William Wallace is hanged, drawn and quartered
Scotland’s leaders had succumbed to King Edward I ’s campaign, the country was annexed, clemency was bargained for as the English king set about the structure of his occupancy.
For Men like Robert Bruce and the Scottish nobles, there were few options. The case for Scottish independence had been led down a cul-de-sac; the French would not come to their aid, King Philip VI had his own problems. Post-1303 the alliance between France and Scotland was finished. England, at peace with the French, could, and did, flex its muscle; subjugation of their neighbours was Edward’s goal.
But despite the political sea change, one man remained a blight to the English, harrying, sacking, and championing a violent insurgency. That man was William Wallace , the former Guardian of Scotland. Wallace delighted in leading the resistance; he was a patriot, a fanatic. This did not rest easy with Edward. Nor was it in the interests of Scottish nobility to have this man lead a bandit existence, launching raids upon the English at a time when the terms of England’s occupancy were dividing feudal authority and governance. Wallace was a nuisance.
John De Soulis was Guardian of Scotland, yet he was exiled in France. His return would be secured by Wallace’s capture. Yet Wallace never swore allegiance to Edward, the king’s authority was not recognised and he would remain at large. Finally seized by Sir John Monteith at Robroyston at the beginning of August, 1305, Wallace was to meet a gruesome end.
In a brutal and violent era, Wallace’s execution brimmed with the excesses of bloodlust; a king’s wrath was merciless. Wallace was taken to Dumbarton Castle , before being taking under the cloak of night to London . His nocturnal extradition was deliberate; Edward wanted to avoid provoking the natives, who were now gradually abandoning their rebellion. The sight of an enigmatic Scottish hero – and apart from his enemies among Scotland’s leadership, he was exactly that – being taken south by English forces could have sparked an insurrection.
Edward wanted to make an example of Wallace, not a martyr. On the 23rd August, a show trial was arranged at Westminster Hall. This was Edward’s chance to let Wallace’s punishment horrify and stifle any uprising. It was also his chance to ruin Wallace’s reputation. Wallace was an outlaw, he could have been killed without trial. In affording Wallace a trial – albeit for show – Edward had a platform from which he could both dispatch and discredit Wallace.
He was charged with treason and murder. Wallace was not granted a lawyer, nor could he speak in his defence. But he responded to the charge of treason by asserting that his king was John Balliol, and he could not be charged with treason. Edward was not ‘his’ king. Defiant to the last, Wallace was given a crown of oak to wear at the trial, an outlaw’s coronation.
He was dragged by horses from Westminster to Smithfield, wrapped in ox hide to keep him alive and prolong the suffering. He was hanged, but cut down before he died. Wallace was to suffer more. Disembowelled and emasculated, the penalty for his treason, Wallace’s heart and lungs were torn out and burned before his eventual beheading.
His head was displayed on a pole in London; the remainder of his body was displayed in Newcastle , and throughout Scotland. It was a clear message to the peoples of Berwick , Stirling , Perth and those across Scotland; Edward was their overlord, and Wallace’s fate befell anyone who inherited his cause. Unwittingly, Edward had made a martyr.
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