William Wallace, Braveheart - The True Story

Updated on October 19, 2015

William Wallace, The One Time Guardian of Scotland

Whatever your particular perspective causes you to think of William Wallace, surely very few can deny that he must have been quite a remarkable man in many different ways?

It was William Wallace who almost single-handedly provided the inspiration and determination for the downtrodden people of Scotland to stand up to their oppressors and fight back in the name of righteousness and liberty. In many respects, he turned the lambs in to the lions, first convincing them in spirit and subsequently proving to them that they were more than capable of fighting back. William Wallace could never be described as a saint - but he was without any doubt, a man true to his word, his heart...and his country. This site is therefore dedicated to men such as William Wallace everywhere, who know the courage of their own convictions and are willing to stand and fight for what they believe to be right.

William Wallace as a Young Man

A Braveheart in the making

William Wallace is widely believed to have been born in the village of Elderslie, near Paisley, in approximately 1272. He was the son of Malcolm Wallace, a Scottish knight killed by one of his English counterparts by the name of Fenwick. Legend has it that Sir Malcolm Wallace died bravely, having fought tenaciously, and it is perhaps this point which not only caused the young William to develop an intense hatred of the English, it filled him with the courage displayed by his father and a burning desire for revenge...

Braveheart The Movie

Starring Mel Gibson

The 1995 movie, "Braveheart," was certainly a smash hit worldwide. It starred of course Mel Gibson in his portrayal of William Wallace, the legendary Scottish hero. It served to raise the profile of Scotland on a worldwide scale, putting it back on the map in a whole host of ways, but how historically accurate was it...?

That is a large part of what this site will explore...

Braveheart (Two-Disc Special Collector's Edition)
Braveheart (Two-Disc Special Collector's Edition)

There can of course be no disputing that this 1995 movie allegedly portraying the life and times of William Wallace exercised considerable "licence" with historical facts, nor that it was largely filmed in Ireland and had an Australian in the starring role. It was, however, a classic, and certainly made Wallace's name a household one the world over. This special edition DVD is unquestionably one of those rare ones which we can and probably will watch again, and again...and again!


Wallace's First Serious Assault Upon the English

The first of many English lives he was ultimately to take

He is believed to have been about nineteen years old when William Wallace first took an English life in anger. Wallace stood over six feet tall - quite a height for a man at the time - and was possessed by an extremely fiery temper. This was quite an effective combination in one sense and an extremely dangerous one in another.

It was during an argument with the son of a Dundee constable that William Wallace thrust his dirk through the unfortunate Englishman's heart and made good his escape in the resultant confusion. A developing trend had begun.

Site of William Wallace's Matrimonial Home
Site of William Wallace's Matrimonial Home

William Wallace Takes the Fight to the English

Serious trouble is soon brewing

William Wallace clearly got a taste for blood following his encounter with the constable's son in Dundee. Tales thereafter abounded of his violent encounters with the English but it was when he finally caught up with Fenwick, the knight who had murdered his father, and put him to the sword that he was officially declared an outlaw.

Undeterred, Wallace and his supporters sought refuge in Ettrick Forest, a large forest covering much of what is now South Lanarkshire. (Could this historical fact in no small way have contributed to the legend of Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest, several hundred miles to the south but in the same time period?) It was during this time that he met and subsequently married Marian Braidfute, a native of the town of Lanark. A small plaque (pictured above right) now marks the spot where stood their matrimonial home.

A Close Up of the Memorial Plaque on the Site of William Wallace's Matrimonial Home in Lanark

A Close Up of the Memorial Plaque on the Site of William Wallace's Matrimonial Home in Lanark
A Close Up of the Memorial Plaque on the Site of William Wallace's Matrimonial Home in Lanark

Another Dagger Through the Heart

This time around, however, William Wallace is the recipient...

The English Sheriff of Lanark at this time, Hazelrig, had previously had William Wallace's brother-in-law executed, so in a revenge attack, Wallace and his men sneaked their way in to the town and killed several dozen English soldiers, before making good their escape back to Ettrick Forest, William Wallace via Marian's home. Infuriated beyond belief but unable to get Wallace himself, Hazelrig had Marian put to death to at least deny the "outlaw" his one true love.

Doubtlessly overcome with both grief and a rage previously unbeknown even to him, William Wallace extracted a horrible revenge on Hazelrig and the English Garrison based in Lanark. He and his men stormed the town and killed not only Hazelrig himself, but all the Englishmen there, sparing only women, children and members of the clergy. It was the news of these events and those which brought them about that inspired many of the common people in Scotland to take up arms with Wallace and swear to repel the English invaders for good.

The Battle of Stirling Bridge, 1297

Probably William Wallace's finest hour

The rising tide of support for William Wallace as he waged his ever more successful guerrilla war against the English soon caused him to be joined by a number of Scottish nobles. This led to Edward ordering Sir Henry de Percy and Sir Robert de Clifford to Scotland with an army to restore order. Alas, it is believed to have been Wallace's lowly status as a commoner which led to the Scottish nobility - including Robert the Bruce - abandoning him and effectively betraying him (for what would ultimately prove to be only the first time) by surrendering to the English forces near Irvine. Only Sir Andrew Moray of Bothwell remained loyal to Wallace and his cause.

If anything, however, the common people only flocked to Wallace in greater numbers following this betrayal and assisted Wallace in wreaking havoc across Scotland. The inevitable confrontation between the two massed armies was to come about on 11th September 1297, by the small wooden bridge which spanned the River Forth at the time, near Stirling.

The Scots were considerably outnumbered and hopelessly out-armoured, but as any soldier worth his salt knows, the correct tactics (or lack of them on the part of the enemy!) can more than compensate for such deficiencies.

So it was that with Wallace positioned on the high, sloping ground known today as Abbey Craig, his army hiding nearby, the English Commander, John de Warenne, allowed himself to be pressurised - perhaps against his better judgement - in to ordering his men attack by way of the narrow bridge. This led them to flat and marshy ground, upon which Wallace was able to ambush them and virtually slaughter them at will.

Confusion reigned supreme amongst the English foot-soldiers and floundering cavalry alike as the Scots attacked and the outcome could rarely have been in doubt. William Wallace and his men - with only minimal losses to contend with - successfully crossed the River Forth and captured the strategically vital Stirling Castle. It was the decisive battle in forcing the English completely out of Scotland as far south as Berwick.

There was one great tragedy for William Wallace at The Battle of Stirling Bridge, however, in that his good and loyal friend, Sir Andrew Moray, the one nobleman who had stood by him, was killed in the fighting.

William Wallace's Invasion of England

The tables truly turned

Following the virtual expulsion of the English and Edward's armies from Scotland, William Wallace for a time turned his attention to more peaceful, administrative issues and particularly to encouraging trade with mainland Europe. It was his hope that he could re-establish the trading links that had previously been enjoyed under the reign of King Alexander III. A document to this effect, bearing Wallace's signature, still exists in the German town of Lubeck.

It was not long, however, before William Wallace resumed more recognisable activities and re-assembled his army to launch an invasion of Northern England. They caught the English largely unawares and wreaked havoc in the small towns and villages, careful to avoid the heavily fortified cities such as Newcastle where they knew they could run in to problems. For a time, however, Wallace all but lost control of his men as they sought revenge for their own suppression and maltreatment at English hands and tales of carnage and indiscriminate slaughter abounded.

William Wallace, laden with English booty, nevertheless returned to Scotland a hero, his reputation and his power over the people only further enhanced.

Sir William Wallace, Guardian of Scotland

A knighthood and a new appointment for William Wallace

It was some time early in the year 1298 that William Wallace was knighted and given the title, "Guardian of Scotland." This effectively gave him most of the powers associated with a King, simply minus the crown. But Wallace was disillusioned with the feudalist system and particularly the noblemen who had previously let him down and favoured a more nationalistic - even federal - system of government. He made known plans to divide the country in to areas, each ruled by a military chief, and introduce a form of potential conscription by keeping strict records of every able-bodied man between the ages of 16 and 60. Needless to say, his proposals did not necessarily go down well in all quarters.

As it turned out, however, it was the return of Edward and his armies to try to recapture Scotland which ended Wallace's political career. The Scots were forced to withdraw before the formidable English force but burned everything in their wake to try to force the English in to a retreat caused by starvation. Just as this very outcome was about to come to pass, however, William Wallace was once again betrayed...

The Full Story of William Wallace - The Braveheart legacy in great detail

William Wallace: Brave Heart
William Wallace: Brave Heart

The achievements of the author of this book, historical detective James MacKay, in piecing together the scraps of evidence to compile this fascinating and absorbing story truly have to be read to be believed. This must be the absolute, definitive work about William Wallace and his life. A must read for any true afficionado of Scottish or medieval history.


The Battle of Falkirk, 1298

The beginning of the end for Sir William Wallace

As Edward was about to give the order for his army's retreat to Edinburgh in search of supplies, he was surprised by the visit to his camp of the Earls of Angus and Dunbar. They brought him welcome news of where Wallace and his men were in hiding, a mere fifteen miles away, in Callander Wood. Delighted, the King consequently and enthusiastically thanked God for his good fortune before ordering his men make preparation for ambush and for battle.

It was through a false panic in the English ranks during the night that Wallace and his men were attacking them that William Wallace learned of their approach. Unusually, given his previous tactics, he elected on this occasion to make a stand and to fight the vastly superior force.

On the 22nd July 1298, Wallace bade his foot soldiers form four circles on a hill near Falkirk, each of them armed with a twelve foot spear. He defended their frontal position with long wooden spikes hammered in to the ground facing outwards and held his cavalry of about 1,000 largely noblemen and horses back at the rear. Yet again, however, when the English charged, the Scottish noblemen fled.

The battle was extremely bloody and casualties were initially high on both sides, but eventually the Scottish defences were breached and the English wreaked widespread slaughter. It is estimated that at least 10,000 Scots were massacred in this way but in reality it could have been many more.

William Wallace escaped the Battle of Falkirk with his life but not his reputation. He resigned his position as Guardian of Scotland - it is not known whether by choice or through pressure from the nobility - and was to spend the remainder of his life as once again an outlaw and guerrilla fighter, striking at the English invaders whom he so hated wherever and whenever he could.

The Final Betrayal of Sir William Wallace

With friends like this, who needs enemies?

It was Sir John de Menteith, supposed friend and ally of Sir William Wallace, who ultimately betrayed him to the English authorities. While Wallace was sleeping one night, de Menteith stole his weapons and subsequently convinced him that the house in which they were staying was entirely surrounded by English soldiers. He advised Wallace to go quietly, to Dumbarton, where he was not to be harmed.

In the event, Wallace was in fact led by a backward route south to Carlisle and its Castle, where he was imprisoned in the dungeons before being strapped to a horse and taken on the two and a half week march to London...and to Edward I.

Tower of London
Tower of London

The Death by Execution of Sir William Wallace

A man broken inexorably in body but never in spirit

It was to the Tower of London (pictured right as it is today) that William Wallace was supposed to be taken but due to the crowds thronging the streets, he had to be housed elsewhere. Subsequently, he was taken to Westminster where he was tried for treason. The verdict was a foregone conclusion, but when charged with treason against the King of England, Wallace replied that he could not have betrayed the King of England as he had never been loyal to him in the first instance.

Following his inevitable conviction, Sir William Wallace was dragged through the streets of London by horses, where the crowds pelted him with anything that came to hand, to what would be his place of execution. There, he was hanged, drawn and quartered, his body parts subsequently sent to the cities of Newcastle, Berwick, Perth and Aberdeen for public display as a deterrent to any would be agitators.

Sir William Wallace: The Aftermath

Wallace was gone...but by no means forgotten

In 1306, Robert the Bruce murdered his rival for the Scottish throne, John Comyn, and declared himself King of Scotland. He was crowned at Scone and immediately raised an army against the English forces and though he was defeated on this occasion, he determined to try again.

It was not until after the death of Edward I, though, the following year - and the succession of the less than competent Edward II - that Robert the Bruce began to make significant inroads against the English occupation of Scotland. As most people will know, the decisive battle came at Bannockburn, near Stirling, in the year 1314.

The credit for securing victory at Bannockburn is generally given to Robert the Bruce, but as has hopefully been shown above, it was not he who led the revolt. Indeed, had he and his fellow nobles given Sir William Wallace their full support at a much earlier time, the conflict may have been resolved much sooner and countless thousands of lives - on both sides - spared.

Including, not least of all, the life of Sir William Wallace...

Thank you for your visit to this site and for the time you have spent looking through it. I very much hope that you found it interesting, or at least entertaining.

Any feedback you may have would be gratefully received and may be left in the space below.

What are your Thoughts on William Wallace, Braveheart?

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    • Gordon N Hamilton profile image

      Gordon N Hamilton 2 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      Thank you, Pete. I'm glad you enjoyed the piece.

    • profile image

      Pete 2 years ago

      Absolutely fascinating...I am English...but have the utmost respect for what William Wallace tried to achieve. I can identify with him.

    • Gordon N Hamilton profile image

      Gordon N Hamilton 2 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      It was a shame at the time, Joel, without doubt, in a different era. As for history repeating itself, I'm not quite sure what you mean... The modern world is an entirely different place and though the experiences of Wallace et al may be relevant to 700 years ago, they should not be applied to today...

    • profile image

      Joel 3 years ago

      It is truly a shame of how his own people turned on him, a man that believed in a just cause, also ironic how history repeated itself?

    • IanTease profile image

      IanTease 3 years ago

      Very impressed by this well written piece, so glad you missed out all the sensationalist stuff that normally appears in Wallace articles

    • stanger66 profile image

      stanger66 4 years ago

      One of my favourite movies to watch.

    • Wendy Gillissen profile image

      Wendy Gillissen 5 years ago

      Very well-written, informative lens on a sad but also heroic story!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      my partner is scottish and like him i believe that william wallace was the best hero scotland ever i agree that he wasn't a saint but he fought for the freedom of scotland and i believe that all the countries of britain should have fought against edward I i am welsh and feel very ashamed that my country gave in to that tyrant as i see him so all i can say is let william wallaces memory live on

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      So good to hear the history, rather than just the Hollywood pablum.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 5 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I learned about William Wallace from Nigel Tranter, a writer I admire deeply.

    • profile image

      blastfromthepas1 6 years ago

      It would be interesting to have a section on Tom Church's statue "Freedom", said to resemble Mel Gibson's depiction of William Wallace and which the The Independent newspaper described as "among the most loathed pieces of public art in Scotland".

    • dwnovacek profile image

      dwnovacek 6 years ago

      An awesome lens - both very informative and extremely well presented. I could stay for an hour! Blessed by a Squid Angel.

    • gordon-bruce-art profile image

      gordon-bruce-art 6 years ago

      very interesting lens and well structured

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 6 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I apologise for Mel Gibson

    • EuroSquid LM profile image

      EuroSquid LM 6 years ago

      Great Job Gordon, blessed

    • profile image

      badmsm 6 years ago

      Wonderful lens, lots of work to put it together, I'm sure. Lenrolled to my 'How To Make A Kilt' lens. :)

    • mrsm54321 profile image

      mrsm54321 8 years ago

      I thought this was an excellent and informative lens. I only knew the basics about William Wallace due to the movie but always realised that historically it wasn't really very accurate.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      William Wallace was a man who loved his country and would do anything to defend it a hero , Great Lens 5*

    • profile image

      tdove 8 years ago

      Thanks for joining G Rated Lense Factory!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      [in reply to Stazjia]

      i think of william wallace as a true gritted scot ,who loved his country.And as a scot i am so proud of what i call a hero.

    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 9 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      Great lens about a true hero.

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