlines? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Anderson, Lin. Braveheart – The Movie that Made History. 2012.
Gibson, Mel, dir. Braveheart. Warner Bros., 2009. Blu-ray.
MacKay, James. William Wallace: Brave Heart. Mainstream Publishing, 1996.