Historical Children's Literature Collection

History of Sir William Wallace [between 1840 and 1857?]

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It was in times of the deepest calamity, when
Scotland as it were was overwhelmed with affliction, and sinking into the deepest despair, by the
base conduct of an ignominious monarch, that
Scotland was betrayed into the hands of the King
of England, who put Scotland in a state of cruelty arid oppresion, and sent blood and carnage ovei
the land that Divine Providence, raised up Sh
William Wallace, for a deliverer of his country,
from the slavish submission to the English monarch, and a champion to  avenge her wrongs.
This remarkable hero was the son of Sir
Malcolm Wallace, the proprietor of a small estate
called Ellerslie, near Paisley, in the county of
Renfrew. The exact period of his birth is not
known; but it is supposed that at the time of his
father's death, who was killed at the battle of
Loudon Hill, in 1293, he was about fifteen
years of age. His mother, after this disastrous
eyent, fled with her son to the house of aia
uriele/where Wallace lived between two and threfc
years,   when a boy he had  witnessed the se-
eurity and happiness of his country during th£
ldgAA kj£ -Aifwymrlor  HI» ,cx*»^  nnw   wftfm    sh.6 WaS
degraded and oppressed by the tyrant Edward,
his country men despoiled of their, goods, and
their wives and daughters wantonly insulted by
lus English followers, the contrast was of such a
nature as to arouse the keenest feelings in a heart
which from its earliest stirrings was animated by
a love of liberty to his- country, which nothing but
death could extinguish.
Whilst brooding in secret over his country's
wrongs, an event occurred which stimulated the
powers of his mind and body into active existence,
and for ever banished all hope of conciliation be*>
twixt him and the enslavers of his country. He
had formed an attachment to a beautiful young
woman in the town of Lanark, *and when passing
through that burgh, well armed and somewhat
richly dressed, he was recognised by a troop of
English soldiers, who surrounded and insulted
him. Wallace at first would have prudently got
dear of their insolence; but a contemptuous stroke
which one of them made against his sword, provoked him to draw, and he laid the culp
at his feet.    A tumult now arose*  and,  a I
overpowered by numbers, he  escaped w
culty into the house of his sweetheart
it, by a back passage, into tiie     ^;
woods. For facilitating his escape, the unfortunate girl was seized next day by the English
sheriff, and with inhuman cruelty condemned and
executed. But Wallace's revenge, when he heard
of her unmerited fate, was as rapid as it was stern.
That very night he collected thirty faithful and
powerful partisans, who, entering the town wheiy
all were in their beds, reached the sheriff's lodgings in silence. It was a building constructed 01
wood, and the sheriff's apartment communicated
with the street by a high stair. Up this Wallace
rushed at midnight, and, beating down the door,
presented himself in full armour, and with his
naked weapon, before the affrighted officer, who
asked him whence he came, or who he was? " I
am William Wallace," he replied, V whose life
you sought yesterday : and now thou shalt answer me for my poor maiden's death/' With
these words he seized his naked victim by the
throat, and passing his sword through his body,
cast the bleeding wretch down the stair into the
street, where he was immediately slain. He then
speedily withdrew with his fQHQAWS- iW*L the
woods which surrounded the town. For this daring act of retaliation h& was accused by the gov-,
erment of murder, and .sentence of of proscription
and outlawry being passed against him, an immediate and eager pursuit was adopted,    Wallace,
 however, was Intimately acquainted with the
country, and found little difficulty in defeating
every effort for his apprehension.
Before proceeding further, however, in the da
tail of Wallace's personal history, and in ordei
better to understand the narrative which follows5
it becomes necessary to take a short review of
the state of matters at that time in Scotland, and
the course of events which led to the series of
Upon the death of Alexander III. a number
of candidates appeared for the Scottish crown;
and among others were Robert Bruce and John
Baliol, both descendants of David I. The right
of the former was certainly the preferable one;
but when the right of succession was not distinctly settled, the claims of both had supporters.
It was at last proposed, to refer their claims to
Edward I. of England, one of the most powerful
monarchs of that day. Edward, who had long
cherished ambitious designs upon Scotland, was
delighted with this proposal, and by way of ad-
usting the matter, which he now affected to look
pon with a great deal of solemnity, summoned
the Scottish nobles to Norham, where, he soon
prevailed on all present, not excepting Bruce and
Baliol, to acknowledge him Lord Paramount,
and swear fealty to him in that character.
It was on this occasion maintained by Edward,
that the English monarchs were the natural and
acknowledged superiors of the kingdom of Scotland, which only an appanage of the English
crown; and that at different periods this right
had been authenticated by the homage of the
Scottish princes. Now the fact was, that these
acts of fealty were only rendered for possessions
of the Scottish sovereigns lying on the northern
frontier of the English dominions. These territories, from their being situate, on the threshold
of the two kingdoms, had formed the theatre of
many sanguinary conflicts; and had at divers times
changed masters, till they came at last to be considered as belonging to Scotland. For these
possessions it had been the practice of some of
the Scottish kings, at different periods, to do
homage, to those of fax inferior note, for tracts of
land acquired in this manner; and instances were
not awanting of the English monarchs themselves,
rendering that sort of subjection to the kings of
France. It was now contended, however, by
Edward, that the homage or fealty on these occasions had been done for the entire kingdom of
This was the first step in Edward's ambitious
views. Under pretence of transmitting the full
authority into the hands of the successful can-
didate, he next demanded the temporary possession of all the fortresses of the kingdom: which,
strange to say, were passively yielded into his
hands, with the exception of the castles of Dundee and Forfar, then held by Gilbert de Um-
fraville, who refused compliance with this unlooked-for mandate, unless a written indemnity
should be given at the hand of the Scottish nobles, freeing him from all share of blame. The
claim of Baliol was at last, 17th December 1292,
declared the preferable one, and that personage,
having again acknowledged the English king as
his liege lord, was placed by him on the Scottish
The insults and degradation to which he was
subjected at last roused even the complying spirit
of Baliol, and in the bitterness of his soul he
could not help communicating his feelings to the
nobles of his court, who, at his instigation, now
unanimously disclaimed their hasty allegiance to
the English monarch. " The silly traitor/' exclaimed Edward in derision, when Baliol's re*
fusal to attend his summons was communicated
to him, is if he will not come to us we will go to
Edward now entered Scotland with a large army; one stronghold after another yielded to the
conqueror;  Edinburgh Castle surrendered after
a slight resistance; Stirling Castle almost without a struggle; others were abandoned : the spirit
of the nation was extinguished : and Baliol again
submitted to the terms of the conqueror. In this
invasion Edward had been joined by Bruce and
his adherents, wrho conceived a prospect wras
opened up of that nobleman obtaining the crown,
But Edward, when order was restored, and the
matter hinted to him, contemptuously replied,
" Have we nothing else to do but to conquer
kingdoms for you ?" Bruce made no reply, but
retired into obscurity, and passed the remainder
of his days in quietness and opulence.
It was in the month of July 1296 that Edward
finished at Elgin his expedition northward a
gainst the Scots. On his return to the south
his army committed the most dreadful excesses;
and still more to complete the subjugation of
Scotland, the English monarch ordered all the
charters and public papers which could in any
Way exhibit proof of the independence of the
realm to be destroyed. He also carried off the
celebrated stone, belonging to the coronation-
chair of the Scottish kings, from the palace of
Scone, where it had been kept for ages, and deposited it in Westminister Abbey. But all these
indignities, added to the oppression and misrule
of Edward's lieuteuants in Scot^d, only served
2 i
to'exasperate, and at lasfe to rouse Into fearful action, the slumbering hatred of the nation. A-
mong the foremost of those who banded themselves against the English was Wallace, who now
first publicly appeared on the scene. He was a
man eminently fitted for his perilous enterprise;
for to the most ardent love of his country, unshaken resolution, and prodigious strength of
body, he added those firm yet conciliatory manners which are necessary to govern rude ancl
tumultuary ranks; while the personal and family
injuries he had sustained at the hands of the
English gave tenfold vigour to his efforts. A
prediction also of Thomas the Rhymer, asserted
that by the arm of Wallace was the independence
of Scotland to be achieved.
To be aquainted with the strength and resources of the English, Wallace often disguised himself, and visited their garrisons and towns.
He took precaution to wear a light coat of
mail under his common clothes; his bonnet, which
to common sight was nothing more than a cap
t-f cloth or velvet, had a steel basnet concealed
fender it; a collar or neck-piece, of the same metal, fitted him so closely, that it was hid completely, and below his gloves he had strong gauntlets of
plate. Relying on his Herculean strength and
ftecret armour, h 4 fearlessly ventured into the very
middle of his enemies, and when they ventured
to taunt or assail him, found that they had to do
with an assailant in full armour and of undaunted
While thus disguised, personal encounters with
his enemies were of frequent occurrence. He
slew a buckler-player at Ayr, and put to flight
a number of soldiers, who attempted to rob him
of his day's sport as he fished in Irvine water.
He repaid the rudeness of Squire Long-castle
by a mortal thrust in the throat with his dagger;
and by many such bold and daring adventures he
slew many of his foes.
In the spring of the year 1297, the people
were suffering grievously from famine, to relieve
Ae English garrison of Ayr, a large train of
waggons, under the protection of John de Fen-
wick, took their journey from Carlisle to that
iown. Of this Wallace was informed, and although he could then only muster about fifty
soldiers, he determined to attack it. Having
occupied a strong position within a wood, he put
up a temporary fortification, and passed the night.
In the grey dawn of the morning, he and his men
left their horses, and occupied a narrow valley
which the convoy was to pass. Forward came
Fenwick at the head of a force which far outnum*
bared them, and, confident in his own numbers*
ne did not hesitate to attempt forcing the pass •
but he was soon convinced of his error. Encumbered by the train of waggons, and carriages he
was thrown into irrecoverable confusion, and the
Scots, after a great slaughter, captured the whole
convoy, which, besides wine, and forage, included
twQ hundred horses, and a considerable plunder
in arms and accoutrements.
Wallace liaving been thus successful in variou?
partial encounters, many of the barons and other
persons of high rank flocked to his standard.
Edward now prepared a fresh army, which, under the command of Sir Robert Clifford and Sir
Henry Percy, a second time invaded Scotland.
Hastening to quell the insurrection, they came
up with Wallace and his army, occupying an advantageous position in the neighbourhood of Irvine, in Ayrshire, and much superior to the English in numbers, but far inferior in discipline and
appointments. By that sort of fatality, which
geems inherent in divided command and undisciplined masses, when they are most required to
act in concert, and which always leads to distrust
and perplexity, the commanders, on this occasion,
were determined* to be each independent, and
were therefore intractable, They could agree
upon no measure. Dissension and heartburnings
were every where : and Sir Richard Lundnywho
had been most vehement in his hostility to tfte
invaders,, deserted the cause of his country^ and
went over to the English, " I will remain no
longer with a party that is at variance with itself.''*—Stewart, Lindsay, and.Douglas-, followed
this example, and basely yielded themselves to
the authority of Edward's officers.
The Scottish champion, finding himself thus
basely deserted, by the leading men who surrounded him, retired northward. On his maich
with those who still remained faithful to his fortunes, he was joined by many new followers, and
even received considerable accessions to his ranks
from the vassals of several barons. Finding his
army, by reason of these accessions, once more
on a formidable footing, Wallace renewed the
war, and commenced operations by laying siege
to Dundee, a place of considerable strength.
The English leaders were no sooner apprized
of Wallace's movements in that quarter than they
hastened to meet him, and with that intent advanced in the direction of Stirling. Intelligence
of their march having been speedily communicated to the Scottish champion, he instantly resolved to meet them on their approach. He then
charged the citizens of Dundee, under pain of
death, to continue the blockade, and commenced
his march, hastening to seize the important pass
 . -..-1
which divides the Ochil from the Grampian Hills,
so that the English forces, when ready to pass
tlie Forth by the bridge at Stirling, were astonished to see the Scottish army drawn up on a rising ground near the Abbey of Cambuskenneth,
and prepared to oppose their passage. Edward's
governor, here attempted to practise the same
arts which had beed so successful while at Irvine.
The men which Wallace now had, we?e of a very
different stamp from those dastardly and perfidious barons with whom it was his misfortune on
that occasion to be allied. All terms of compromise were promptly and sternly rejected,
" Return," said Wallace to the two friars sent f
by Warrene to propose an accommodation; " We
came not here to treat but to assert our rights,
and set Scotland free. Let them advance, they
will find us prepared."
Thus the English commanders were thrown
into perplexity as to what plan of operations they j
should follow.    To attempt to force   a passage ;
along the bridge, in the face of an enemy so ad- j
vantageously posted and so full of zeal and high
hopes, would be a step fraught with manifest j
danger,    On the other hand, to decline the contest with an enemy inferior in many respects j j
would   be  held  disgraceful,      While   engaged
in these deliberations, the danger of assaulting
the Scots in their present position appeared morfe
and more hazardous to all the1 English commanders, except Cressingham the treasurer, who exclaimed " Let us fight, as is our bounden duty."
The boisterous eloquence of Cressingham prevailed, and the rest of the leaders yielded a reluctant
assent, contrary to the advice also of one {of
Wallace's late perfidious associates, Sir Richard
Lundin, who offered to point out a ford at a short
distance, by taking advantage of which they could
fall on the rear and flanks of the enemy.
Wallace, Exhorting his followersr solely to a-
bide by his orders for the moment of attack,
Wallace allowed about a third of the English
army fairly to clear the bridge; when rushing
down, while the others were defiling along the
bridge, with an unlooked for and almost incredible impetuosity, the Scots precipitated themselves
on their yet unformed ranks. The shock was
like that of a mountain-torrent. The English
seemed to have been, as it were, instantaneously
swept off the earth. Thousands were slain on
the field or drowned in the river; among the rest
their rash adviser, Cressingham, whose dead body
was treated with great indignity by the Scots,
who abhorred him for the tyranny which lie had
always displayed against their country. A panic
seized the English,  who had witnessed this sud-
 den overthrow and destruction of their companions : they hastily burned the bridge to secure
their retreat, and, fleeing with the utmost rapidity, they scarcely halted till they had reached
Berwick, leaving all their baggage and other
ammunition in the hands of the victors. Few a-
mong the Scots fell in this engagement. This
battle, so fatal in its issue to the English, took
place on the 11th September 1297.
Wallace pushed on with rapid steps to Dundee,
which in a short time capitulated. One stronghold after another fell into the hands of the patriots, and the country was soon freed from the
tyranny of her oppressors.
By reason of bad seasons and want of cultivation, the country was reduced to a most deplorable state of privation and want, amounting almost
to famine. To relieve in some measure the general pressure, as well as to retaliate on the invaders,
an expedition into England was put under the
command of Wallace, and the young Sir Andrew
Murray, whose father fell at Stirling. The Scots
poured into the northern counties, Berwick was
taken, and the whole country completely overrun
and wasted; and so great was the revenge of the
Scots at this time, that Wallace himself and the
other commanders were altogether unable to
restrain their excesses.
Many wonderful faces are  told of Wallace's
exploits he defeated the English in several combats, chased them almost entirely out of Scotland,
regained the towns and castles of which they had
possessed themselves, and recovered the complete
freedom of the country. He even marched into
England, and laid Cumberland and Northumberland wasteland humbled the English.
In the north of Scotland, the English had
placed a garrison in the strong castle of Dunnot-
tar, which, built on a large and precipitous rock,
overhangs the raging sea.    Though the place is
almost inaccessible,   Wallace and his followers
found their way into the castle, while the garrison
in great terror fled into the church or chapel,
which  was built on the very verge of the precipice.    This did not save them, for  Wallace
caused the church to be set on fire.    A number
of the terrified garrison, involved in the flames,
ran upon the points of the Scottish swords, while
others threw themselves from the precipice into
J the sea, and swam along to the cliffs, where they
' hung like sea-fowl, screaming in vain for mercy
i and assistance.
The followers of Wallace falling on their knees
j before the priests who chanced to be in the army,
j they asked forgiveness for having committed so
much slaughter within the limits of a church de-
dicated to the service of God. But Wallace had
so deep a sense of the injuries which the English
had done to his country, that he only laughed at
the contrition of his soldiers,—" I will absolve
you all myself," he said. " It is not half what
the invaders deserved at our hands?" So deep-
seated was Wallace's feeling of national resentment, that it overcame, the scruples of a temper
which was naturally humane.
The Scots returned from England in triumph,
laden with plunder; where they had spread terror along the whole border, to the gates of Newcastle.
Edward once more resolved to invade Scotland,
at the head of 80,000 infantry and 7000 hors^-
men, he in person led on the march, holding his
course northward he passed through Edinburgh,
and fixed his head-quarters at Templeliston, a
village between that city and Linlithgow, where
he resolved to abide till his victualling-ships
should arrive. While stationed here he received
intelligence that the Scots were advancing upon
Falkirk, a town about 12 miles distant He r®*
solved to give battle. But while the English
passed .the night under arms on a heath, an a®*
cident happened to their king which threatened
for the present to suspend the attack. As he lay
on the ground, his war-house struck him with®
violence which broke two of his ribs; but, disregarding the pain, he mounted the horse and instantly led his troops to battle.
The Scots were formed in a stony field on a
slightly rising ground, in the near vicinity of Falkirk. Their infantry were drawn up in four circular bodies, while the archers were disposed in
the intervals. The horse, amounting only to a
thousand, were posted in the rear. In front of
the whole lay a morass. " Now," said Wallace,
" I have brought you to the ring ; hop gif you
can ;"—that is, " dance if you have skill." Edward's chief dependence was on his cavalry, 4000
of whom were cased in complete armour. These
he ranged in three lines. The first was led by
Bigot, Earl Marshal, and the earls of Hereford
Lincoln; the second by the bishop of Durham,
having under him Sir Ralph Basset of Drayton;
the third, to act as a reserve, was commanded by
the king in person. The assault was begun by
the English horse, who, finding the passage of
the morass, which lay in front of the Scots, to
be impracticable, made a simultaneous attack on
the right and left flanks of their enemy. The
left flank made a determined and bloody resist*
ance ; but the Scots cavalry? panic-struck by the
overwhelming appearance of the English horsa
which, as well us their riders, were eq:iip|$0
heavy plates of steel, fled on their near approach,
Wallace with his gallant infantry had now to sustain, unsupported, the whole shock of the English
army,   who again and again threw themselves
with headlong fury upon the Scottish circles;
but,  " they could not penetrate into that wood
of spears."    After sustaining these repeated charges with the most determined resolution, the outer
ranks were at last broken by dense showers of
stones and arrows, which the English poured in
upon them in aid of the heavy onsets of their
horse.    Macduff and Sir John Graham had by
this time fallen, as also Sir John Stuart, who
commanded the archers; almost all of which last
had perished by the side of their beloved commander, whose death by their devoted bravery they
so amply revenged.    The rout was now becoming universal, when Wallace, collecting the shattered remains of his forces, commenced a retreat
across the Carron,—a movement which, by his
precaution caused little loss.—Among those who
most eagerly pressed on their rear was Bruce, who
on this occasion had again leagued himself with
the English.   Exasperated at the sight of this selv
fish traitor, Wallace suddenly darted forward, and
with his two-handed sword dealt him a blow,
which, though it missed Brace's head, was yet
aimed with such prodigious strength as to cleave
Ms horse to the ground. With Sir Brian le Jay,
a knight-templar of high military renown, the
Scottish hero was more successful. With a single blow of his battlea^o he laid him dead in the
midst of his followers.
Wallace now retreated across the^ Forth.    But
previous to this movement, and while wandering
on the banks of the Carron, Wallace was recognised by the misguided Bruce, who descried him
from the opposite bank, and, with the view perhaps of justifying his own dastardly conduct, ascribed to ambitious motives, in his opposition to
the   English.     "   No,"  said   Wallace,""  my
thoughts never soared so high;  I only mean to
deliver my country from oppression and slavery,
and to support a cause which you and others have
abandoned.    If you have but the heart, you may
yet win a crown with glory, and wear it with
justice.    I can do neither: but will-—live and die
a free born subject."
The generous mind of Bruce was much struck
I with these glorious sentiments; he repented that
'he had joined Edward; he felt that he had be*
trayed his country and his own right; and h<|
secretly determined to seize the first opportunity
of joining his oppressed countrymen.
In this battle, the loss on both sides was very
great*    The number of the English, according
 to. hist: of credit, amounted, as before stated,
to neariy 90,000 men, while that of the Scots
scarcely reached to a third part of the amount
Among the Scots who fell none was more regretted than Sir John the Graham, whose death was
deeply mourned by Wallace. Sir John was
buried at Falkirk, where a monument was erected to his memory, on which there is the following inscription:—" Graham is buried here, slain
in battle by. the English: he was strong in mind
and body, and the faithful friend of Wallace."
The battle of Falkirk led the way to further
successes on. the side of the English, and almost
the whole of the southern districts, were .reduced,
under their power. The Scots still held possession of the country north of the Forth. In the
mean while Wallace, mortified by the treachery
of the nobles, who threw every obstacle in the
way of his being of any efficient use in the cause
of his country, and disgusted with their quarrels
and jealousies, retired for a while into obscurity.
About this time, he took a voyage to France,
with a small band of trusty friends, to try what
his presence might do to induce the French monarch to send to Scotland a body of auxiliary forces, to aid the Scots in regaining their independence, but in the meantime bishop Lamberton,
Dx uce? earl of Carrick, and John Camming Xk$
younger submited to Edward,, but Sk WUMms
Wallace, with a very small band of followers xe-
fused either to acknowledge the usurper, Edward,
or to lay down his arms. He continued to maintain himself among the woods and mountains of
his native country, for no less than seven years
after his defeat at Falkirk, and for more than one
year after all the other defenders of Scottish liberty had laid down their arms. Many proclamations were sent out against him by the English,
and a great reward was set upon his head; for
Edward did not think he could have any secure
possession of his usurped kingdom of Scotland
while Wallace lived. At length he was taken
prisoner; and, shame it is to say, a Scotsman,
called Sir John Menteith, was the person by
whom he was seized and delivered to the English.
It is generally said that he was made prisoner at
Robroyston, near Glasgow: and the tradition of
the country bears, that the signal made for rushing
upon him and taking him at unawares, was, when
one of his pretended friends, who betrayed him,
should turn a loaf, which was placed on the table,
with its bottom or flat side uppermost. And in
after-times it was reckoned ill-breeding to turn a
loaf in that manner, if there was a person named
Menteith hi company; since it was as much as to
remind him, that his namesake had betrayed Sir
William Wallace, the Champion of Scotland.
Edward having thus obtained possession of the
person whom he considered as the greatest obsta*
cle to his complete conquest of Scotland, resolved to make Wallace an example to all Scottish
patriots, who should in future venture to oppose
his ambitious projects. He caused this gallant
defender of his country to be brought to trial in
Westminster-halls where he was accused of having been a traitor to the English crown; to wThich
he answered, " I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject."
Notwithstanding this most honourable defence,
Wallace was shamefully condemned to be executed as a traitor! and Edward to his infinite
reproach and disgrace, ordered Wallace to be
dragged upon a sledge to the place of execution,
where his head was struck off, and his body divided into four quarters, which, in conformity to
the cruel practice of the time, were exposed upon
pikes of iron upon London Bridge,—his right
arm above the bridge at Newcastle,—his left
was sent to Berwick,-—his right foot and limb to
Perth, and his left quarter to Aberdeen,—and
termed the limbs of a traitor I He was execute^
on the 23d of August, 1305.


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