Braveheart & Wallace - The Kingdom Of Fife

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Braveheart & Wallace

History Zone > Scottish History

Soon after his death, the 'Great British' national empire established by Athelstan, fell apart and where events in England brought severe 'knock on' events in Scotland. There were were several competitive claims to the English throne following the death of Edward the Confessor in January,1066. Harold Godwinson was appointed King of England despite promises that Duke Willliam of Normandy, already a senior advisor to the English court, would inherit the position. William felt this merited declaration of war but quickly recognised his forces were too weak and few in number to force the issue. He began a campaign in which knights, nobles and warriors, supportive of an invasion plan of England, would be granted lands in England if his invasion plans were successful. The campaign drew support from many nations but was initially hampered by bad weather.

In the meantime, King Hardrada of Norway, also in pursuit of the royal throne of England, landed a substantial army Northumbria. In defence of his new realm, Harold rushed his army northward and where they confronted the enemy at Stamford Bridge near present day York and where a great victory against the invaders was won.

There was little time to celebrate as news of the major invasion from Normandy became known. Although councilled to wait and take a short time to reorganise his forces, Harold seems to have been determined to illustrate his ability to defend the land even in such adverse circumstances. His army sped South and gathered whatever additional manpower they could along the way, and arrived in good time at Senlac Hill, about eight miles from the current day town of Hastings in October,1066.

Just a few days before, six hundred and seventy nine ships had beached on nearby shores and where Duke William of Normandy had ordered the invasion boats away or else destroyed. In effect, there had been no place to run to or escape. His army either suceeded or died in this venture!

On the night before the Battle of Hastings, minstrels played out the 'Song of Roland' to remind the invaders of what fate awaited them in the wake of failure. Ultimately, it was an arrow fired by an unknown bowman who decided the issue. Harold II was struck in the eye and died an excruciatingly painful death on the battlefield of Hastings. In the sudden and unexpected wake of his death, the Saxon army retreated and was defeated. The Norman Invasion was to prove the last susccessful invasion of Britain on a grand scale and the new King was naturally curious as to what he had acquired and largely in terms of wealth and taxation. Almost immediately, he began a complete a restructuring of the government and largely repaid promises of land granted to many knights. It is currently believed that he replaced all Saxon noblemen with those of Norman or foreign birth within four years.

In 1068, William ordered the creation of a hand-written record describing the land he had conquered in great detail and where families, circumstances and livestock were meticulously detailed. Today, we know this as the Domesday Book where copies have survived to illustrate the kind of country William had conquered. On the basis of this information, William was better able to enforce a stricter form of government. New castles, with new lords and nobles, were created to ensure the King's will and laws would be obeyed. William the Conquerer, as he became known, died after falling from a horse in 1087. William's successors included Henry I, Henry II, Henry III and Richard, Courer De Lion or Lionheart. The latter is particularly interesting in that he didn't speak any form of English dialect and spent more time deeply involved in the Middle Eastern Crusades and where his brother, King John, ruled in his stead. Despite this, he remains as one of the few English Kings known better by epithete than number.

Taxation from England and elsewhere paid for the Crusades and it's in this period of time when myths about 'Robin Hood' appear yet with scant evidence to suggest that he actually existed. Even if we accept the legend as being true then his most lkely location was probably in Yorkshire and far from any forest near Nottingham.

Of course, the Norman conquest did not stop at Hadrian's Wall and where successive generations sought lands in Scotland. Even before ascending the throne of England, Edward I, known as Longshanks, had been instrumental to resolving baronial revolts in England and had dealt with major insurrection in Wales. Following the second Welsh insurrection, King Edward responded with a full invasion and had backed it up with the subsequent building of many castles throughout Wales and occupied by English soldiers. Although the Welsh revolt initially enjoyed great success, Wales was ultimately surrendered to England by the Statute of Rhuddlan of March 3rd in 1284.

By then, Edward was engaged in wars in Northern Europe and where there was a potential fear of a new war errupting in Scotland. In 1286, however, Edward was presented with a unique and serendipitious opportunity.

King Alexander III of Scotland had three children by his first marriage but all died young leaving no successor to the royal line. On November 1, 1285, he married Yolande de Dreux and she became pregnant by him. On the 19 March 1286, Yolande was residing at Kinghorn in Fife while the King had official business in Edinburgh. Upon  concluding his business concerning the realm, the King insisted on travelling to meet his bride despite the fowl weather and despite advice that he should not. Upon crossing the choppy waters of the Firth of Forth via ferry, the King mounted a horse and rode ahead of his court and then disappeared. Next morning, a search found his body at the base of coastal slope in Pettycur Bay and where his neck had been broken. The roadside memorial, pictured left, is sited where he and his horse fell.

Months later, Yolande gave birth to a stillborn son and where the rightful heir to the Scottish throne was Alexander’s grand-daughter, Margaret, ‘the Maid of Norway’ and then still a young child. She died during the voyage to Scotland in 1290. This gave rise to fourteen claimants coming forward and where the Guardians of Scotland, a committee elected to oversee Scottish interests in such circumstances, sought the guidance from King Edward I of England. Seizing the opportunity and potential. Edward agreed but under rules of suzerainty and where Scotland would become a a vassal state of England thereafter. In defence, the Guardians of Scotland replied that since the nation had no king then there was none with sufficient authority to make such a decision. A temporary agreement was reached and where Edward selected John Balliol as the rightful heir and probably intent on using this to further his own ambitions. After Balliol became King, Edward promoted his overlordship of Scotland. More than once, King Edward humiliated the Scottish King and often in public. Balliol was like a puppet under command of an English King.

Edward I pressed the Scots further by expecting financial contributions to support the cost of his war with France and even expected Scots to join with his army in France. This was too much and a new group of Guardians were appointed at Stirling in July 1295.

One of the first acts was to enter into an alliance with France and which came to be known as the 'Auld Alliance' while England became regarded as the 'Auld Enemy'. An attack on Carlisle brought no gains and when the news of the alliance became known to Edward, he ordered a powerful English force to Berwick-On-Tweed and where the towns people were subjected to harsh justice before the English army met a Scots army met at Dunbar in 1296.

The Scots army was soundly defeated and John Balliol retreated to his family estates at Strathcathro near Montrose. Here he chose to abdicate the Scottish throne and where, by tradition, the arms of Scotland, were torn from his coat, and forever earning him the nickname of 'Toom Tabard' meaning 'empty suit'. John was eventually allowed to flee towards Europe and where he spent the remaining years of his life. Scotland was without a King once more and effectively remain so until 1306.

Edward assumed the title of 'Hammer of the Scots' but the issue was far from settled and where there were many Scots ready to fight for John Balliol as the rightful King and sufficiently determined to forge a Scottish army willing to fight for independence and freedom. The leaders of this new revolution were William Wallace and Andrew Moray, the former of which has become better known in recent times following the release of the Hollywood film, Braveheart, starring and directed by Mel Gibson.

From what we know about William Wallace, he was apparently a man of taller and larger stature than most other Scots of that period and probably a knight of some experience. It remains unclear as to why Wallace chose to resist the occupation and while the pretext presented by the popular film is entirely feasible, there are many alternative possibilities. Some suggest it was in response to his father's death at the hands of English soldiers, another says he was challenged by English soldiers who wanted all the fish he had caught that day and where,according to this story, he offered them half of his catch but they insisted on having it all. In response, and maybe in rage, he felled the first soldier with his fishing rod before seizing the fallen soldier's sword and attacking the others with it. Another story carries a romantic attachment and a desire for revenge following her death at the hands of English soldiers. Whatever the provocation, Wallace was suddenly a criminal and on the run from the English overseers. Over several years, his name achieved notoriety for conducting a series of successful raids in Ayrshire and where Andrew Moray and his band of warriors, already fighting what was to be known as the 'Wars Of Independence' eventually joined forces with him. The 'guerilla style' of 'hit and run' worked well for a time but Edward was determined to stamp out this new insurrection.

A powerful English army, led by John de Warrene, 7th Earl of Surrey, was dispatched into Scotland to deal with Wallace and Moray and where both sides eventually faced destiny at Stirling Bridge in 1297. Warrene was a veteran of the Battle at Dunbar and perhaps believed the normal practice of applying deadly force by archers followed by a charge of armoured knights on horseback would sweep the field before the infantry moved in to complete the victory. He may even have felt quite relaxed about the whole thing because he overslept on the morning when the battle was due to begin.

The Scots were on one side of the river and the English sited on the other. Between them was a wooden bridge with enough width for two armoured horses to walk side by side. A Scottish defector offered to lead an outflanking force across the river at a shallow point known to him but his offer was rejected on the advice of Hugh de Cressingham, the King's Treasurer in Scotland and on the account of saving expenditure.

The battle began slowly and where the Scots began to let English knights, archers and troops to rush across the bridge and where about five and a half thousand knights and three thousand archers were allowed to cross before the Scots suddenly organised themselves into schiltrons; something the confident English army had never seen before and formerly applied on one previous occassion in Europe with great success against charges by war horses. In practice, it meant groups of infantry standing in a circle or square with an open centre and armed with long pikes and spears, most with the blunt end dug into the ground and all pointing outward towards any force that might try to pentrate the formation. It was alin to a 'human hedgehog' with spears pointing outward and inviting knights to challenge the formation.

When the first volley of arrows flew into the sky and rained down on the Scots, they merely lifted their sheilds to the sky and where, as a consequence, casualties were few. Next came the charge of the armoured knights and war horses, clashing with the pikes and spears, and where, for only the second time in medieval history, the overwhelming confidence of the armoured knight and warhorse against infantry was broken. Behind them, Scottish spearmen had rushed down and secured the bridgehead stopping any further support with about four thousand English soldiers on the other side of the river and cutting off the main route of escape.

When the Scottish schiltrons began to move forward, the English knights and war horses were pushed back towards the river and where many knights hastily abandoned both armour and horses in a desperate effort to swim across and escape but very few actually survived. The force led by Hugh de Cressingham was entirely cut off and annihilated. John de Warenne still had four thousand troops and archers at his command and theoretically could have retreived the situation by standing his ground but perhaps feared the existence of a second unseen army and where he could have been placed at a severe disadvantage. He chose to withdraw and flee. William Wallace had won the day albeit at great cost. Andrew Moray had been fatally wounded on the battlefield and died some time after the battle.

Wallace was knighted alongside his senior Commander John de Graham and possibly by Robert the Bruce. Wallace was appointed, Guardian of Scotland and Leader of it's armies.

English King Edward I was in Flanders attempting to broker peace with his arch rival, Philip IV (known as 'The Fair') when the disasterous news about the Battle of Stirling Bridge was delivered to him. He had finally recognised how war with France had cost England dearly yet providing no gain. His alliances with Germany and the Low Countries of Europe had come to nothing. Eventually, his marriage to Margaret in 1299 would conclude the war but in 1297, the war entered a state of truce and provided Edward with an opportunity to address the problem of the Scots once and for all time.

Upon his return to England, he began planning his invasion and moved the seat of government to York where it remained for the following six years. In April, 1298, a council-of-war was convened and where all Scots magnates were invited to attend but when none appeared, all were declared as traitors. Edward then commanded that the new army should assemble at Roxburgh on 25th June 1298 before advancing into Scotland. The army gathered at Roxburgh included about 2,000 warhorses and knights supported by 12,000 infantry and included a large number of Welsh longbow archers.

In the face of massive threat, the Scots adopted a 'scorched earth' policy before retreating amd where the land crossed by the advancing army was robbed of all foodstuffs and materials that an army might use. It made the English army more reliant on material brought with them or else a supply chain of waggons from England. Edward I had neither nor had planned for such supply. By the time the English army neared Edinburgh, the English army was exhausted and starving. Edward I was close to ordering retreat when he heard that the Scots army was nearby at Falkirk. He ordered his army westward but was initially faced with insurrection from the Welsh and which was resolved with many Welshmen being put to the sword.

The clash of the two armies took place on 'All Fools Day' April 1st 1298.

Once again, the Scots placed their faith in the schiltron defensive structure with archers and spearmen. At an early stage of the battle, a English force led by the Earl of Norfolk charged towards the flank of the four schiltrons and where the Scots rear guard commanded by John Comyn of Badenoch and other magnates could easily have repulsed them.

In an incredible act of betrayal, the Scots rear guard were ordered to withraw and leave the archers and infantry to the mercy of the opposition and where the knights and warhorses were permitted to decimate the Scots archers and allowed the Welsh bowmen to gent within range. Time after time, volleys of arrows fell onto the shiltrons and when sufficient numbers had fallen, and when gaps in their defences began to appear, Edward I sent in the knights, warhorses and infantry. As the schiltrons broke, the Scots ran towards the Callender Woods and where the war horses had difficulty in following. Wiliam Wallace escaped the carnage but his senior officer, John de Graham did not. With a bounty on his head, Wallace went into hiding.

About September, 1298, Wallace resigned as a Guardian of the Realm and undertook a journey to the French Court of Philip the Fair and where the latter wrote instructions to his envoys in Rome to assist Wallace in whatever way they could. It seems Wallace had requested assistence from the French King to help with the Scottish War Of Independence but it must have been clear that such aid and assistence might wreck the truce recently agreed with England. In 1303, Squire Guthrie was sent to Europe to find and deliver an urgent request that Wallace and his men return to Scotland.

Wallace arrived back in Scotland under cover of darkness and were almost immediately met with an ambush. Wallace is alleged to have slaughtered a man believed to have been disloyal before he escaped from the scene. In 1304, Wallace appears to have been involved in the unsuccessful skirmish at Happrew near Peebles and where he operated alongside Sir Simon Fraser, a knight who had fought beside Andrew Moray and even beside 'Red' John Comyn and who later, upon capture refused to give fealty to the English King. It's sad to relate his head and that of his brother would adorn London Bridge beside that of William Wallace later.

Wallace evaded capture by the English until 5 August 1305 when John de Meneith, a Scottish knight and loyal to Edward I, learned of Wallace's hiding place from a servant and was able to capture him while he slept. In short order, Wallace was transported to London and where he was tried on the grounds of treason at Westminster Hall. Before appearing before his prosecutors, he was crowned with a garland of oak to suggest he was a King of outlaws. When challenged on the charge of treason, he replied, "I could not be a traitor to Edward, for I was never his subject." He added that John Balliol was his King even while Balliol himself was absent. Not surprisingly, the verdict was guilty and where the Crown ordered him to be hung, drawn and quartered as prescribed for traitors by the laws of that time. Many historic web sites tend to shy away from accurate description of what that actually that actually meant - but not on this web site!

Following his trial, on 23rd August 1305, Wallace was taken from the hall and stripped naked and most likely tied to lightweight wicker frame known as a hurdle and dragged behind a horse through many streets and eventually reaching the Elms at Smithfield and where he was led up a ramp before a noose was tightened around his neck. In public, he was hanged yet denied death by stopping the execution at the very last moment. While still alive, he was castrated and where his genitals were burned in a fire and just before the abdomen was split open so the entrails of his intestine could be removed and burned, leaving the heart and lungs so the condemned might still live, feel the pain and see the ultimate destruction of his being. Even while in this state, the head was severed from the body and surviving limbs and remains of the body were publicly exhibited in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Stirling and Aberdeen. His head, alongside that of Sir Simon Fraser and the latter's brother was preserved by dipping them in tar, and placed on a pike for all to see on London Bridge. Crucifixion as endured by Jesus Christ was much kinder but where the message was clear.

If Edward truly believed that such displays of barbaric propensity would cause the Scots to 'knuckle under' and accept their inevitable fate under his rule then he was clearly mistaken and had badly underestimated the Scots. In Scotland, the brutal act was seen for what it was, a murder, and creating a martyr central to a growing desire for Scottish Independence even among King Edward's own supporters in Scotland. In July, 1307, the self proclaimed 'Hammer of the Scots' was leading another army into Scotland but suffering from dysentry and where he died on the 7th day of that month while located near the Solway Firth just South of the Scottish Border. In his last will and testimony, the invasion of Scotland was charged to that of his son, Edward II, but this particular English mission was abandoned.

Today, the towering unique structure of the Wallace Monument stands sixty-seven metres (220 feet) high and close to Stirling Castle. It rests on Abbey Craig, a rocky land mass from where William Wallace is alleged to have observed the gathering forces of England before the Battle of Stirling Bridge. The tower was built from public subscription and completed in 1869 with donations from overseas including that of Italian leader, Guiseppe Garabaldi. Open most days to the public, the tower offers panoramic views of the Ochil Hills and Forth Valley after a climb of its spiral 246 steps. There's also a display of Wallace artifacts displayed within the monument and including the 'Wallace Sword' although this most likely belongs to a later age and thus unrelated to Wallace.

In closing this page, William Wallace was foremost a leader who fervently believed in the right of Scottish Independence. Edward I may have believed that the capture of William Wallace and execution meant an end to the matter but in that, King Edward of England may have actually sown the seeds of further revolution. The barbaric murder on the orders of an English King probably did more to unite Scottish clans against England than anything else ever could have.

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