Rebel, Hero, Freedom-Fighter, Martyr. These are just a few of the words that race through our minds when we hear the name of William Wallace. Over the past few hundred years popular culture has raised Sir William Wallace from the bloody battlefields of Scotland to a place on a pedestal among the greatest heroes of history. In this ascent, the line between the man and the myth has become blurred. So who was William Wallace? In my research I have found many conflicting theories, each historian or author to delve back into the past returns with a slightly different interpretation then those before him. However, one thing remains certain and that is that William Wallace was a game changer.
Like many historical figures prior to 1500 C.E, the definite facts of Wallace’s life are few and far between, the first detailed accounts of his life are not seen until a century after his death. Little about Wallace is known prior to his rise in 1297 C.E, however it is generally agreed upon that he was born to some minor nobility, possibly descended from Richard Wallace, who was one of the first to arrive in Scotland, likely from Wales. Wallace’s exact birth date is unknown and his place of birth is often thought to be Elderslie, though this is disputed. He is thought to be well educated as a child, the popular theory being he was schooled at a monastery in Dunipace, possibly by his uncle, who may have been a priest there.
It is very likely that Wallace had prior experience in the military. His exploits during the rebellion show strong leadership and a powerful military mind, unlikely of which were taught to him in a monastery. Where, when and for who he would have served is not clear. However it is commonly believed he served as an archer, due to the placement of the archer’s emblem on his house sigil. This theory is also reinforced by his large build, longbows of this period had required a hefty draw strength.
In March of 1286, Scotland had seen a peaceful rule from Alexander the third. However, his untimely death from a riding accident thrust the kingdom into turmoil. Alexander left no rightful heir to the throne, so the Scottish noble clans quickly fell into feud over the crown. Eventually the nobility requests the help of King Edward the first of England, to settle the dispute. Edward is quickly declared Lord Paramount of Scotland, and after some time, the Scottish nobility elects John Balliol to rule. However King Edward quickly denied his claim and began action to conquer Scotland for the English and by 1296 he had succeeded.
It is soon after, in May of 1297, that Wallace first steps into the picture. In the city of Lanark, Wallace starts a revolt, assassinating the English Sheriff William Heselrig. Under what circumstances the assassination took place are widely debated by scholars. Some say that Wallace was being put on trial by Heselrig for violence against the English in Lanark and that he escaped, gathering a group of men and returning to...