William Wallace was possibly born in Elderslie, Scotland. Little is known about his early life, but some historians believe he came from a family of minor nobility. As a young man, he found himself living in a Scotland full of turmoil. The king had died and there were many competitors for the crown. King Edward I of England had been invited to arbitrate, but he decided he would crush the Scots instead. Edward won the Battle of Dunbar (1296) and started stripping Scotland of its nationhood...
Blind Harry was a wandering minstrel in Scotland in the 1400s, and he told tales of William Wallace on his journeying round Scotland.
In 1297, Wallace attacked and killed Sheriff William Heselrig at what has been called the Action at Lanark. This is the first record of Wallace's rebellion. Unsurprisingly, Edward's harsh activities had inspired many rebellions. Wallace joined with Andrew Moray and the two went about gathering an army to rise against the English...
The Scots won an incredible victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297. Although outnumbered (around 9,000 fighting for England to 6,000 for Scotland), Wallace and Moray used the terrain and bridge to their advantage. The Scots waited for some of the English army to cross the narrow bridge and then attacked. The English at the back could do nothing but watch their companions at the front get massacred. Wallace raided into northern England and was made Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland in 1297...
Andrew Moray died sometime later that year from wounds he received at the Battle of Stirling Bridge.
Scotland and England are two nations divided by their experience of history. That divide was never wider than during the Wars of Independence in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Edward was not going to take the defeat at Stirling Bridge lightly. He personally led an army to Scotland and engaged Wallace's forces at Falkirk, in 1298. The English, with the help of skilled Welsh archers, won the Battle of Falkirk and Wallace had to escape to a nearby forest. The defeated Scot gave up his title of Guardian of the Kingdom of Scotland. Little is known about what Wallace did over the next few years, although he may have traveled abroad...
Edward I of England had the nickname "Hammer of the Scots".
Wallace may have traveled to France looking for help, but he was still active against the English by 1304. However, in 1305 he was captured by a Scottish knight who was loyal to Edward and transported to London. He was found guilty of treason and brutally executed by being hanged, drawn and quartered.
This is the William Wallace Statue in Aberdeen, northern Scotland. It was erected in 1888.
Wallace's rebellion against a harsh English invader has made him a national hero in Scotland. There are many statues and memorials in honor of the military leader (including a plaque in central London near to where he was executed). One of the most well-known memorials is the Wallace Monument in Stirling, a 220-foot tall tower overlooking the beautiful Scottish countryside.
The Wallace Monument was completed in 1769 and now houses a museum and the famous Wallace Sword.
The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie, was written around 1470 by Blind Harry the minstrel. Harry wrote from oral tradition describing events 170 years earlier - so his story has to be taken with a pinch of salt!
Braveheart was released in 1995 and was a massive hit. But it is an example of story-telling, it is not a documentary. The Scots did not wear kilts at that time (they came much later), they did not paint their faces with woad (that happened much earlier), Wallace did not have a love affair with Isabella of France, and the portrayals of most of the main characters were inaccurate. Wallace was described as a very tall man (a "giant") from a minor noble family, and portraits show him with a full beard. Not quite Mel Gibson's Braveheart!
One of the strangest inaccuracies of the movie is the absence of an actual bridge at the Battle of Stirling Bridge!