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History RSR - William Wallace

William Wallace
How important was Wallace’s character for Scotland during their War of Independence?
Outline Plan
Define and justify:
The subject of this study is to identify the role of William Wallace in the Scottish War of
Independence against the British, how he brought about the victory of the Battle of Stirling
Bridge, and the importance of his presence for Scotland at the time.
Rogers, Charles, ​The Book of Wallace​, 1889, [available online at:
The Historical Inaccuracies in Braveheart,
National Archives of Scotland, ​The Wallace Document​, 6 January 2017,
Extended Essay
Little is known about the early life of the Scottish patriot. It is reported that he was born
around 1270 A.D. to a member of the lesser Scottish nobility - a man named Alan Wallace.
The father was a landlord of sorts, owning a bit of land and thus, being a member of such
nobility, he shares it with his son, William. He grew up in the West of Scotland, along with
his brothers John and Malcolm. It is mentioned that as William grew up, he became a giant
of a man, reaching 6 foot 7 inches in height, and had a large build. This would later prove to
be quite advantageous in medieval battle, as strength was a major requirement.
The death of Scotland’s current King Alexander III, who died when he fell from horseback,
was seen as a golden opportunity by English King, Edward I to expand his conquest. With no
immediate heir, it was thought that Margaret (the ‘Maid of Norway’, and the late King
Alexander’s granddaughter) would take over the throne. Edward I had planned to take
control of Scotland by having his son wed Margaret, and ​control Scotland via matrimonial
rights​, but things were thrown in turmoil between the English and Scottish when Margaret
died en route to Scotland.
William, from early on, had not been a supporter of the King of England at the time - Edward
I. He refused to sign the Ragman Rolls; a collection of instruments in which the nobility of
Scotland using to subscribe their allegiance to King Edward I. This classified William as an
outlaw. He would soon lead an army into battle with the British, through guerilla warfare
and then later by traditional mean. But for a man inexperienced in battle to lead men into
battle seems a little absurd, so it was thought that he gained some experience through
Edward’s campaigns in Wales. His personal seal had on it an archer’s insignia. This brought
about the possibility that he served as an archer for Edward’s army in order to gain
experience to lead his own military campaign.
There is no solid evidence to support, but William Wallace may indeed have been married. It
was greatly explain his attack on Sheriff William Heselrig and his english guards if he had
been the one to kill his wife. William is said to have cut the Sheriff to pieces, and burned
down two houses with English guards inside. This was William’s first act of true rebellion, he
would further influence another in the raid of Scone. While being influential in the South of
the Kingdom, he was helped along by another rebel group in the North - being led by Andrew
Moray. The two men continued their raids on several different places, and were said to meet
possibly at the siege of Dundee in early September 1297.
From there on, with an army combined of both Wallace’s and Moray’s forces, they fought the
English in their most famous battle, the Battle of Stirling Bridge. What made this battle so
memorable is that, although the Scottish were vastly outnumbered, they proved victorious.
The bridge provided them a huge military advantage. It was very narrow, not allowed more
than a few men to cross at any given time. This made it easier for the Scottish to fight back as
they would eliminate the men as soon as they got off the bridge. This type of engagement
conducted by Wallace utilised the opportunistic terrain, and gave the Scottish their biggest
win over the British yet. After the battle, the Scottish Nobility name both William Wallace
and Andrew Moray as Joint Guardians of Scotland.
Wallace, riding the wave of success, brought the war into the North of England. Moray stayed
behind in Scotland after sustaining injuries in the Battle of Stirling Bridge, and would soon
die, leaving William Wallace as the sole Guardian of Scotland. Even with this, the English
recognised the threat that the Scottish posed, and sought out a truce in their war with France
to focus solely on the Scottish. William met this with a counteroffensive - retreating up North
and employing the scorched-earth policy, which worked, for a time. Edward’s troops were
starved and threatened mutiny, and thus were about to turn back until they learned that
Wallace was within striking distance. Edward quickly made his decision to force a battle.
This was remembered as The Battle of Falkirk (July 22, 1928) in which the Scots fought
fought valiantly but to no avail against much, much greater numbers. At the sight of the
English army, Wallace’s noble cavalry immediately defected - they could see it was a lost
battle before it even begun. Although the infantry withstood the initial onslaught, Wallace
was not able to carry the battle into the enemy without cavalry. When the English brought in
their archers, the Scots were decimated. With this, Wallace withdrew from being Guardian of
Scotland and left the centre of the political stage, leaving Robert the Bruce and John III
Just like his early life, little is known of his life after resigning as Guardian of Scotland. It is
recorded that he went to France and Rome in search of help against Edward, but came up
short. Upon his return, he became an object being relentlessly pursued by Edward. In August
1305, he was betrayed by his one-time subordinate Sir John Menteith. Wallace was soon
after transported to London, and tried for treason. Wallace claimed that it wasn’t so, as he
was never a supporter of Edward I, but that didn’t ultimately matter, as the decision was
made by Edward. He was condemned to be dragged by horses to the gallows, hanged, and
disemboweled. His head was hung at London Bridge, and each of his limbs were sent to four
different castles in Scotland.
It doesn’t seem like Wallace was originally any different from any Scottish patriot. But as
mentioned in sources, his size, stature, and build, made him stand out. His charismatic
character brought out the best of his soldiers during the war. His tactics and opportunistic
mindset led him to win many battles and skirmishes against the English. He was granted
knighthood in 1297 and became a leader that many followed. His person was important
enough for Edward to hunt down even after he had become of little relevance to the War, and
his death had to be made known by hanging his head from London Bridge and sending each
of his limbs to four of Scotland’s castles. He was that much of an important figure during the
War, whether he played a big role in it or not.
Evaluation of Sources
Source 1 : A digitized version of the original book published in 1889 by Charles Rogers
(1825-1890). The book is out of print but it is available on the internet. Although a secondary
source, detailed accounts are given about the background of the Wallace family (and many
more), thus giving us a very detailed background to the relations at the time.
Source 2 : The movie Braveheart focuses on the life of William Wallace, but without needing
to say, a lot of it is purely fictional. This is a website made by a historian pointing out the
critical historical inaccuracies in said movie. The information is detailed and is of good
enough standard to be treated as a secondary source.
Source 3 : The National Archives of Scotland contain many primary documents from very
long ago. Same goes for William Wallace. This source focuses on the Wallace Document, but
there are a lot of other documents and books that are recommended. The page itself explains
the Wallace Document, and even gives a picture of the document itself. This was a good
primary source to use for the project.