The Life and Death of William Wallace
No national hero ever excited greater admiration than that of William Wallace. No hero remained such a shadowy figure, his life and actions beset by myths and contradictions. When Scotland's hope of becoming independent was smashed, when the Scots were oppressed, and their nation virtually wiped out, Wallace emerged from the shadows like some bright meteor in the night sky. He gained a spectacular victory over the English in one battle and sustained a crushing defeat in a second. He disappeared from recorded history just as swiftly as he had come, emerging only briefly seven years later when he was betrayed to the English, brought to London, subjected to a mockery of a trial and executed in a most hideous and barbaric manner (Mackay 9). Though his life came to a tragic end, William Wallace's life greatly influenced the movement for Scotland's independence.
Born in January, most likely in 1272 in the town of Elerslie, Scotland (known now as Elderslie), William Wallace was born as the second of three sons to Sir Malcolm Wallace. Few national heroes possess such an obscure and contradictory background as William Wallace. The year of his birth has been stated as anywhere between 1260-1278 and his father's name given as Malcolm, Andrew, or William and his mother's name has been given as Jean, Joan, or Margaret or not stated at all and her surname given as Crawford, Craufurd, Crawfoord or some other variation (Mackay 13). If we accept the traditional account, Wallace, for the time and given his origins, was well educated. As a result, he was familiar with Greek as well as Latin and his knowledge of the Bible was extensive. As a younger son with few prospects, he was, we to assume, intended for the priesthood, consequently following in the steps of the uncles to whom he owed his education (Fisher 12). One of William's uncles taught him this couplet:
Dico te verum, libertas optima rerum:
Nunquam servili sub nexu vivito, fili!
I tell you truthfully, freedom is the best of all things:
Never live under the yoke of slavery my son.
This quotation rings true in the light of Wallace's career, dedicated as it was to the pursuit of liberty for his native land (Fisher 12). Wallace's eventful and happy, perhaps even idyllic, life was interrupted by the scheming of the ruthless and evil Edward I of England, who saw in the death of Alexander III, the opportunity to make himself master of Scotland.
In an age when the average height of a full-grown man was not much over five feet, judging by the clothing and armor that survived from the period, William was truly a giant of a man at 6 feet 7 inches with a physique to match. Blind Harry's physical description holds some truth to it:
Wallace's stature, in largeness and in height,
Was judged thus, by such as saw him right
Both in his armour dight and in undress:
Nine quarters large he was in length - no less;
Third part his length in shoulders broad was he,