This series has three easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Braveheart Devastates English Borderlands.
Yes, this that Braveheart, the movie starring Mel Gibson but wait – this is the true story and by one of Scotland’s greatest writers. First, a little background.
When the granddaughter and sole heiress of King Alexander III of Scotland was betrothed, in her sixth year, 1288, to the son of Edward I of England, an early union of the English and Scottish crowns seemed assured. But the death of the little princess, two years later, left the throne of Scotland vacant, and was followed by the rise of thirteen claimants, three of whom were entitled to serious regard — John de Baliol, Lord of Galloway; Robert Bruce, Lord of Annandale; and John Hastings, Lord of Abergavenny, all descended from David, brother of William the Lion, King of Scotland, 1165-1214.
Edward I of England at once assumed all the rights of a feudal suzerain until the disputed claims should be settled. Finally the claim of Baliol was recognized, he did homage to Edward for his services to the realm of Scotland, and for a time peace prevailed. But when Edward called upon the Scottish nobles to serve in his foreign wars, and made other demands implying the dependence of Scotland, the resentment of Baliol’s subjects forced him into an attitude of war. In 1295 he made an alliance against Edward with Philip the Fair of France. In 1296 Edward invaded Scotland, took Berwick and slaughtered eight thousand of its citizens; defeated the Scots at Dunbar; occupied Edinburgh, Stirling, and Perth; compelled Baliol to surrender, and sent him to the Tower of London. Edward then made Scotland a dependency of his crown.
This submission was not the act of the people, but of their leaders. “The Scots assembled in troops and companies, and betaking themselves to the woods, mountains, and morasses, prepared for a general insurrection against the English power.”
They found their leader in the outlawed knight, William Wallace. Wallace was born about 1274. Popular tradition, which “delights to dwell upon the beloved champion of the people,” has invested him with many striking qualities, ascribing to him a gigantic stature and enormous strength, as well as extraordinary courage. Little, if anything, is really known of his personality and private life; while all that belongs to history concerning him is told by his celebrated and admiring fellow-countryman, Sir Walter Scott, in the following narrative.
This selection is from History of Scotland by Sir Walter Scott published in 1830. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Sir Walter Scott was the great writer of poems, novels, and history.
Wallace is believed to have been proclaimed an outlaw for the slaughter of an Englishman in a casual fray. He retreated to the woods, collected around him a band of men as desperate as himself, and obtained several successes in skirmishes with the English. Joined by Sir William Douglas, who had been taken at the siege of Berwick, but had been discharged upon ransom, the insurgents compelled Edward to send an army against them, under the Earl of Surrey, the victor of Dunbar. Several of the nobility, moved by Douglas’ example, had joined Wallace’s standard, but overawed at the approach of the English army, and displeased to act under a man, like Wallace, of comparatively obscure birth, they capitulated with Sir Henry Percy, the nephew of Surrey, and in one word changed sides.
Wallace kept the field at the head of a considerable army, partly consisting of his own experienced followers, partly of the smaller barons or crown tenants, and partly of vassals even of the apostate lords, and volunteers of every condition. By the exertion of much conduct and resolution, Wallace had made himself master of the country beyond Forth, and taken several castles, when he was summoned to Stirling to oppose Surrey, the English Governor of Scotland. Wallace encamped on the northern side of the river, leaving Stirling bridge apparently open to the English, but resolving, as it was long and narrow, to attack them while in the act of crossing. The Earl of Surrey led fifty thousand infantry and a thousand men-at-arms. Part of his soldiers, however, were the Scottish barons who had formerly joined Wallace’s standard, and who, notwithstanding their return to that of Surrey, were scarcely to be trusted.
The English treasurer, Cressingham, murmured at the expense attending the war, and, to bring it to a crisis, proposed to commence an attack the next morning by crossing the river. Surrey, an experienced warrior, hesitated to engage his troops in the defile of a wooden bridge, where scarce two horsemen could ride abreast; but, urged by the imprudent vehemence of Cressingham, he advanced, contrary to common-sense as well as to his own judgment. The vanguard of the English was attacked before they could get into order; the bridge was broken down, and thousands perished in the river and by the sword. Cressingham was slain, and Surrey fled to Berwick to recount to Edward that Scotland was lost at Stirling in as short a time as it had been won at Dunbar. In a brief period after this victory, almost all the fortresses of the kingdom surrendered to Wallace.
Increasing his forces, Wallace, that he might gratify them with plunder, led them across the English border, and sweeping it lengthwise from Newcastle to the gates of Carlisle, left nothing behind him but blood and ashes. The nature of Wallace was fierce, but not inaccessible to pity or remorse. As his unruly soldiers pillaged the church of Hexham, he took the canons under his immediate protection. “Abide with me,” he said, “holy men, for my people are evil-doers, and I may not correct them.” When he returned from this successful foray, an assembly of the states was held at the Forest Church in Selkirkshire, where Wallace was chosen guardian of the kingdom of Scotland. The meeting was attended by Lennox, Sir William Douglas, and some few men of rank: others were absent from fear of King Edward, or from jealousy of an inferior person, like Wallace, raised to so high a station.
Conscious of the interest which he had deservedly maintained in the breast of the universal people of Scotland, Wallace pursued his judicious plans of enforcing general levies through the kingdom and bringing them under discipline. It was full time, for Edward was moving against them. The English monarch was absent in Flanders when these events took place, and, what was still more inconvenient, before he could gain supplies from his parliament to suppress the Scottish revolt, Edward found himself obliged to confirm Magna Charta, the charter of the forest, and other stipulations in favor of the people; the English being prudent, though somewhat selfishly disposed to secure their own freedom before they would lend their swords to destroy that of their neighbors.
Complying with these demands, Edward, on his return from the Low Countries, found himself at the head of a gallant muster of all the English chivalry, forming by far the most superb army that had ever entered Scotland. Wallace acted with great sagacity, and, according to a plan which often before and after proved successful in Scottish warfare, laid waste the intermediate country between Stirling and the frontiers, and withdrew toward the center of the kingdom to receive the English attack, when their army should be exhausted by privation.
Edward pressed on, with characteristic hardihood and resolution. Tower and town fell before him; but his advance was not without such inconvenience and danger as a less determined monarch would have esteemed a good apology for retreat. His army suffered from want of provisions, which were at length supplied in small quantities by some of his ships. As the English King lay at Kirkliston, in West Lothian, a tumult broke out between the Welsh and English in his army, which, after costing some blood, was quelled with difficulty. While Edward hesitated whether to advance or retreat, he learned, through the treachery of two apostate Scottish nobles, the earls of Dunbar and Angus, that Wallace, with the Scottish army, had approached so near as Falkirk.
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