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The Real Braveheart: William Wallace

Updated on August 30, 2013

William Wallace

 

If you read my article about the historical Robert Roy MacGregor, you know I’m into Scottish history. I’ve always liked the movie Braveheart, which is about another highland hero, William Wallace. After researching my family tree, I discovered a connection to Wallace. My maternal grandmother was a Kilpatrick, and the Kilpatricks hail from Scotland. The Kilpatricks were a major sept of the Colquhoun clan of Dunbartonshire, and they were also a sept of the Douglas clan. Roger de Kilpatrick fought with both William Wallace and Robert de Bruce for Scotland’s independence from the English.

 

Early life of William Wallace

 

Little is known about the birth and early life of Wallace, but it’s believed that he was born around 1270 in Ayrshire. Is father, Sir Malcolm Wallace, was Lord of Elderslie and Auchenbothie. Sir Malcolm was a knight and a landowner. William’s mother was most likely the daughter of Ayr’s sheriff.William had an older brother named Malcolm, and as the titles and lands were bestowed upon the eldest son, William received neither from his father.

 

William grew up near Stirling, under the tutelage of his uncle, a priest. He was undoubtedly taught battle strategies and swordsmanship as a youth, but it’s widely held that William was learning to become a priest.

 

The warrior

 

In 1286, Scotland’s king, Alexander III, was killed as the result of a fall from his horse. Alexander had fathered three children, but they had all died before he did. He had named his granddaughter, Margaret, as his heir. Margaret lived in Norway and was on her way to Scotland to be crowned when she died in the Orkney Islands. As a result, there was no obvious heir to the throne of Scotland, and thirteen nobles came forward to claim it.

 

During this time, Scotland was in a state of great upheaval. The noblemen who served as Guardians of Scotland fought among themselves and sometimes aligned themselves with King Edward I of England, who was called “Longshanks.” Little was done to protect the common people or to maintain order.

 

Also at this time, English troops occupied much of Scotland. The Scottish commoners were often abused by the soldiers, and the Scottish aristocrats rarely intervened. When Wallace’s father was killed in a skirmish with English troops in 1291, William’s desire to rid his land of the English escalated, ultimately branding him as an outlaw.

 

William was a fierce opponent. He supposedly stood six foot six, which made him a giant among other men at the time, whose average height was just over five feet. John Donald Carrick, in Life of Sir William Wallace of Elderslie, describes Wallace:

 

“His visage was long, well proportioned, and exquisitely beautiful; his eyes were bright and piercing, the hair of his head and beard auburn, and inclined to curl; that on his brows and eyelashes was of lighter shade. His lips were round and full. His stature was lofty and majestic, rising head and shoulders above the tallest men in the country. Yet his form, though gigantic, possessed the most perfect symmetry, and with a degree of strength almost incredible, there was combined such  an agility of body and fleetness in running that no-one, except when mounted on horseback, could outstrip or escape from him when he happened to persue.”

 

Carrick also describes Wallace’s ability as a warrior:

 

“All powerful as a swordsman and unrivalled as an archer, his blows were fatal and his shafts unerring: as an equestrian, he was a model of dexterity and grace; while the hardships he experienced in his youth made him view with indifference the severest privations incident to a military life.”

 

According to these words, William Wallace seems like the perfect fighting machine of the historical period! Anyway, back to the story at hand: Since the nobles could not decide among themselves who should be king, they asked King Edward I for his input. The choices for king of Scotland were narrowed down to three men: John de Balliol, Robert de Bruce, and John de Hastings. Ultimately, Balliol was chosen.

 

Longshanks, however, had a secret agenda. He wanted a Scottish ruler that he could control. When King Edward demanded that Balliol accept a military post in England’s war with France, along with the demand that three Scottish castles be turned over, Scottish rulers turned against England.

 

A five-month long war ensued between England and Scotland. When Longshanks won, he imprisoned Balliol and declared himself the ruler of Scotland. Needless to say, Scotland was not happy about this. There was widespread chaos and hatred for the English. Skirmishes were breaking out all over the countryside. When one of these skirmishes resulted in Wallace’s killing of several English soldiers in Ayr, he was imprisoned and held without food. Local villagers rescued him and fed him, however, and he joined with other rebels to overthrow the English.

 

Knighthood

 

In 1296, Wallace and his army invaded northern England and had success in numerous small battles. When he returned to Scotland the next year, he was knighted and was proclaimed ruler in Balliol’s stead. Most of the commoners and knights gave their full support to Wallace, but the nobles offered him little support.

 

Wallace vs. Edward I

 

William Wallace killed one of King Edward’s knights in retaliations for his father’s death, thus making a sworn enemy of Longshanks. In 1297, Wallace and his men killed 5,000 English soldiers at the Battle of Stirling Bridge and captured StirlingCastle.

 

In July of 1298, King Edward’s army of 90,000 men marched to Falkirk, where they battled with a smaller force led by Wallace. Nearly 10,000 Scots were killed in the battle, and Wallace retreated to the forest. He gave up his guardianship role soon after and was succeeded by Robert de Bruce and Sir John Comyn.

 

Longshanks re-captured StirlingCastle in 1304, and almost all the Scottish nobles swore fealty to Edward. Even so, Longshanks continued to pursue Wallace, and in August of 1305, Wallace was captured when a Scottish knight betrayed him to the English.

 

Death of William Wallace

 

Wallace had been charged with treason to the crown, and shortly after his arrest, he was executed. He was dragged and beaten, and was then hanged by the neck until almost dead. At that time, he was cut open and his bowels removed. They were burned as he watched. He was then beheaded and quartered. His limbs were sent to different parts of the kingdom, and his head was placed on a spike on LondonBridge so that traffic on the River Thames could view it.

 

The aftermath

 

King Edward felt that with Wallace’s death, the Scottish rebellion was quashed once and for all, but the savage execution of the fallen hero actually had the opposite effect. All of Scotland was outraged at Wallace’s cruel treatment, and the effort for independence from England was renewed. And this time, the nobles were involved, too. Led by Robert the Bruce, Scotland won her independence, and in 1306, Robert was crowned king.

 

As for King Edward I, he marched north in an effort to reclaim Scotland, but he died on the way there, in July of 1307. He was buried in Westminster Abbey on October 27th.

 

 

 

 

 

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    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      UUUh I am the first. You wrote a wonderful hub there, habee, and I learned a lot from it. Thank you very much.

    • Kaie Arwen profile image

      Kaie Arwen 7 years ago

      habee- I love the story of William Wallace, and I love the movie too; just wish it had been more historically accurate than it was...........

      Thank you for this; I thoroughly enjoyed it!

      Kaie

    • sheila b. profile image

      sheila b. 7 years ago

      Reading history such as this is always horrifying, the constant wars and deaths. Imagine living there, in those days...For a while, as I was reading, I felt as though I was there. A good read.

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      Great tribute - anyone with any Scottish blood in them will appreciate your prose. Mel did play parts up but the movie did endure passion. There was also the movie a bout another Scottish doyen of folk lore "Rob Roy" out not long after,

    • Mike Lickteig profile image

      Mike Lickteig 7 years ago from Lawrence KS USA

      History has never been my strongest suit, and so nearly all of this was new and informative to me. Your description of Wallace's death was quite vivid. It is not surprising that his death renewed the quest for independence. If you make a martyr of someone, others will rally around his cause.

      Thanks for sharing.

      Mike

    • samboiam profile image

      samboiam 7 years ago from Texas

      habee, there was a lot in your hub I did not know. Thanks for such a great read.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks for another great read on Scottish history.

      Love and peace

      Tony

    • randslam profile image

      Rand Zacharias 7 years ago from Kelowna, British Columbia

      Thanks, Habee, for once again showing how misleading Hollywood works are. The true story is always more interesting than Hollywood's specdiculous offering. Thanks for taking the time to research a fascinating topic.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Howdy, HH!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Hi, Kaie! I re-watch Braveheart every so often, but it always ends the same! lol

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Sheila, we have it so good now in comparison!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Billy, I already wrote the hub about Rob Roy!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      So true, Mike. I guess Edward didn't think about that as he was blinded by revenge!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Sam, I'm forever a teacher! lol

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Glad you liked it, Tony!

    • billyaustindillon profile image

      billyaustindillon 7 years ago

      Habee thanks I am off to check it out!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Rand, the movie did take liberties, of course, but at least much of it was accurate! Thanks for reading!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Cool, Billy! thanks for visiting!

    • carolina muscle profile image

      carolina muscle 7 years ago from Charlotte, North Carolina

      This is beautifully done.. and an interesting read!!!

    • jacobkuttyta profile image

      jacobkuttyta 7 years ago from Delhi, India

      I know about Wallace D. Wattles,

      Thanks for sharing about William Wallace.

      Thanks

    • JenDobson27 profile image

      JenDobson27 7 years ago

      Very interesting...it's too bad Hollywood does a terrible job (in many cases anyway) of actually reporting real history. Love the movie though!

    • Micky Dee profile image

      Micky Dee 7 years ago

      Very nice Habee. I saw the movie and I hate to see the hero martyred - but many, too many have been. Thank you Ma'am!

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 7 years ago

      Terrific read habee.

    • profile image

      SilverGenes 7 years ago

      Great hub! History is so much better than the movies :-)

    • profile image

      oleha2365 7 years ago

      I loved this piece! It amazes me that the English never quite understood the nature of the Scottish. If they had centuries of battles would have been avoided. The Scottish, like the other Celtic breeds had a natural aversion to being ruled by anyone. This was very informative and i enjoyed so much. Thanks.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Central Oregon

      I haven't ever seen the movie - can you believe it? I have seen parts of it but never watched the whole thing because of all the fighting. I love Scottish history - do you read Diana Gabaldon? If not OMG - I know it's fiction but it is such GREAT fiction. I thought I'd not like it but I'm addicted and think Gibson should play Jamie Frazier on screen...or Liam Neeson - both would be great in kilts!

    • mquee profile image

      mquee 7 years ago from Columbia, SC

      Hi, this is nicely presented. The movie version was excellent, but it is always nice to historically accurate facts. Very nicely done.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Awww, thanks, chris!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for reading, Jacob!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Jen. I loved it, too!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Mickey, didn't we already cover this "ma'am" thing?? lol

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Bpop, glad you liked it!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks so much, Silver!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Oleha! And I think you're right about the Scots!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Audrey, I'm not familiar with Gabaldon, but I'll check her out now!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Mquee, thanks for stopping by!

    • profile image

      ralwus 7 years ago

      Awesome research Holle.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thank you, Charlie! I consider that high praise coming from you because I know that you're knowledgeable of such!

    • parrster profile image

      Richard Parr 7 years ago from Oz

      I'm humming 'Scotland the Brave' right now. Great hub

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Too funny, Parrster! I often do that, too!

    • nancy_30 profile image

      nancy_30 7 years ago from Georgia

      This was another great story. I learned a lot from it.

    • akirchner profile image

      Audrey Kirchner 7 years ago from Central Oregon

      Oh my gosh, Holle - once you get started on her books, you will not be able to stop - thankfully they are the 'old fashioned' kind that are hundreds and hundreds of pages. Start at the beginning and enjoy! I have all her books and I wait patiently (not) for her next one to appear. Her characters would be perfect for the screen because of course it is Scottish history - thrown in a little time travel back and forth, and of course the sizzling, sexy romance....what more could a girl ask for? She does manage to definitely give you the background, however, of so much of Scottish history which I happen to love (must be because I was a Helix Highlander in high school and wore Scottish garb while I marched in the band playing my clarinet). Let me know what you think of her reading one of these days!

    • katiem2 profile image

      katiem2 7 years ago from I'm outta here

      habee, I can't count the times I've seen this movie, love your review very good! Peace :)

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks for stopping by, Nancy!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Audrey, where can I find her books? Are they in any kind of order? Is there one I should read first?

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      It's a great movie, huh, Katie!

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 7 years ago

      My mum was born in Stirling Scotland where you can find the famous Wallace monument - and speaking of famous - your hubs are pretty world famous!

    • Esrom Art profile image

      Esrom Aritonang 7 years ago from Indonesia

      I love this movie. I watch it several times. Mel Gibson is a great actor. I am his fans. Thanks Habee. Keep writing quality content.

    • Glenn Raymond profile image

      Glenn Raymond 7 years ago from Bailey, Colorado

      This is a marvelous article. You have really worked on this and it shows. Your writing and research are magnificent. I have always thought of William Wallace as a true heroe. This was a refreshing read. Thank you for taking the time to write this.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Epigram, that's cool! Have you seen it?

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Esrom, for your kind words!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Glenn, I'm so glad you liked my hub!

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 7 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      This was very interesting to read. I had to do a little quick investigating on google as I knew Kinnaird Castle had some Stirling history, but I see on the map (without digging out any family history boxes) that our heritage was up quite a ways from the area known as Stirling you have described -- even though Stirling is in our area somehow, too. (I know more about our lineage after they jumped over to Ireland. Which century that was, we don't know yet.) But like you, I have some Scottish lineages (other than Kinnaird). So I found this extremely interesting.

      But, oh my, what a terrible death William Wallace suffered.

      The first time I heard about 'hung, drawn and quartered' was in a history class in university in Victoria. I had the most unforgettable professor there. He drank a little bit, but he also put on a Shakespearean-like performance during every class. Each class was two hours long and he chose which character he would play and he acted everything out!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Pamela, thanks so much for reading! I had a similar professor for modern poetry - he was a hoot!

    • GarnetBird profile image

      Gloria Siess 7 years ago from Northern California

      Heartbreaking, the torture of William Wallace. Unspeakable. Great Hub about a fascinating subject!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      I agree, Garnet. I hate that he was tortured. Thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      Charles Russell 6 years ago

      Congratulations on a true image of Wallace, unlike the romanticised one in "Braveheart". It is also noteworthy that Wallace was the first military leader to abandon chivalric warfare, mirrored by Bruce at Bannockburn and later by the English in the Hundred Years War, at Crecy and Poitiers, to achieve victories with greatly inferior numbers.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 6 years ago from Georgia

      Excellent point, Charles. Thanks!

    • saif113sb profile image

      saif113sb 6 years ago

      Very very nice and great hub. thanks

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, saif!

    • profile image

      Hubertsvoice 5 years ago

      Thank you for another great story. I loved the movie Braveheart. The only problem with this story is now I have to read about Rob Roy.

    • hubber088 profile image

      hubber088 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

      Great Hub. Very interesting. Mel Gibson is def. not 6'6"!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 5 years ago from Wales

      Wow what an amazing hub;thanks for all the hard work that went in to create it.

      Eddy.

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Fantastic article, about a true historical hero who fought against one of history's evil men, Edward I.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Hubert, I love the Rob Roy movie!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Hubber, thanks for stopping by!

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      Thanks, Eddy. Glad you enjoyed reading about William Wallace.

    • habee profile image
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      Holle Abee 5 years ago from Georgia

      JKenny, thanks so much for the comment!

    • wayseeker profile image

      wayseeker 5 years ago from Colorado

      Habee,

      This is my favorite movie of all time. The themes and the artistry with which it were made just grab at my heart every time I see it. It's a joy to learn some of the realities behind the film. Such great historical material.

      wayseeker

    • stars439 profile image

      stars439 5 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

      Wonderful hub. God Bless You.

    • profile image

      skl biatchez 4 years ago

      thanks this will do for my essay

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      Seonaidh Ceanneidigh 3 years ago

      Greetings from Scotland - great to see the propagation of real Scottish history, rather than something that's been hacked and diluted by a script writer to fit a Hollywood-type narrative. Though the story of de Moray, Wallace and the Bruce demands a television series, surely?

      Great writing, now off to read more!

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